Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Book Review: Magic Island
Magic Island took me on my first journey into the life of one of my favorite authors, L. M. Montgomery. I’d known a little about her, probably gained from Wikipedia perusals and short biographical notes, but this book really helped me make her acquaintance. And in the best possible way, too, to someone mainly interested in her books.
Each section covered one of her novels or short story collections in chronological order, starting, of course, with Anne of Green Gables in 1908 and ending with Anne of Ingleside in 1939. The connections between Montgomery’s life and her fiction are numerous and intriguing. I discovered, for example, how she dealt with experiences, emotions, and people (!) in her life by translating them into fiction, how writing her stories lifted her out of gloom, what her beliefs were behind all the themes in her books, and just how vivid, even to psychic proportions, her imagination was. Mostly through Montgomery’s journals and letters, I was shown how her fiction was inextricably tied to what was going on in her real life.
As an aspiring writer, I found it instructional to see how this iconic author wove the writing of fiction into her busy life, not just dreaming up stories but relentlessly working at chapter after chapter and keeping up with the changing times to make each book a success.
As a Christian, I was interested in the path Montgomery’s beliefs took. She was not a paragon of virtue in personality or orthodox theology, but she reflected her times, on what I would call the tail end of a liberal mind. Her depression, and her husband’s, didn’t help. But I admire how she conscientiously tried to keep bleakness out of her novels. “I would not darken any other life. I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.” (quote from page 93) That is a storyteller who takes her gift to humankind seriously.
Of course I gained a deeper insight into her books, but not so deep an insight that I’d be caught up in picking them apart instead of enjoying each story as a whole. One of the things I most appreciated was the opportunity of a vicarious enjoyment of all her works, reliving some stories and learning about the unread others. This is highly valuable to me because, as much as I would like to, there is no guarantee I’ll be able to read all 22 of them.
If you enjoy L. M. Montgomery and can take the respectful and moderate literary criticism of a devoted Montgomery scholar, this book may very well be just the thing to thrill you - and spur your own creative talent. Because that is Montgomery’s legacy - a joy-filled run into the beauty of life and imagination.