L.M. Montgomery and The Books that inspired Road to Avonlea

Sullivan Entertainment

By Agatha Krzewinski

Both in her lifetime and since, Lucy Maud Montgomery is considered to be the most successful Canadian author of all time. She wrote a total of 21 novels, 530 story collections, 500 poems, and 30 essays.

 

Montgomery grew up in a household on Prince Edward Island that praised poems and oral storytelling, but distrusted reading novels. After completing some English literature courses at Dalhousie University, she began her writing career by publishing essays, short fiction, and poems in North American Periodicals. In 1908 Montgomery published her very first book, Anne of Green Gables, and it was an immediate success.

It established her career and she continually wrote the sequels for the rest of her life, including the 8th novel The Blythes are Quoted,which was submitted to the publisher on the day of her death.

Shortly after the publication of Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery published a series of books and short stories that were loosely adapted into the Emmy Award Winning TV series Road to Avonlea in 1989.Montgomery grew up in a Scottish- Canadian family and as a child spent a lot of time listening to her great Aunt Mary Lawson talk about the legends and myths of their home country Scotland. She used these stories in writing the novels The Story Girl (1911), and the sequel The Golden Road (1913), as well as drew upon her diaries from her teenage years.

 

The Story Girl narrates a group of young cousins and their friends who live in a rural community of Prince Edward Island. It follows the boy Beverly along with his brother Felix,who come to live with their Aunt Janet and Uncle Alec King while their father travels for business. Beverly and Felix spend much of their leisure time with their cousins Dan, Felicity, Cecily, Peter Craig, Cousin Sara Ray, and another cousin, Sara Stanley (the Story Girl). Sara Stanley often entertains the group with fascinating insights about the various events that took place within the King Family History, and she is of course the lead character in Road to Avonlea.

At the time Montgomery was writing The Story Girl from 1909 – 1910, she was engaged to the Presbyterian Minister Ewan Macdonald, whom it is said she did not have much affection for.  He did not show particular interest in literature, nor was he excited about going to Scotland for their honeymoon. Montgomery quoted at the time to a reporter while visiting the country, “those women whom God wanted to destroy he would make into the wives of ministers”. Montgomery wrote characters in The Story Girl that gave mock-sermons that ridiculed the speaking styles of Presbyterian Ministers,which can similarly be seen in Road to Avonlea’s Jasper Dale, Olivia’s husband who has a stuttering problem.

 

Following the success of her books Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Anne of Avonlea (1909), Montgomery was under a lot of pressure by her publisher to deliver more stories about Anne. While writing The Golden Road,Montgomery had been quoted saying, “I have been too hurried and stinted for time. I have had to write it at high pressure.” She finished the novel on May 21, 1913 and dedicated it to her great Aunt Mary Lawson. In this novel more character development takes place and the reader is able to follow the children growing up. The character Beverly hints that Felicity and Peter will get married, which is similarly seen with Felicity marrying Gus Pike in Road to Avonlea.

While these books did take place in Prince Edward Island, they did not take place in the fictional village of ‘Avonlea’. The village of Avonlea was derived from Montgomery’s short story collections, Chronicles of Avonlea (1912),and Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920), which many of the series’ episodes and situations are based on.

 

Chronicles of Avonlea comprises a total of 12 stories,which is about the residents living in the village of Avonlea. The character Anne Shirley makes a few small appearances, such as in the story The Hurrying of Ludovic and The Courting of Prissy Strong. Other characters from the Anne books including Marilla Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, and Diana Berry, also make small appearances. The stories from the collection that are featured in episodes of Road to Avonlea are Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s (8th story and Season 1 Episode 3), Old Lady Lloyd (2nd story and Seasons 1 Episode 4), and Aunt Abigail’s Beau (7th story and Season 1 Episode 7).

 

Further Chronicles of Avonlea is the sequel to Chronicles of Avonlea but wasn’t published until 8 years later. Oddly enough, Further Chronicles of Avonlea is comprised of the 15 stories that Montgomery had originally decided not to publish in the prequel Chronicles of Avonlea. Montgomery reluctantly agreed to the publication at the end of a lawsuit with Publisher L.C. Page and Company regarding the Anne novels, and only agreed under the condition that no mention of Anne Shirley would be in the book, nor any depiction of her on the cover. Montgomery had revised the stories and removed any mentions and descriptions of Anne. However L.C. Page and Co. had announced that they were planning to publish the 1912 versions that they already had in their possession, resulting in violating the agreement. Her legal battle did not settle until 1928, and the book was taken off the market,and republished again in the 1950s.

 

Following the success of the films Anne of Green Gables (1985) and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987), a close friend of Producer Kevin Sullivan came to him and asked, “no one has ever made a long-running television hit out of a classic novel. Why not serialize Anne?” At first Sullivan wasn’t interested. He felt there wasn’t enough story material left and was uncertain about developing a long running series based on just one character. However, when actress Collen Dewhurst, who fell in love with playing her role of Marilla Cuthbert, asked Sullivan as well, he began to re-consider.  He realized if he were to assemble a marvelous cast with his favorite performers, it could provide him the vehicle for writing numerous material which would sustain a long running television series.

Asa result, Sullivan rambled through some of Montgomery’s little-known books and short stories: The Story Girl, The Golden Road, Chronicles of Avonlea, and Further Chronicles of Avonlea. He began to put together a parade of characters that might have inhabited the world that Anne Shirley lived in. He also saw an opportunity to bring back some of the supporting cast from the Anne miniseries such as actors Jackie Burroughs, Mag Ruffman, and Cedric Smith. Sullivan went back and pitched the concept to CBC and Disney, and from there the show was green lit. Sullivan and his team of writers worked diligently to create characters and write narratives that could have easily jumped the pages of Montgomery’s books.

While Road to Avonlea was originally a spinoff from Anne of Green Gables, it also became an iconic entity of its own. Road to Avonlea had the highest budget ever for a series in Canada at the time and holds the record for the most watched Canadian television series ever,garnering a total of 2.527 million viewers for its premiere. It was nominated for 16 Emmys, winning 4; including Emmys for guest stars Christopher Lloyd and Dianne Wiest, and for Outstanding Costume design in 1993 and it has aired in over 60 countries.

 

To read more about Road to Avonlea, visit www.shopatsullivan.com for featured Ebooks.

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