The ‘Emily’ Novels, L. M. Montgomery

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The Flash

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.

The moment came rarely—went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it—never summon it—never pretend it, but the wonder of it stayed with her for days….

 

I discovered Anne of Green Gables as an adult, somehow missing this whole wonderful world as a young girl. A friend who knows me well bet me I would like the Emily of New Moon series better. I thought, sacrilege!, but she is right. I have become completely enamored with what Montgomery does with fantasy and Nature. And while it blooms in Anne, it is a starburst in Emily.

Anne Shirley personifies trees, forests, flowers and springs. Emily Byrd Starr does the same, but in addition, she also has The Wind Woman and the flash. These latter two are supernatural and fairy-like reminding me of the innocent childhood inventiveness that we are supposed to grow out of, but that many of us Will Not Ever.

Though I live in an urban area, coyotes roam the streets and nap on the greens, all kinds coyote1of raptors fly through the air, I watch water birds gracefully hunt their breakfast at the river and jump when raccoons and possums dart through the bushes. They remind me to whom this land really belongs. I love to imagine all sorts of things about them. I love my crepe myrtle tree in the front yard and consider it my protector and I call an incredibly large, gnarled old tree down the street, Grandfather. I don’t know if any of this is weird, normal or if I need therapy, but I think this is why I am so drawn to the spiritual fey of  L. M. Montgomery.

Just last night I was reading a favorite passage from Emily Climbs. It has all the elements of imagination, connection to nature and creative thought Montgomery does so well. Though Emily is walking home alone in the middle of the night, she is really being escorted along the way by an incredible cast of non-human characters.

As she walked along she dramatized the night. There was about it a wild, lawless charm that appealed to a certain wild, lawless strain hidden deep in Emily’s nature—a strain that wished to walk where it would with no guidance but its own—the strain of the gypsy and the poet, the genius and the fool.

The big fir trees, released from their burden of snow, were tossing their arms freely and wildly and gladly across the moonlit fields. Was ever anything so beautiful as the shadows of those grey, clean-limbed maples on the road at her feet?

And it was easy to think, too, that other things were abroad—things that were not mortal or human. She always lived on the edge of fairyland and now she stepped right over it. The Wind Woman was really whistling eerily in the reeds of the swamp—she was sure she heard the dear, diabolical chuckles of owls in the spruce copses—something frisked across her path—it might be a rabbit or it might be a Little Grey Person: the trees put on half pleasing, half terrifying shapes they never wore by day. The dead thistles of last year were goblin groups along the fences: that shaggy old yellow birch was some satyr of the woodland: the footsteps of the old gods echoed around her: those gnarled stumps on the hill field were surely Pan piping through moonlight and shadow with his troop of laughing fauns. It was delightful to believe they were.

Emily is a young writer and crosses the line between fantasy and reality on an almost daily basis, by which she is jeered at and criticized by her reality-based family. It never daunts her, though, no matter how hot the teasing. She is secure in how she sees the world, which is my lesson. She is my role model.

 

Trail walking with Jess
Trail walking with Jess in a magical gum grove.

 

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Montgomery, L. M. Emily Climbs. New York: Bantam, 1993. First published in 1925 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

 Montgomery, L.M. Emily of New Moon. New York: Harper and Row, 1993. First published in 1923 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

 

Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery (1923)

Or Know your Apple, Know your Century!

oldapples

I recently reread Emily of New Moon, the first book of three in a series by Anne of Green Gables author L. M. Montgomery and frankly, except for the first Anne book, I like the Emily series better. Emily is very different from Anne in personality type and her series has more magical elements to it. And though like Anne, Emily is also orphaned at a young age, her home life is far from cheerful and she struggles against the oppression of a stern old aunt who not only makes her life difficult, but thwarts her love of writing every chance she gets. But like Anne, she has an indomitable spirit that gets her through the cruel times.

As I read Emily of  New Moon I was struck, as I often am when reading classic literature, about something historical or in this case, gastronomical, that I wanted to know more about; it had to do with apples and in all my years, I had never heard of apples described like this.

For example, when a character bites into an apple, that is usually all the writer says about it, or sometimes with a short description, “Mike bit into a juicy red apple.” And because readers know what a juicy red apple tastes and looks like, we don’t pay it much mind and move on with the character. But if that story takes place in early 20th century Canada or America that apple may not be red, delicious or juicy. Fruit historians call this time period the golden age of apples and the variety was vast.

… in the 19th century, apples came in all shapes, sizes and guises, some with rough, sandpapery skin, others as misshapen as potatoes, ranging from the size of a cherry to bigger than a grapefruit. Colors ran the entire spectrum with a wonderful impressionistic array of patterning—flushes, stripes, splashes, and dots. There was an apple for every community, taste, purpose, and season, with winter varieties especially prized.[i]

 

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Stanley Sloane, Still Life of Dessert Apples

  Emily of New Moon takes place in the early years of the 20th century on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. New Moon is known for its apples and Emily is standing in the workroom of her neighbor surveying the long row of apples he kept on a beam for Emily and her friends to eat:

Three varieties of Lofty John’s apples were their especial favourites—the “scabby apples,” that looked as if they had leprosy but were of unsurpassed deliciousness under their queer blotched skins; the “little red apples,” scarcely bigger than a crab, deep crimson all over and glossy as satin, that had such a sweet, nutty flavour; and the big green “sweet apples” that children usually thought the best of all. Emily considered that day wasted whose low descending sun had not beheld her munching one of Lofty John’s big green sweets. [ii]

How odd it would sound if we read, “Mike bites into a scabby, leprous-looking apple of wonderful deliciousness.”  But it would be true!

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[i] Tim Hensley, A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America

[ii] LM Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, (New York: Bantam), 32. First published in 1923 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.