Thursday, January 30, 2014

Magic for Marigold, by L.M. Montgomery

Yessss! I managed to squeeze in one more Montgomery title before the end of the month. I always tell myself not to fret about how many Montgomery titles I can get to during January. It's not like I'm not allowed to read her at any other point in the year. The problem is that I never do. I feel like I spent so much time on Montgomery during January that I feel pressured to move on afterward. Before that familiar pressure comes visiting I wanted to read one more and selected Magic for Marigold as I can't remember when I last read this.

Every year that I host this challenge I learn something new about Montgomery and find myself feeling differently about her works (as I age). As many of you can attest, it's a different reading experience when you reading a book as an adult that you once read as a child. My opinion of Marigold has always been that she's a sweet girl with only one book to her name. (Poor thing!) Marigold is forever a young girl as there are not any additional titles to grow her up in. That thought makes me sort of sad and that is one of the reason why I usually avoid her. (I realize that's a little weird, but there you have it.)

When you crack open the pages of Magic for Marigold you meet the main character as a little unnamed baby. Her father has died and her mother, sick with grief, has been unable to name her baby girl. As is tradition, the Sterling family, into which this young girl has been born, gathers together to name her. Just finding a name that suits seems an insurmountable challenge but eventually the name her mother secretly wished for is bestowed upon the golden haired tot. Marigold it is!

After Marigold receives her name we jump ahead a few years and meet up again around the time she turns six. The book then covers her life through age eleven, each chapter sharing a different adventure in her life. Due to Marigold's age, it is easy to think about this book as children's literature but there are some adult elements in it that I found rather surprising and which I had never noticed before. For one thing, Montgomery uses a lot of slang in this title and also the word "damn." Hair was being bobbed and motorcars are on the scene; all of this makes sense when you realize that this book was first published in 1925. Interestingly, it was first published as a series of four shorter stories (later combined into the Magic for Marigold title in 1929). Montgomery was still living at the Leaksdale Manse at the time she wrote about Marigold. She was also engaged in a bitter lawsuit against her publisher, L.C. Page over Anne.

Probably the thing that stood out to me the most in re-reading this story was Montgomery's spirituality. Her husband was a minister but suffered from religious melancholy. Montgomery was frequently in despair about what to do with him but there's no doubt in my mind that his lack of grounding in Biblical truth not only effected his outlook on life but on Montgomery's view of "organized religion." All throughout this particular title you will find literary characters with strong opinions on God and the church - most of which are negative.

The general attitude expressed through more than one character is that it is entirely possible (and even more "wholesome") to be a believer in God outside of the church. You can tell from Montgomery's journals and other writings that she felt a deeper connection to some type of supreme being when she was outside in nature and the same is true of her more loved characters. Magic for Marigold has its own mentions of gossipy church ladies and/or religious fanatics who hold to a legalistic view of God which results in bizarre and unnatural behaviors. (This can primarily be seen in the character of Polly, a young girl who is the epitome of a fanatic.) There is no grace in Montgomery's picture of God, whereas there would seem to be plenty of grace in a spring zephyr. She could not see God as being both just and loving and this is very thoroughly documented in the way she describes certain of her characters.

As a Christian, I found this book almost painful to read this time around because I know her husband was a minster and she spent her life in churches where I sincerely doubt she wanted to be! There is a bit of irony when she points out hypocritical behaviors amongst church members. It's hard to see someone so close to scripture and yet so far away from it. It is entirely possible that her church experiences surrounded her with "moral" people who were more interested in being in some type of club than in worshipping God. There is a difference in those two motives. Frankly, I think Montgomery's life experiences are just plain sad.

Then, disturbing too is that Christians tend to claim Montgomery as one of their own because of her husband, her status and her writings (her fame?). I think we need to be careful to do that because her writing about Christianity and the church is a distortion of truth and is not an accurate picture of what the Church is called to be (to its own and to the world).  This is not at all to say that a Christian ought not to read Montgomery because I do not believe that AT ALL. (Let me make that abundantly clear!) I read Montgomery and love her quaint, whispy stories which help me relax and help me to appreciate nature and beauty. There is much I like about her but I do not agree with her picture of the Church. And whether or not she writes from personal experience on that point is rather beside the point - what she writes is not a general truth and we should be very careful that it never is. Let her stories of church life serve as a warning to Christians if nothing else. (Most especially, let her books stand as a warning against gossip. I fear that she suffered much at the hands of gossipers and that definitely colored her outlook on life and her ability to have a spiritual walk with the Lord.)

That all to explain, I enjoyed re-visiting Marigold and I didn't. My eyes were opened to different aspects of Montgomery's personal life and convictions. Reading her opinions on the church do make me sad. Still, I can enjoy her books and I will go on doing so. I hope you all will also!


Of note: Magic for Marigold is being republished and the new addition is set to be released in April of this year. It's exciting to know that the book will be available again to a new generation (other than $0.01 copies on Amazon!) but I do think that the cover art is perfectly hideous!!!


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Ah, yes, it's an entirely different animal when you read with adult eyes, yes.


Becky said...

You might be interested in this collection of quotes I pulled together over my year of rereading Montgomery. They are focused on spirituality and organized religion.

Barbara H. said...

She seems to have some gossips in almost all her books - it makes me wonder what kind of experience she had with them in real life. Must've been awful. So sad, too, that her church experience seems so disillusioned and graceless.

It's a good warning, too, for Christians to be careful about claiming her for their own. That's probably easier to do if one has only read the Anne books.

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