Thanks to Ebony Elizabeth Thomas‘ smart and enthusiastic tweets for Anne with an E, Season 2 I moved it up in my to-view pile. Now I’ve finished it and agree with Ebony wholeheartedly. This, to my mind, is a great model on how to expand, consider, interrogate, and so forth a beloved classic.
For those who aren’t aware, “Anne with an E” is a Netflix series based on L. M. Montgomery’s beloved book series Anne of Green Gables. I first read them a few decades ago when the books were popular among my then-fourth grade students. I haven’t seen any kids reading the books in many years, but they are still adored by those now-long-grown-up young readers from then. Add in an earlier also beloved television adaptation and it is understandable that a new one is going to have a tough road ahead.
The first season of “Anne with an E,” to the best of my knowledge, while adding in some backstories here and there, did not veer drastically from the books. This second season however — new characters, new places, new themes bring the larger world into insular Avonlea. One character heads off to find himself by working on a ship and befriends a black Trinidadian who shows him his homeland and takes the story into significant places of race, racism, and more in that time and place. Several other story lines address gender identity and the varying responses to that — some predictably horrid and others remarkably okay. To my mind, Anne’s character is maintained throughout and lends itself to considering different ways of living.
Now I’ve seen some dreadful changes with classics, but this isn’t the only one that I feel works. Another is Jacqueline Wilson’s Four Children and It, a clever updating of the now very problematic original, E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It. Problematic because of racism, stereotyping, and more. I loved the original for many reasons, but am a fan of Wilson’s updating too. (ETA I was remiss when first writing this post in not mentioning Kate Saunders’ outstanding Five Children on the Western Front which justifiably won the 2015 Costa Award. My review is here.)
I’d love to see more of this. Maybe Doctor Dolittle? (Let’s forget about the awful Eddie Murphy movie which has nothing to do with the original book other than a vet as the main character and a bunch of talking animal friends.) Be so interesting to see the good doctor called out on his racism. (Here’s an interesting article on the history of the controversy of the book.) How about changing Prince Bumpo (from The Story of Doctor Dolittle) into something other than the sap Lofting makes him? In one edition a few decades back, that story line was completely rewritten by Patricia and Fred Mckissack, but I’d love to see someone do something even more drastic along the lines of the new Anne with an E. Perhaps by making Bumpo far more an active agent in the story along the lines of Bash? Hmmm…. what about doing what Matt Johnson did to Poe so wonderfully in Pym: A Novel ?
Anyway, if you are a fan from childhood and too much away from fidelity to the original will distress you, this isn’t the adaptation for you. But if you are someone with both a childhood love for them and an openness to opening up the world in these books, I recommend the Netflix series highly.