Books

Avonlea Showdown: Which Anne of Green Gables is Better?

Three different versions of our Anne-girl.

L.M. Montgomery’s classic, Anne of Green Gables has inspired dozens and dozens of Annes on film and television since the book’s original publication in 1908. But, to my mind, there are only three worth real consideration: First, the famous and extremely popular 1985 adaptation that starred Megan Follows, long considered the modern gold standard of Montgomery’s vision. And then there have been two new versions causing quite a flutter recently, with fresh takes on Carrots and her fellow Prince Edward Island adventurers. The first came out late 2016 and aired in the U.S. chiefly on PBS stations (though the first installment is currently available to Amazon Prime streaming subscribers). The second debuted on Netflix in 2017.

So how do they stack up? Are any of these new Annes worthy of the Lake of Shining Waters or puff sleeves? I’m spitting out my lime once more, setting down my glass of gin, and cracking my knuckles in anticipation of another great showdown between rival cinematic loves. Just as with the Longbourn Showdown (Ahem, Pride and Prejudice fans), this will be much like Thunderdome, but with ipecac and red currant wine! So scoop the mouse out of the plumb pudding sauce and get ready!

Anne Shirley

Anne of Green Gables Showdown

Megan Follows vs. Ella Ballentine vs. Amybeth McNulty

I thought my Anne would always be Megan Follows, whose 1985 take was dramatically serious in her imagination and fantasies. Every dream and speech was an audition for  play, a sworn oath, with her gaze constantly averted skyward, and it was easy to imagine that Follows’s Anne was maybe destined for the stage. She never lacked sweetness, but came across as a bit more self-centered, at least, at first. And she was always a bit embarrassing. But I just took it for granted that this was sort of baked into the character.

In 2016, we got a fresh Anne from Ella Ballentine. And I’m just gonna say it–she’s awful. Sure her look is sweetly generic, but her freckles are irritatingly fake, as is her grin, and her overly sunny disposition plays as a carefree girl who could make it anywhere. She’s the Mary Tyler Moore of Avonlea. Plus, Ballentine reminds me of a young Lindsey Lohan. And that thought hobbles me like smelling cheap whiskey. I’ve been burned before.

By 2017, we got a very different Anne from Amybeth McNulty. Darker, grittier, and slightly traumatizing to my youth, retroactively. McNulty has a very distinct look that isn’t too adorable or charming. Like a young Shelley Duvall. She’s the orphan that’s a little more difficult for the residents of Avonlea to welcome. And, this is a traumatized Anne who is precocious, but also damaged. She is appropriately distrusting, but still sees the wonder in people and moments. In fact, McNulty’s Anne strikes just the right chord between fear, passion, and silly-heartedness.

This is a tough call. But for age, tone, and looks, McNulty’s Anne is the most believable. She seems real and touching, even with all her imperfections. I’m so sorry to slight Megan Follows this way. She was wonderful, but she was played the role a bit too old, and lacked a certain brightness of youth that McNulty can pull off poetically.

Winner: Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley 

McNulty


Marilla Cuthbert

Marilla Cuthbert Showdown

Colleen Dewhurst vs. Sara Botsford vs. Geraldine James

Three brilliant women who do a great service to one of my favorite literary characters of all time: Marilla Cuthbert. Geraldine James’s take stands out the most as a little bit harder around the edges, which matches her version’s tone. Still, she manages to thaw beautifully, as does each of our Marillas. Sara Botsford was maybe a little too accommodating and lovable, making her Marilla a little shallower and easy to please. Almost too easy.

But I note that while grasping for criticism. All the ladies are wonderful. But there must be one winner! And of course, it has to be Colleen Dewhurst. Our husky-voiced Marilla knows how to be harsh and deep, but incredibly loving all the same. Her boisterous anger at the neighbors is brilliant, and yet she can be subtle in her emotions. She is simply perfect, and I wish our Marilla was still around.

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Update: Bran Stark is Still the Villain No One Saw Coming

Brandon Stark is a villain. Make no mistake. If you are a Game of Thrones fan and have not already read my argument on How Bran Stark is the Villain No One Saw Coming, please do take a few moments and read the case to be made for his dark nature and what may be driving him.

Now that season 7 of the television series has aired, it is worth examining how my theory has held up in the season or so since I first published it.

Bran Stark Heart Tree.jpg

Team Ice vs. Team Fire

Let us start with the most rudimentary means of examining the Westerosi standings thus far. As I pointed out previously, the television show–which is based on the books from A Song of Ice and Fire series–is most basically broken down to Team Ice versus Team Fire. Let us review where the teams stand:

Team Fire

– Targaryens (Jon included)
– Dragons: Drogon and Rhaegal
– R’hllor and the Red Preists / Priestesses
– The New Gods
– The pyromancers of King’s Landing
– The Night’s Watch (“I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn…”)

Team Ice

– White Walkers
– Children of the Forest
– The Old Gods
– Dragon: Viserion
– Brandon Stark, aka the Three-Eyed Raven

If you see Brandon sitting fireside at Winterfell and suppose that his return must indicate that he is on Team Fire, then you are mistaken.

