I think you all know that I’m kind of an L. M. Montgomery fan. She’s my favorite author and I’ve read every bit of her available prose. So naturally I was intrigued when I encountered an Emily of New Moon television series. It’s not new, but it was new to me. Adaptations of beloved books can be wonderful or terrible, and fortunately this one was more good than bad.
Emily is an orphan who moves to New Moon farm after her aunts and uncle draw lots to see who’ll get stuck with raising her. She ends up living with sweet Aunt Laura, domineering Aunt Elizabeth, and dreamy, slow Cousin Jimmy. They don’t know quite how to handle stormy, emotional and impulsive Emily, who longs to be a famous writer. But even Aunt Elizabeth warms up in the end.
I should probably note that it’s been some time since I read the books, but I think I remember them reasonably well. It’s a funny balance here, in that the characters are very true to the book, while the plot isn’t. I was okay with that, though. I’m always more forgiving of plot changes than character changes–especially in a TV show where they obviously need more ideas than a book (even three books) will provice.
The premise, as described above, is correct, but the larger plot arc ends up diverging dramatically (though some of the early episodes draw directly from book vignettes). It’s still fun to see Emily and everyone else brought to life, and even if the things they’re doing aren’t things that happened in the book, what they do fits with their characters (with the possible exception of Aunt Laura, who’s basically right but exaggerated in some ways).
Emily is a delightful heroine, in book and television, and of course I’ve always sympathized with her dreams of literary fame. I also loved seeing her friends, wild-child Ilse, aspiring artist Teddy, and (my favorite in the adaptation) hired-boy Perry who plans to one day be governor. They’re well-drawn characters and they’re enjoyable characters, having adventures large and small.
I think the feel of the show was also right to L. M. Montgomery, though it may not be what people would expect–and it probably actually helps that I’ve read so much of her writing. The show does a lot with Emily’s second sight, especially in the first season. Emily frequently sees spirits (most of them friendly). The book was not that visual about it and it wasn’t that much of a focus, but Emily did have a few supernatural experiences–mostly visions or dreams of the past or the future. It was part of the book, and it was also part of L. M. Montgomery’s beliefs, so I think she’d be all right with it here. Ghosts also show up in some of the stories in Among the Shadows, one of my favorite collections of Montgomery’s short stories.
The series on a whole delves into some darker places and touchier social issues than most of L. M. Montgomery’s writing, but I never thought it went too far. There’s a character who struggles with alcoholism, and another who has a baby out of wedlock. It’s true you won’t see that in L. M. Montgomery’s novels, but I’ve read her journals too and she wasn’t blind to the world. I think she might have gone deeper and darker in her books if her publishers had let her. Although I don’t think she would have been as forgiving as the show towards people who broke society’s conventions!
I especially enjoyed the first two seasons. The show takes a turn in the remaining two seasons. It’s like they thought it had to be more exciting, because the plots get more dramatic and less plausible. People fall in and out of love quickly, Queen Victoria comes to visit, and there’s a strange number of dream sequences. Also, even though Emily is theoretically fifteen by the end, she still looks twelve to me, and far too young for the (reasonably innocent) romances they start her on. I’m glad I watched to the end, to see how things turn out, but I do recommend the first two seasons as better.
I think this show can be watched and enjoyed whether you have or haven’t read the books. Take it at face-value if you don’t know the source, and you have a great set of characters having interesting adventures. If you know the books, you have familiar characters having adventures. They weren’t all the right adventures, but for me at least, I liked the characters so much and enjoyed the adventures enough that it really wasn’t a problem.