top of page
  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

the world i wish to create | guest post by katja labonté



Boy, do I have a treat for y'all today. After I posted something on Instagram that became somewhat of a hot take (but also resonated with a lot of people, don't worry 😅), Katja mentioned sharing my post on her blog. Long story short, we decided to do a post swap, so not only will Katja's audience be hearing from me today, you guys will be hearing from Katja! And I am SO excited, because the post she has prepared for us is absolutely beautiful. Whether you're a writer or a reader or just someone who struggles to strike a balance between the dark and heavy and the light and fluffy in their everyday life, I guarantee this post will bless you as much as it did me!


 

Have you ever heard of Anne with an E? It’s a TV show loose adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, released in 2017. I’ve never seen it, and don’t plan to right now, but I did look through the episode synopsis on Wikipedia out of curiosity. To be honest, the first time I looked through those episodes I was startled. Why? Well, maybe this will explain it: 

…Walley-Beckett constructed Anne with an E with “a darker undercurrent” than previous adaptations of Anne of Green Gables. She envisioned Anne as an antihero, adding original backstories to her adaptation that emphasized the impact of bullying, class-based discrimination, social isolation, and consequent PTSD on the construction of Anne’s character (themes hinted at, but never elaborated upon, in the original novel).

In short, I came away with the impression that people thought Anne of Green Gables wasn’t good enough because it wasn’t realistic. Specifically, brutally realistic. 

Let me stop right here to say I am not starting out to bash Anne with an E. I never watched the show. I have no particular feelings against it. I have no idea how clean or not it is. I’m just sharing my objective thoughts about the topic that seems to have sparked this show: 


Should Anne of Green Gables have been more realistic? 


Looking at Anne with an E, for the most part, the themes they pick up are realistically ones Anne would have struggled with. Strangers rarely find it easy to integrate into communities. An orphan, and one as unusual and plain as Anne, would find it doubly hard. Anne’s past life with Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond would be traumatising. Mr. Thomas was a drunkard; Mrs. Thomas doesn’t seem to have been a very loving or exemplary woman. It’s very likely that Anne grew up in squalor and insecurity and just tolerance, if not outright dislike or abuse. Certainly, according to her own words, she suffered from lack of life’s necessities (she told her daughter Diana that she was “often hungry” before coming to Green Gables) and was worked from a very young age (she mentions having to babysit the Thomas kids and not being able to enjoy the shore, as well as practically raising the three sets of Hammond twins—and she was not yet eleven!)

She was rejected by everyone and sent to an overcrowded orphanage, where she lived for four months, and came away declaring that was enough and she didn’t ever want to go back. If even Anne couldn’t find any good there, you may imagine it was pretty bad. But her trials weren’t over when she got to Avonlea. Marilla is not an easy woman to live with, and Anne still has to go without a lot of what she longs for. She has friends, but for most of a year she’s under suspicion of intoxicating her best friend and is “ruthlessly torn” from Diana. Her school teacher publicly and unjustly mocks and punishes her. Certainly in all these things more trauma can be added. And discrimination is certainly in the margins of the novel. There’s much prejudice expressed against “unknown orphans” of uncertain heritage, against “Yankees,” London “street Arabs,” French Canadians, and people who don’t come from P.E. Island in general. Anne also faced criticism when she chose to go to college and to teach—all because she wanted to develop herself and have some way of earning her bread (and keep busy!). 

So, yes, the themes of “bullying, class-based discrimination, social isolation, and consequent PTSD” are realistic. So why did Montgomery ignore them in Anne of Green Gables

Frankly, I think Anne with an E is the direct opposite of what L.M. Montgomery was going for in Anne of Green Gables. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying it’s not what Montgomery wanted to focus on