Note the new addition to Team Ice? A dragon. A blue fire-breathing dragon. That is quite a remarkable shift in power, so how is it that Bran has not warned anyone? Even if we assume he didn’t see it coming, he most assuredly must be aware that it has occurred. After all, it happened weeks or months before Viserion took down a chunk of the Wall. Should Bran not be telling Sansa? Or messaging Jon? Or at least telling Samwell?? I mean, com’on, Bran, maybe Jon’s lineage isn’t the most super important news alert right now. (And don’t tell me that little perv doesn’t have his mind on Jon’s genes because he isn’t watching Dany and Jon rocking the boat! Eyes on the fire, Bran!)

The Children: A History Lesson

But there’s one big glaring problem that makes Bran’s omission even more ominous. And to understand it, first you need a quick history lesson.

Long ago in our Song of Ice and Fire world, there was something called the Long Night, a period that followed significant and costly wars between the children and First Men. A pact was reached though, and the two factions seemed to live in relative peace, with the Children relegated to the far north, long before there was a wall.

According to man’s legends, the white walkers emerged from…nowhere, allegedly, terrorized both races during the Long Night, and then were vanquished only after men and children banded together. It was then heroic Bran the Builder who engaged in rallying men, giants, and the children to all pitch in and build the Wall, lest the white walkers ever return. And for good measure, Bran asked the children to weave spells into the Wall, protecting everything south from the white walkers.

Of course, you could drive a mammoth through the holes in those legends told by men. And to quote Samwell Tarly of the books:

“The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it.”

The white walkers didn’t just appear. The children made them with their own magic. Why? Maybe they didn’t like being told to stay up north. Maybe they thought that the men were invaders on their land, and it was time to take some of it back. So maybe during the Long Night, the children weren’t terrorized quite as much as they let on.

The Wall’s Magic

Back to that wall, the one that no one believed could be demolished so easily. Especially since Bran gave them no warning that the Night King had become (*gag*) a dragon rider.

Side Note: I really, really hate you, Benioff and Weiss.

Beyond Bran’s lack of wall-melty notice, the really disturbing idea is that the dragon even could melt the wall. It turns out that maybe the routed children, who had been playing both sides of the battlefield during the Long Night agreed to weave spells into the Wall. But did they ever do it?

And even if they did as they swore, there is a good reason that blue dragon fire could break the enchantments: Their magic is of the same source. I cannot emphasize enough that the children are on Team Ice with the moth-eaten dragon that just melted man’s wall without blinking a blue eye, and using their own magic to do it. And they are on Team Bran as well.

What the Hell is He Doing at Winterfell, Anyway?

Still not convinced that Bran’s lack of help or historical knowledge (of which he has total omnipotence, allegedly) is evidence that he’s not on the side of good?

Bran Stark Villain

At this point, I think it’s important to point out something critical about Bran, as he sits toasting himself at Winterfell: He doesn’t claim to be a man anymore. He isn’t Bran. We heard that from his own lips. He’s now the Three-Eyed Raven. So it is highly questionable that The Artist Formerly Known as Bran is even on the side of men, all ancillary evidence aside.

With his motives and allegiances in such dubious standing, I desperately want to know what on earth is Bran, aka Raven Lump, is up to during season 7. His sight isn’t doing anyone much good. In addition to keeping mum about a zombie dragon, he hasn’t let on to anyone what he knows about the genesis of the walkers.

And he’s failed to mention that he established some sort of magical link between himself and the Night King. Maybe that has dissolved already. But maybe it hasn’t.

Bran and the Night King.jpg

It might’ve also been helpful for Jon to have any information about the goings on of the Greyjoys, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Iron Bank, etc., etc. So one has to wonder (ahem, Sansa), what the hell good is he? What is he playing at?

If he isn’t helping the cause to protect and Jon and his allies, and he isn’t monitoring and reporting the progress of the white walkers, then it’s a little hard to understand what he’s doing at Winterfell, besides staying warm and fed. It seems to me that he’s a bit like a parasite. Or one of those evil, hairy spiders that lives in my basement each winter, and surely plots to murder me in my sleep. He’s using Winterfell and Sansa and Arya until his time comes.

The End Game

In my first post on this topic, I predicted that both Targaryens will ultimately need to rain fire down on the north to eliminate the walkers, and Brandon Stark as well. I stand by that.

