Monday, July 26, 2010

LMM Tribute

My comfort food in books are the ones by L.M. Montgomery. It is where I go for entertainment or escape...and it never fails me for either. The charm of these books is in the world she spins in them, complete with all the little touches and details that satisfy some nameless need of the reader, gorgeous descriptions of mood and setting, exquisite sensitivity and unerring instict in marrying just the right words to provide the telling effect, keen observation of human nature, characters so alive that you seem to be watching them instead of reading about them, protagonists you completely identify with, fascinating side characters you are completely intrigued by, an underlying fitness of things that satisfies both the dramatic and the humourous by turn, and an overall sense of life that is good, true and beautiful. Her world draws you in so captivatingly that, like a friend remarked, it feels odd to find yourself back in your own world after it's over.

The first time I encountered an LMM book was in my teens while browsing in a decades-old local library. Amidst wall-to-wall shelves of old dusty volumes emnating that delicious bookish odour, I found a faded green hardbound with "Emily Climbs" stamped on it in gold lettering. The "Climbs" was intriguing - I slid it off the shelf, read the first line and was straightaway transported into the charm of the simple old-fashioned vista it conjured up:

Emily Byrd Starr was alone in her room, in the old New Moon farmhouse at Blair Water, one stormy night in a February of the olden years before the world turned upside down.

Of course I took it home. And I was hooked.

Take this excerpt for instance.

Yesterday evening I went to the Land of Uprightness for one of the last rambles I shall have in it. I climbed the hill of firs and looked down over the fields of mist and silver in the moonlight. The shadows of the ferns and sweet wild grasses along the edge of the woods were like a dance of sprites. Away beyond the harbour, below the moonlight, was a sky of purple and amber where a sunset had been. But behind me was darkness - a darkness which, with its tang of fir balsam, was like a perfumed chamber where one might dream dreams and see visions. Always when I go into the Land of Uprightness I leave behind the realm of daylight and things known and go into the realm of shadow and mystery and enchantment where anything might happen - anything might come true. I can BELIEVE anything there - old myths - legends - dryads - fauns - leprechauns. One of my wonder moments came to me - it seemed to me that I got out of my body and was FREE - I'm sure I heard an echo of that 'random word' of the gods - and I wanted some unused language to express what I saw and felt.

Enter Andrew, spic and span, prim and gentlemanly.

Fauns - fairies - wonder moments - random words - fled pell-mell. No new language was needed now.

"What a pity side-whiskers went out with the last generation - they would suit him so," I said to myself in good plain English.

I knew Andrew had come to say something special. Otherwise he would not have followed me into the Land of Uprightness, but have waited decorously in Aunt Ruth's parlour. I knew it had to come and I made up my mind to get it over and have done with it.

But I was NOT going to have Andrew propose to me by moonlight in the Land of Uprightness. I might have been bewitched into accepting him. So when he said, "It's nice here, let's stay here for a while - after all, I think there is nothing so pretty as nature," I said gently but firmly that, though nature must feel highly flattered, it was too damp for a person with a tendency to consumption, and I must go in.


This ability to combine the sublime and the ridiculous in balanced proportions, to encompass the sacred and the profane with equal felicity and take in stride "the full catastrophe" of life is the cornerstone of her writing. Authors who wield this ability are among the forefront of the story-tellers, we are beholden to them and spellbound by their tales.

Although her books are all mostly written and set at the turn of the twentieth century, they are classics for all time. Next time you're in a blue funk, grab an LMM, any LMM - and see what magic she can work.