Friday, July 22, 2011

The Blue Castle

If it had not rained on a certain May morning, Valancy Stirling's whole life might have been entirely different.

Hear the name Lucy Maud Montgomery and immediately other names like Anne Shirley, Green Gables, Gilbert Blythe, Prince Edward Island, and Emily Starr also spring to mind. But though she is most well-known for these wildly popular young adult novels, she also created a few stories for an older audience. Published in 1926, The Blue Castle tells the story of a young woman whose sudden diagnosis leads her to pursue the freedom that she has never known.

The Plot:

At 29 years old, Valancy Stirling is a confirmed old-maid. Not only is she not conventionally pretty like her cousin Olive, but she has also been dictated to her whole life by her controlling mother and her overbearing relatives. She is told what to do, think, feel, say, and believe. Her only joy in life is in reading the nature books of John Foster and daydreaming of an imaginary Blue Castle where she is free. Then one day, the doctor diagnoses her with a terminal heart condition, giving her only a year to live. Valancy decides to take what is left of her life back, and sets on a journey to claim her freedom.

She starts out by moving in as a housekeeper for an old acquaintance named Cissy Gay (who is dying of consumption) and her drunken father Roaring Abel. Scandalizing her family even more, she becomes friends with Barney Snaith, a solitary young man who is rumored to have committed all sorts of crimes. After Cissy's death, Valancy reveals her condition to Barney and asks him to marry her so that she does not have to go back to her family during her final months. Barney agrees and takes her to his small house on an island in the middle of a lake. Just as Valancy and Barney begin to grow close, a startling revelation comes to light and Valancy fears that her beautiful Blue Castle will come tumbling around her ears.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Like most girls, I have loved the Anne of Green Gables series from a very young age. I also read a few books from the Emily of New Moon series and liked those as well. I was interested to read another Montgomery novel that I had never heard of, and one that was intended for an older audience.

Overall, it runs in the same vein as the other Montgomery stories. Valancy (once freed from her former life) is vivacious and caring. Barney is warm, friendly, and very interested in nature and literature. Roaring Abel is eccentric, yet likable. And though the story is not set on Prince Edward Island, nature in all of it's glories provides a beautiful backdrop. All in all, it is the sweet little romance that we expect from the Canadian author.

All this being said, it didn't quite live up to the magic of the Anne books. I can't really pinpoint anything specific that didn't live up to my expectations. All of the ingredients are there, but it just didn't come out as good. Maybe the dreaminess and romanticism didn't fit the 29 year old woman as well as it did the 11 year old girl. Maybe Barney, no matter how nice, just couldn't live up to Gilbert Blythe. Or maybe I can't relate to this type of story the way I did when I was younger. Had I read this ten years ago, I'm sure I would have fallen head over heels for it, but today it reminds me of a scoop of ice cream; very sweet and light, but not something that will last.

If you are an L. M. Montgomery fan, you should definitely give this a try. Though it didn't live up to my memories of Anne, it was nice to see another work from this famous author. I know many readers who consider it to be their favorite romance, so you may enjoy it better than I did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Books and Film

If you are like me, the news that a beloved book is to be adapted for the silver screen fills one with both a feeling of overwhelming excitement and overwhelming dread. Excitement because maybe, just maybe, the pictures and characters in your head will come to life before your very eyes. Dread because you also know that there is just as much of a chance (of not a better one) that you will not be able to even recognize the story you so love. In this week's "Dear Book Lover" article over at The Wall Street Journal, Cynthia Crossen discusses that belief that is as old as the film industry itself...can the movies ever really live up to the books?

The thing to understand, Crossen says, is that "[w]ith books, the reader and writer collude in deciding what the characters, rooms, landscape look and feel like; movies make all the decisions." When you watch a film, you are at the mercy of the director's (and writer's and producer's and actors') interpretation of the story. We lose the possessive quality that reading has, for it is no longer "our" story to imagine and create, but someone elses' to serve as they see fit. Sometimes this works out and the characters and setting of your imagine meld beautifully with theirs (Pride and Prejudice 1995, for example). Other times, you wonder if the two of you were even reading the same book (like the newer Chronicles of Narnia series).

All of this being said, though the usual rule is that the book is (almost) always better than the movie, that doesn't mean that the classic stories should not be brought to the screen. I have been introduced to many great stories because I happened to see the film first, and I know that I am not alone. Crossen ends her article by quoting James M. Cain's comment: " People tell me, don't you CARE what they've done to your book? I tell them, they haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf." That, I think, is the real moral of the book to film argument.

So how about you? Are there any adaptations that you felt were spot on for one of your favorite books? Any where you think the filmmakers should have their heads stuck on a pike? Fell free to sound off in the comments...while I leave you with the trailer's for four upcoming book-film adaptations. Do any of these excite (or horrify) you?

The Three Musketeers October 21

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn December 23

War Horse December 28

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy November 18