Monday, January 09, 2012

The Story Girl, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Re-reading The Story Girl for myself makes my own point about it being important for myself to re-read classic and well-loved books. Actually, it makes C.S. Lewis' point (which is now my adopted belief):

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. ~ C. S. Lewis

I thought I would read The Story Girl because it had been years since I had done so. It has been. But I apparently read this one during the 2009 L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. It hasn't been quite as long as I thought since I read it, but I'd already forgotten quite a bit! On the one hand it kinda bothers me that my memory is so poor. On the other hand, I was able to enjoy the story all over again!

As I mentioned back in 2009, The Story Girl is listed as being Montgomery's personal favorite of her books. As I also pointed out, she made the statement that this particular book was her favorite in 1917, which was early on in her career, relatively speaking. I don't know that it can be authoritatively stated that The Story Girl is Montgomery's all-time favorite of all of her works, but the fact that she said it even once makes it worth at least one read during your LMM reading lifetime, in my humble estimation.

The most interesting things to note about it, I think, are as follows:

* Montgomery began writing The Story Girl in 1909 but interrupted the writing to revise Una of the Garden (which was renamed Kilmeny of the Orchard.) She completed writing The Story Girl in 1910 and it was published in 1911. This was all during her quiet and long engagement to Ewan Macdonald.
* Montgomery said that The Story Girl was her favorite and it is assumed that this is because she put a lot of herself into the character of Sara Stanley who, like her creator, was not all together attractive but captivated people with her ability to tell a wonderful story.
* The book is narrated by a male character, one of the boy King cousins, by the name of Beverly.

(Personally, I'm glad that she gave the boy narrator the name of Beverly as that caused him not to be specifically referred to throughout most of the book. It would have been difficult for me to remember that Beverly was a boy if his name were tossed into the story as frequently as the other children.)

In my copy of the book an Afterward is provided by noted Montgomery scholars, Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterson. They have this to say about the narrator being a boy:

"Bev King, the male narrator, comes into the Island world from far away. Unlike most of the men who knew and loved L.M. Montgomery, this boy admires and approves of Sara Stanley's ambition. A woman in Montgomery's place, time, and class had to face the fact that a male voice would carry greater conviction about Sara Stanley's "nameless charm and allurement." Professionally, too, Montgomery may have been reaching out to a readership among boys, stretching beyond the female audience already established by the two Anne books." (Afterward, Rubio and Waterson)

Those are some of the interesting academics, if you will, behind this book. The reason I love it (and other of Montgomery's writings) is not for the academics though. It's for the beauty which she describes so very well and the way that she encourages her readers to imagine along with her as she tells her tales.

For example:

In this book the King cousins spend a great deal of time in the family orchard. The orchard was planted and grown up over time by their grandfather, Abraham King.

"It was a vision to develop slowly into fulfillment. Grandfather King was in no hurry. He did not set his whole orchard out at once, for he wished to grow with his life and history, and be bound up with all of the good and joy that should come to his household." (Chapter 2, Queen of Hearts, page 17)

When Abraham King married, he brought his bride Elizabeth back to his home and land, and together they planted the first tree in what was to become the King Family orchard. For each child that they had, they planted another tree.

"Every family festival was commemorated in like fashion, and every beloved visitor who spend a night under their roof was expected to plant a tree in the orchard. So it came to pass that every tree in it was a fair green monument to some love or delight of the vanished years." (Chapter 2, Queen of Hearts, page 18)

I just love the idea of commemorating events, special guests and happy times by adding something to one's home or land. I marked this passage of the book and have been thinking about how we could reasonably add a visual reminder of joy to our household when we have special guests over. (But then how do you rank who is most special? Back then it was probably rare to have guests come and stay with you and these days it's more the norm. I was thinking that if we had one particular set of friends over to our house all at once to celebrate something special, we could end up with fifty new trees in our yard overnight. And soon we would have no water in our well for taking care of said trees! Perhaps I need to come up with another idea. I'm still thinking on it!)