The whole point of Anne of Green Gables is choosing joy in spite of your circumstances. In finding the beauty in less-than-ideal environments. In having the personal strength to overcome obstacles and move forward from the past. The books don’t say Anne doesn’t have PTSD. PTSD was not a term in 1908. They barely discovered “shell shock” by 1918, okay? People who had PTSD probably were described as having “nervous attacks.” Anne doesn’t have nervous attacks, I admit. But there are different ways of experiencing PTSD. And one thing for sure, Anne’s early years marked her. It especially shows when she’s a mother. She is so careful to give her children security, regardless of their age. She’s always present for them—and if she isn’t, usually their housekeeper, Susan Baker, is (and Susan is 1000% trustworthy). She raises her children in beauty and plenty (they’re considered special in the village because they wear such pretty clothes and have such a nice home). She makes sure they have good manners and deep education and strong morals. She screens their friends and warns them from bad people while encouraging them to build good relationships with all sorts of worthy people. She loves them out loud and in action, all the time. She gives them the childhood she never had. She even struggles to physically discipline her kids, which indicates trauma to me. And there’s other reactions that might be noticed. For instance, Anne is crystal-clear of discrimination. She never joins in any remarks of that kind in any of the books. She often speaks up for people. She has remarkably broad opinions for her provincial towns. She’s very fair. On the other hand, she also really struggles with people not liking her, or with letting go of things she loves. 

The point of this post is not an essay on Anne Shirley Blythe, so I’ll stop here. I think this shows pretty clearly that Montgomery didn’t ignore the ugly realities. Her point was about moving beyond. I’ve never read Montgomery’s biography in depth, but I know she was not a very happy woman. She put a lot of herself in Anne, I think. And it’s my personal opinion—I have no backing for this theory, but here it is anyhow—it’s my personal opinion that Montgomery wrote about what she wished she was and wished she had. She wished she was like Anne, and she wished she lived like Anne did, and this series was almost an escape. An alternate world or alternate reality that made her happy. It’s not such a wild theory. Some of the happiest, lightest books I’ve read were written by people who were coming to terms with past trauma or unhappiness. For example, Beverly Cleary, who wrote the Ramona & Beezus and Henry Huggins books, wrote about “the childhood she might have had, should have had, in a better, kinder world” (“The Real Ramona: How Beverly Cleary transformed her harsh, difficult childhood into heartwarming fiction” by Sarah Jaffe). 

If you recall, some time ago I wrote a post about dystopian fiction. At the end of that post, I revealed one of my biggest writing beliefs. There’s a time and place for heavier, sombre books. I believe in hearing the truth even if it hurts. I read dark, heavy books. I write dark, painful stuff. I think sometimes we need to “write it out.” And certainly we need to speak up about the harsh, ugly, difficult things in life. The Bible itself does not keep silent. 

But I don’t want to write and read only dark stuff. When I look at upcoming releases, I see books about global war, freedom from slavery, governmental resistance, national unrest, and more. Dark fantasy and disturbing dystopian is the trend. Dark romance is on the rise. Broken families, broken countries, broken people fill the pages. 

I’m not saying it’s wrong. Within the boundaries of what is appropriate and true, I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about life topics—topics that are heavy and difficult but that we must grapple with and that sometimes a book can help us handle. I think there’s a need for books that disturb us and make us think, books that open our eyes and enlighten our minds. And there’s a need for books that are heavy, but still peaceful—tackling topics that spark fear, but reassure us with the words from the Father of consolation and comfort.

But I think there’s also a great gaping hole for happy books. Books that exude peace, joy, hope, light. Books about whole, peaceful families. Unified, happy countries. Springtime farms. Holiday adventures. Loving parents, tight-knit friend groups, trustful children. Strong, beautiful homes. Characters who’ve gone through the valley of the shadow but can look up and see the Son in the clouds above. 

Because that’s the way the world actually works. There’s unfathomable evil and pain and darkness, but there’s also ineffable joy and beauty and light. We go through seasons of valleys and mountains, sunshine and rain. These things coexist. Literature and books should be a portrait of life. Sometimes you need to zoom in and focus on one topic. Sometimes you need to step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes you need to balance different elements. 

