Some stories stay with you.
Good stories stay with us not because they have a single dominant narrative per se, but because they offer us thousands of different meanings and precious moments. It’s a dangerous place to be in — with a story that stays with you. You can’t say why this particular story stuck; only that it did. And you’re glad it did.
I’ll confess, I had a hard time as a child getting into the Anne books. I much preferred Tolkien and Greek mythology. But along came Megan Follows (Anne), Colleen Dewhurst (Marilla), Richard Farnsworth (Matthew), Patricia Hamilton (Rachel), Schuyler Grant (Diana), and… Jonathan Crombie — the one and only Gilbert Blythe. And suddenly Anne of Green Gables stuck with me, and stuck fast.
Sure the movies deviated somewhat from the books, as all movies do; but the cast of the original movies played the book characters so well and so believably, that they became Avonlea for me. No stage play or remake since could ever replace these faces.
Still… why so important?
Understand that Anne of Green Gables has been one of Canada’s greatest works of fiction in our history. L.M Montgomery wrote of a safe place to call home — at times silly, at times sad, at times ho-hum — but all through the hopeful eyes of an orphan left as waste by the rest of the world. The books went on to create hope, support and courage for people around the world. I highly doubt Lucy Maud knew the exponential impact her books would have when she initially wrote them.
In my own life, the Anne stories — particularly the Anne movies — are “go-to” places for comfort, laughter, and solace. Anne is feisty and imaginative. Having had to survive alone for most of her life, she creates an entire world for herself… except for her red hair. Even her imagination cannot wish away the bane of her existence (if you think I’m summarizing over dramatically, just read the books and you’ll laugh at how understated I am at this precise moment!)
Enter: Glibert Blythe.
Strangers to one another in Avonlea’s one-room schoolhouse, he brazenly reaches over, yanks one of Anne’s braids and whispers: “Carrots! Carrots!”
I don’t think anyone will forget Meagan Follows flaming red cheeks as she shrieks: “How DARE you!”, and breaks her chalk slate over his head.
Thus begins the story.
Anne is determined to keep Gil as mortal enemy.
Gil is determined to make Anne his friend (and eventual spouse).
They move from pre-teen drama, to competitive school mates, to respected colleagues, to dear friends, and finally to marriage. Unlike other love stories that highlight the marriage as the culmination of their relationship, Montgomery weaves each growth stage of Anne and Gil’s relationship as vital, meaningful and full of love (even if Anne never admits it at first). Their juvenile introduction was as influential and profound as their final kiss in the movie’s sequel when Anne says:
“I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls. I just want YOU!”
Far from being a “chick-flick” (how I loathe that term), Anne of Green Gables has become a story that has stayed with many, many people — folks who work in frontline services (ambulance, ER wards, police, firefighters), people who see the most marginalized of society on a daily basis (prison workers, social workers, clergy, hospice care workers), people who struggle with mental and emotional illnesses, people who are enemies with one another, people who are trying to find calm in a raging world.
It’s not just about Anne and Gil’s kiss at the end. Not at all.
The entire story is one of mutual admiration, persistence in nurturing friendship, hope in the face of despair, and faithfulness in love and friendship… did I say friendship twice? Anne and Gil boldly display the power of love through friendship; humanity’s need for it — in Avonlea’s world and our own — and it’s power to create hope, trust, mutuality and love. In a world that bombards us with the notion that ‘Sex conquers all’ (equating love with sex), we demean love in friendship… love in parenting (for Anne indeed found the mother and father figures she needed in Marilla and Matthew)… love in mentorship (remember Miss.Stacey?)… and love in friendship again (who could forget Diana as Anne’s bosom friend?).
We say “we’re just friends” to delineate between platonic love and erotic love. And while I understand there are differences, our society has elevated the erotic and downplayed the platonic. Anne and Gil’s example flies in the face of that imbalance and shows the world that true friendship demands great persistence (I mean, who else but Gil would keep trying to win Anne over after she attacks him with a mini-chalkboard???), great respect, great courage, and great hope.
And yes, while we all hope and pray every time we read the books or watch the movies that Anne and Gil will be both friends and lovers, somehow we know too that if L.M Montgomery chose to remove romance from the picture, Anne and Gil would have remained fast friends. They would have attended each other’s weddings (that’s if Anne married anyone else!), looked after one another’s children, supported one another’s life endeavours, and mourned one another’s passing. Their friendship and devotion would remain precious, with or without eventual erotic romance.
So thank you, Gil.
Thank you for being a great friend, a great challenger, a great agitator, a great school chum, a great gentleman, a great scope for the imagination, and a great person to greet us when we come home. We’ll miss you.