On another note, I also particularly like this truth which is spoken by the character of Sara Stanley:

"I am not a bit vain," said the Story Girl, with entire truthfulness. "It is not vanity to know your own good points." (Chapter 10, A Daughter of Eve, page 84)

People in today's society seem to have a hard time being truthful about their strengths and weaknesses as a general rule. I would even narrow the statement down to say that people in the Body of Christ have a hard time being honest about their strengths and weaknesses. We all want to be seen as competent but we cannot be competent in all areas. While I may be able to do one thing very well, there are other areas where I have almost no skill at all! (Take for example blogging. I can blog and communicate with written words. I cannot sew and I should never try to serve anyone, anywhere at anytime, by saying that I can sew. I do myself a disservice insisting that I can. I cannot.) That's a "light and fluffy" example to express a deeper truth. There are things I know I can do very well and there are things I know I do very poorly. While I'm not excused from doing Hard Things, I can make honest assessments about my abilities, strengths and weaknesses so that I can humbly learn. I thought The Story Girl's statement was an excellent example of truth.

Lastly, there is just this beautiful paragraph that made me want to sit in a window seat and stare off into a forest for a good, long while:

"There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of the common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland." (Chapter 16, The Ghostly Bell, pages 129-130)
Montgomery reminds me that beautiful things still exist. She slows me down from the break-neck pace of life and tells me stories that remind me that childhood magic is dancing all around me, if I'll only slow down and notice. She fills me with passion to defend and protect childhood for my own kids. Reading her books makes me realize how important it is to preserve imagination -- so that we can always find our way back to fairyland where good and evil war against each other and truth always wins. I love Montgomery for this. And so I read on - for my own sake as well as that of my children.


Barbara H. said...

This one is unfamiliar to me, but interesting! It will be a good one to explore once I get through all the Anne books.

Audrey said...

Your comments on that quote about vanity remind me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters: “By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the the impossible.”

Another quote of his where he talks about this is here:
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking our yourself less."

The modern philosopher Peter Kreeft
has echoed these sentiments: Humility is not an exaggeratedly low opinion of yourself. "Humility is self-forgetfulness."

I hope you don't mind all the quotes, this has just been something I've been thinking on so you struck a nerve with me. :) It is so easy (at least for me) to insist on self-put downs thinking that will make me humble. But true humility is recognizing our faults and weaknesses indifferently.

I also liked the quote about "fairyland", although I wouldn't necessarily call it that (fairies scare me). I have noticed that when I was younger their was a part of my imagination open that I don't know if I can ever access anymore.

Audrey said...

Whoops! I meant to write "*strengths* and weaknesses."

Annette W. said...

I have to special order thid one through the library...even though they have the next book.

Love the quotes.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Great review, Carrie. We watched the first episode of Avonlea last week! My girls loved it and we're do disappointed when the rest of our borrowed DVDs wouldn't play.

I'm struggling right now to get through the book I'm reading so I can move on to A Tangled Web!

Bluerose said...

I LOVE that last quote! I think that might just get framed for the play room. :)

uzma said...

This is my favourite book (second to Anne of Green Gables). I had difficulty getting hold of a copy in England. And brought mine on Amazon (it was shipped from America). The book takes me back to my own childhood when everything had a rosy tint to it. It's a book I can read and re-read.

Cassandra said...

I haven't read this one. I'll have to see if my library carries it!

I've been meaning to ask you... I've seen you post that C.S. Lewis quote a number of times and I'm quite interested in it. Have you written a post about why exactly it's a good idea to reread books? I'm curious as to why Lewis takes this stance.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

And this is why I didn't read your review until I had written my own. I love how you talk about Montgomery's books. You see so much more in them than I do. That's probably why I keep trying to like them. I guess I'm trying to see what you do.

You almost make me want to go back and finish reading The Story Girl. Almost. :)

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