Do not underestimate how big Bran’s role will be by the end. We didn’t spend hours and hours and hours of Bran being dragged through snow and ice, and all those three-eyed raven dream sequences for nothing. He is a much, much bigger player than most fans realize at this point. And his role is not setting up to be a happy, pretty, heroic one.

I mean, sure, I have a few doubts about the TV series, since I believe Benioff and Weiss collectively lack the imagination that the gods give to the average walnut. So maybe they’ll be satisfied with a hero arc for Bran. That would be neat and easy. But even if they do, I still believe that George R.R. Martin has something very dark in mind for the crippled Stark.

He is the secret weapon that the children snuck into Winterfell. The bushy-eyebrowed Three-Eyed Branven has infiltrated the realms of men, and will sow discord from within. So now, my only question is, how much damage will he do, and who will be the one to finally stop him?

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred is a protagonist who lives in a world gone crazy. In a cautionary tale that borders on post-apocalyptic mania, The Handmaid’s Tale pulls a Planet of the Apes and seduces us into the horrors of Offred’s world and then reveals them to be our own. Offered is us. This is meant to terrify us and indulge our worst slippery slope fears. Rarely does that make for enjoyable entertainment, though. Thus, I blooped my way to Hulu’s new series, with my dog-eared, annotation-scribbled copy of the book still on my nightstand, wondering if I even wanted to spend hours of my life sucked into a vortex of depression. What I found, though, oddly delighted me. It turns out my paranoia enjoyed being indulged.

After an alleged terrorist attack on U.S. Congress, martial law is declared in Offred’s America, and there is a public movement for a return to basic values–which includes women staying in the home and owning no property. This would be terrifying enough, but Margaret Atwood, author of the book from which Hulu plucked its content, chose to add a special science-fiction twist: For reasons unstated, women and men face obliterating infertility rates. This warps the nightmare into a nation with a breeding program in which the “lucky” women are turned into procreational sex slaves.

This is the turn of the screw that is supposed to draw you in. Hook you. Women as forced breeders, wearing wimples and enslaved under such miserable conditions that most opt for one form of suicide or another. As a book reader, I was almost a bit disappointed that Atwood took it to this level. Sure, it makes the story stunning and tragic, but takes it just slightly beyond the grasp of what feels realistic. It disconnects us from feeling the likelihood that this could happen to us.

And it could. Atwood has warned of it herself. Were it not for the fertility plot line, this forced female servitude feels like it is only one international crisis away. One cry for a return to our “values”. One coordinated and well-funded grassroots movement away from decrying that women are not permitted to work outside of the home because, the children. Because the 1950s was when we were a pure and righteous nation, right? When men were men, and women knew their place. So the movements call and chant and wail that we need to go back to our roots, and they share it feverishly across social media. And in turn Facebook and Twitter accounts and voter registration records are used to identify who is a “patriot” or a “believer”, whichever bent the crusade takes. Add a pinch of racism and misogyny, a whirlwind of fear, and some financial incentives, and you’ve got yourself a real modern dystopia.

This is why I am so grateful for the updates and tweaks that Hulu has thoughtfully provided to Atwood’s mad world. It warms the world and makes it feel like it could have been our own once. Yes the show preserves the infertility thread–no way to avoid that– but it takes care to modernize the technology and add some haunting (an sometimes jaunty) soundtracks. I know those songs. Pre-Offred Elizabeth Moss knows those songs. And she orders pretentious coffee, swipes on Tinder, and worries about her profile pic. Sure the original names are still very 1980s, which is when the story was originally penned. Lydia. Janine. Angela. But there I am with Pre-Offred, believing I could hang out with her, or that I could at least pass her on the street. She is a real, modern flesh-and-blood American.

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Game of Thrones: How it Parallels the Wars of the Roses

I’ve been a bit obsessed by the The Wars of the Roses lately. Maybe that’s hard for some people to understand, but I look at it like a really, really old season of Scandal, just with much worse hygiene. But apparently I’m not alone in my fascination, because author George RR Martin has made no secret that his A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) is based loosely on The Wars of the Roses. Cool. GRRM gets it.

Now, while the books/TV show that you and I know by heart is no allegory for the multi-decade conflict, there are a whole lot of parallels we can draw. So here is where I tear into the major characters like I am Henry VIII clawing apart a whole roasted chicken (I know, I know, the Tudors come later, but seriously, that man could really eat!).

The Lancasters Always Pay Their Debts

First, you need to understand that the (over-simplistic and somewhat misleading) gist of real-life The Wars of the Roses is that it’s a tale of two families battling for the English throne.

First, the Lancasters ruled. Then the Yorks.

And back and forth, and a bit wiggly all around for a while. Complicated. Now, notice the similarities in the names. Familiar, eh?