Allison Tebo said something once that strongly resonated with me:

 

There’s a scene in The Book Thief (film) that I’ll never forget. The people of Munich are being bombed and have taken cover in an air raid shelter. Hans—the father figure of the MC—distracts his friends by playing his accordion. There’s so much pressure to be relevant on social media - to make a stand, to speak out. It’s hard not to keep playing your accordion in the midst of that. It looks silly, it looks like madness—singing in the dark, ignoring the bombs. You’ll be misunderstood and judged. You’ll feel guilty. You’ll wonder what’s even the point. In the light of the harsh realities all around us, a little music doesn’t mean much in the long run, does it? People will push you to use your platform to talk about the war; to educate the people, to defend and debunk. And those can be good things when done correctly. But, you see, Hans knew he wasn’t any good at those things, but he was good at singing in the dark. I’m not condemning anyone who chooses to use their voice to talk about the war—that is needed! But someone who helps the people forget for a bit is EQUALLY needed. We need soldiers and leaders, but we also need morale officers—those entertainers who help a weary and battered people forget about the bombs for a little while. That’s what I try to do on Instagram. There are no statistics of death and suffering here—just beauty. No urging to join the war effort—just an escape. In my cellar, I try to focus on a bit of music, the touch of a hand, the warmth of courage and camaraderie. And that’s why Hans inspires me—because he embodies what I most want to do. He smiles while everyone else is panicking, he sings when others scream, he rests while others fight. He’s only a small cog in a big war, he can’t stop the mass-suffering of the world, but he brings a moment’s beauty to those in his care. And that’s how he fights. “I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” –Anne Frank


Later on, Allison said,


I want to share the Truth on this account . . . while softly closing the door on the world’s chaos. The world’s real problems are in my thoughts and prayers, but rarely on my feed. I was never much good at educating people, debunking lies, engaging the clamor—what I am good at is singing in the dark. And acknowledging the good in a dark world is a way of telling the Truth. With this account, I hope to be your morale officer, reminding you that life is miraculous and the future is secure. It is my hope to give you a good laugh at my mischief and nonsense and maybe offer you some hope by trying to be aggressively whimsical, chasing magic with enthusiasm, and persistently believing in the holy beauty of an ordinary life. I want my account to be an air raid shelter in the Blitz of social media. So I hope you stay and have a chuckle with me, and remember the crunch of toast, the sound of birds, the feel of sunshine, and the certainty of hope. I’m glad you’re here.


And that sums up what I want to be. What I want my writing to be. I want my books to be a magical, happy little corner to steal away to and be happy in. 

Not always. I’ve written heavier stories. I’ve tackled—and will keep tackling—difficult topics like trauma, grief, anxiety, self-loathing, depression, suicidal tendencies. And writing is often my coping mechanism, my way of healing, my ticket to freedom as I explore God’s truths. But I don’t want my books to be hopeless and fear-ridden. I want them to be encouraging. Pointing back to Jesus. Because that’s what I need, and that’s what the world needs. 

And I want to write lighter books. Happy books, where the sun is almost always shining and the love is almost always flowing, where there’s laughter and song and excitement, where kids live the almost-perfect summer we just can’t quite get to in this world, but that we can imagine and enjoy vicariously, storing up the joy and peace as we return to a darker world… 

And, really, there are almost-perfect moments in real life, if we take time to enjoy them. There’s so much joy and blessing, if we just look for it. And I want to capture that. I want to remind myself and everyone else that to see a sunrise, to smell a rose, to hug a child, to laugh with a brother, to sing with a friend, to speak to the Father, are all truly magical moments. They’re important. They’re beautiful. They’re worth it. And their tinge of imperfection only draws us closer to the beautiful Perfect Harbour we’re heading for. 

I want to write about strong, upright characters who triumph over life’s obstacles and trauma through the power of Christ. People who you can admire and model and see Jesus in. There’s people like that in real life. 

And even if there isn’t, quite… even if the world isn’t quite as beautiful as I think it is… even if summer isn’t forever and roses fade and people grow up and siblings drift away… life is still beautiful and I want to remember it. 

