- From Bildungsroman to Romance to Saturday Morning:Anne of Green Gables and Sullivan Entertainment's Adaptations
In the one hundred years since the publication of L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, the story of Anne Shirley has undergone multiple adaptations; beginning with a (now lost) silent film from 1919, there have been musicals, feature films, television movies, an animated series, and Japanese anime versions.1 Over these hundred years, one thing only has remained stable—Anne's red hair. Currently, Sullivan Entertainment produces more Anne-related materials than any other media company. Further, the best known film version of Anne of Green Gables was directed by Kevin Sullivan and released by Sullivan Films (now Sullivan Entertainment) in 1985. It gives every appearance of being an authentic reproduction of the text, especially with regard to the landscape of Prince Edward Island, the household goods, and the clothing. Additionally, from the years 2000-02, Sullivan Entertainment produced Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series (broadcast on PBS). Loosely based on the characters created by L. M. Montgomery, the series follows the adventures and, more often, misadventures of Anne Shirley and her friends.
Before we begin our examination of these two adaptations, we need to put forward the critical stance we use when looking at adaptations of children's literature. According to Linda Hutcheon's A Theory of Adaptation, "To deal with adaptations as adaptations is to think of them as, . . . inherently 'palimpsestuous' works, haunted at all times by their adapted texts. If we know the prior text, we always feel its presence shadowing the one we are experiencing directly" (6). Hutcheon's view on all adapted material is that it should not be judged on its faithfulness to the original text, but rather on how the transformation from original to adapted text works in reestablishing the original story within a new medium and genre that may lend itself to tropes [End Page 214] and themes not available in the original text. Adaptations of children's literature are haunted by an additional construct—the idea of childhood presented in the original text. With regard to children's television, media critic David Buckingham writes, "Like children's literature, children's television is not produced by children but for them. As such, it should be read as a reflection not so much of children's interests or fantasies or desires but of adults. The texts which adults produce for children represent adult constructions . . . of childhood" (47). We see historical children's literature (that written during and for another age), as facing even greater difficulties with the construction of audience. Peter Hunt explores this in his work, "Passing on the Past: The Problem of Books That Are for Children and That Were for Children." In short, he argues each age writes its children's literature for a particular concept of the child unique to its own time and culture. Therefore, children's literature written in earlier eras is, in effect, dead. That is to say, it is not accessible, understandable, or relevant to a contemporary child.
According to J. D. Stahl in his article, "Media Adaptations of Children's Literature: The Brave New Genre," "the special demand which we as literary critics tend to make of media adaptations of literary works is that they be 'faithful' to the originals, at least in spirit and in mood if not in detail" (5). Like Stahl, we reject the idea of faithfulness as a standard of excellence. In our examination of two Anne of Green Gables adaptations, we combine Hutcheon's theory of adaptation and Hunt's ideas about "dead" books. The result is that no adaptation can faithfully reproduce either the original text or the construction of childhood from another age. L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables was first published in 1908, written by an adult for a child audience of the time. One hundred years later, one must ask, as Hunt would, whether it is accessible to a counterpart audience. Sullivan Entertainment's versions seem to answer with a resounding "No." These productions have altered the character of Anne as well as remodeled her story...