Lancaster = Lannister
York = Stark

Lancaster’s (alleged) red rose sigil = Lannister’s red lion sigil

York’s (alleged) white rose sigil = Stark’s white dire wolf sigil

You see? Even linguistically and symbolically, it’s pretty obvious where GRRM started. Even the map of Westeros loosely resembles the UK.

In fact, the only place where the allegory really falls apart is how kindly the Starks are portrayed by GRRM. The real-life Yorks were mostly some really greedy assholes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oh, and if you want to learn more about the Wars of the Roses in a fun and delightful way, I retell the history here. Ya know, jut in case you want more background.

Okay, let’s just jump in and look at how I see the characters lining up:

Richard II = Mad King Aerys (Aerys II)

Richard II and Aerys

Richard II

King Richard II is largely considered the first major victim of The Wars of the Roses (TWOTR). See, Richard II had ruled the kingdom since he was only ten years old, and by most accounts, he had grown up to be a right little shit. His egocentric hobbies included building monuments to himself and surrounding himself with sycophants. After his wife, Anne of Bohemia, died, Richard started to become outwardly paranoid and began executing and banishing most of his rivals. This didn’t go over so well with his (recently banished) cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who raised an army against him, and threw him in prison, where he shortly thereafter died–possibly murdered, possibly starved to death, accounts differ.

Mad King Aerys II

Aerys II also ascended to the throne via largely non-disputed lineage. Good for him. But that didn’t help him much after his paranoia and general insanity caused him to start offing rivals, oh yeah, and playing with fire. As with Richard II, those who had once been close to him started throwing shade his way, distrusting the king’s actions and motives. Eventually Aerys II was overthrown in Robert’s Rebellion. Of course, Aerys’s death was much swifter…and pointier. No prison for him.

There are, of course, many differences between the characters. Aerys’s affinity for kidnapping and pyrotechnics sets him apart from his historical doppelgänger. But ultimately, both lost the throne that rightfully belonged to them because they lost their grip on reality. And when that happens, there is always someone waiting in the wings to pluck the crown of the king’s head.

King Henry IV = Robert Baratheon

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Longbourn Showdown: Which Pride and Prejudice Version is Better?

Today in my Jane Austen confessional, I admit that I love both recent modern adaptations of Pride and Prejudice–that is to say, both the 1995 BBC version, and the 2005 Keira Knightley version. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, particularly when it comes to casting. I was recently mulling over a glass of gin, watching the lime wedge twirl around inside of it and muttering about what would make the perfect adaptation if only I could breed the two versions and add my own bits. There was a lot of wild gesturing, especially when I got to the bits about the Darcy performances. And since that seemed to keep me distracted for a couple hours, I figure it’s probably time that I put fingers to keyboard and organized my thoughts on the matter, sans gin.

Just to make this fun, let us do this in true showdown fashion. Like Thunderdome, but with more ribbons and carriages.

Elizabeth Bennet

Lizzie BennetsJennifer Ehle vs. Keira Knightley

Neither are the perfect Lizzie whom I pictured while reading the book. Ehle’s take on Lizzie is a little too sweet and coy. What is supposed to be a slightly cutting and wry wit is softened maybe just a tad too much. Whereas, Knightley goes too far in the opposite direction, making Lizzie a bit too moody and angry, and worst of all, not terribly clever. Appearance-wise, Knightley is almost entirely wrong. I do love her wardrobe immensely, but she is far, far too skinny for this role and would have been considered sickly looking for the time. In contrast, Ehle is much more fitting. It is only a shame that they did not allow her looks to be a little less formal. I wanted my Lizzie to have a just slightly feral look to her–not quite as buttoned up and pinned as her peers. Still, though I loved Knightley’s chemistry with her Darcy, this one hands down goes to Ehle!

Winner: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Best Elizabeth Bennet


Jane Bennet

The Better Jane Bennet

Susannah Harker vs. Rosamund Pike

Sweet, shy Jane. This is not a terribly challenging role, I imagine, but it is nevertheless important to pull off the perfect tone. Lean the wrong way, and Jane acts like a simple fool, or worse, a simpering lump of clay. And this is where Harker treads ever so slightly. Both Janes are all sweetness and humility, but Harker fails to demonstrate even the mildest passion, even when Jane is hushed away in a bedchamber with her little sister. Too sedate. Pike, on the other hand, was able to achieve the coyness and gentleness of spirit, while still seeming ensnared by the idea of romance. That extra breath of life gives Pike the edge. Plus…you know. Come on, let’s just out with it: There were some beauty issues with Harker. Allow me to declare firmly that Susannah Harker is a true beauty. But the 1995 styling did her no favors–especially in the hair department–and her pregnancy during filming altered her delicate facial features into a more mannish appearance. Trust me, she has my utmost sympathies on this count. While I dislike neither Jane, I must choose but one, so here it is.

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