Sure, the world isn’t the rosy place I thought it was as a child. And I don’t want to go my whole life thinking it is. But it’s not all broken and worthless, either. I already talked about this in “The World is Still Worth Saving,” so I won’t go into it in depth now. But the point is, Ecclesiastes is just as God-breathed as Revelations. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth” is just as true as “but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”

Maybe you’re not called to write a Melendy Family lookalike. Maybe God’s laid something more along the lines of Wuthering Heights on your heart. That’s okay. Write what He gives you, for His glory, following the precepts He has laid out. But just know, there’s place for realistic themes like Anne with an E’s. There’s place for optimistic themes like Anne of Green Gables’s. They’re not feuding. They’re completing each other. They make up a portrait of life. 

We need both.


 

~ the author ~


Katja H. Labonté is a Christian, an extreme bibliophile who devours over 365 books in a year, and an exuberant writer with a talent for starting short stories that explode into book series. She is a bilingual French-Canadian and has about a dozen topics she’s excessively passionate about (hint: that’s why she writes). She spends her days enjoying little things, growing in faith, learning life, and loving people. You can find her sharing love and obsessive fangirling for old-fashioned and beautiful books on Instagram or Facebook @oldfashionedbooklove, or blogging about faith, life, books, writing, and more at littleblossomsforjesus.wordpress.com.


 
What kind of world do you want to create? Have you read a book that emphasized beauty and hope and light, even while tackling tough topics? Why do we need both sorts of books?









123 views12 comments

Recent Posts

See All

12 Comments


Saraina Whitney
Mar 18

Oh my goodness, I LOVE this post!! "And, really, there are almost-perfect moments in real life, if we take time to enjoy them." YES. THANK YOU. And I completely agree, I believe Anne of Green Gables was realistic and didn't just ignore all the darker elements of Anne's story/backstory/character, but the

focus was looking beyond that. (Katja phrased it so well!) Now I'm wanting to reread AOGG. It's the perfect spring read. XD

Like
Unknown member
Mar 18
Replying to

Thank you so much, Saraina! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! <3 Have fun rereading AOGG. ;)


~Katja

Like

Stephanie Chittle
Mar 18

I began to watch Anne with an E, but I stopped after a while. Just as many modern films and books today, the series concentrates a little too much on what many would call woke subject matter. (I'm trying to be as sensitive as possible given that I am not being sensitive.) Basically the portrayal of homosexuality was not in line with my values (just for the record, I believe everyone is equal, but that doesn't mean sin is okay). Also, it was historically inaccurate to some extent, although I don't feel like going into that. All to say that it's kind of been taken away from its original purpose -- to tell Anne's story -- and made to serve…


Like
Unknown member
Mar 18
Replying to

Thanks for weighing in, Stephanie! I appreciate hearing about the show from someone who’s watched it. :) I agree with your last line a lot—that was my impression of the show, and why I’m not really interested in watching it. ;P


~Katja

Like

Unknown member
Mar 18

Thanks so much for having me, Grace!! I loved doing this. <3


~Katja

Like
Grace A. Johnson
Grace A. Johnson
Mar 21
Replying to

Thank you!! It was such a pleasure! <3

Like

Eloise Thom
Mar 18

Oh, this is so absolutely lovely and truly inspiring! I think it is exactly what I needed to read just now 🤍(Now I really want to reread Anne of Green Gables!) Thank you so much Grace and Katja!

Like
Unknown member
Mar 18
Replying to

Aw, thank you so much, Eloise! I’m so glad it resonated with you. <3


~Katja

Like

A.M. Revere
Mar 18

Anne with an E definitely seems different than the original. One I do recommend however for both of you girl, is the three Anne of Green Gables movies from PBS (with Ella Ballentine playing Anne). They are so wholesome and beautiful. I own them and watch them often!

Like
Unknown member
Mar 18
Replying to

Thanks, girl!! I’ll have to check that out!


~Katja

Like

subscribe for more

thank you for subscribing!

bottom of page