This past Saturday, I was flipping through my feed on Facebook and stopped the scroll short when I read some sad news: the actor Jonathan Crombie died. He was only forty-eight years old.
If you read that name with a blank stare and quizzical look upon your face wondering “Jonathan who?” then you must not be a girl who fell in love with him as Gilbert Blythe. Anne Shirley’s Gil. Anne of Green Gables.
Anne first came into my life when I pulled a book down from the top row of my bookshelf titled Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. The version I had was a rather large and heavy hardcover edition accented with illustrations complementing the text every few pages. I opened the book and took a chance.
I was immediately captivated by the “Anne girl.” I will unabashedly admit that she is my favorite literary heroine and childhood role model. I admired her spunk and flare for romanticism and how she could be headstrong and proud, sometimes to her detriment. It felt like she and I were one in the same, or to borrow a phrase from Anne herself, “kindred spirits” at the very least. As she grew older, she was a teacher with ambitions of being a writer. How my young heart leapt – I wanted to be a writer, too! She taught me about friendship and I longed to have a friend like the one she had with in Diana – a real bosom friend.
Anne became more real to me when her world jumped off the page and onto the television screen. Generally I frown at the books made into movies. If I’ve read the book, I watch the movie skeptically and critically dissect it afterwards. It’s inevitable that something you thought was important in the book is never filmed or lands on the cutting room floor. The actors cast don’t quite align with your vision of the characters as how you imagined them. The screenwriters take liberties with the book text and edit some more. Books into movies are usually a disappointment to me.
However, this live action adaptation of Anne’s story hit all the right notes. It was released in installments and I’d be glued to every episode that aired. In those early days, I seem to remember watching it on the Disney Channel and later it would pop up on PBS when they were collecting for pledges. When it was released on VHS, the box sets were purchased for me: two tapes in each of the two boxes – four glorious tapes – to watch my Anne whenever I wanted. Eventually, two DVDs replaced my four VHS tapes. Regardless of how and where and on what device I watched it, Anne of Green Gables was better than Christmas morning.
Jonathan Crombie was cast as Gilbert Blythe and I was absolutely smitten. It was his mischievousness and charm that reeled me in, while it repelled Anne. Sure he teased her, but he loved her. I loved that they became friends. I loved that he supported her and her ambitions. I hated her for turning him down and saying she didn’t love him. I worried that she might marry someone else. I breathed a sigh of relief when that didn’t happen. My heart broke when Gil appeared to be dying and told Anne that she was always the one. My heart sang when Anne finally came to her senses and tells Gil: “I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.”
I wanted a Gil in my life. The way he pined for my heroine endeared him to me. The adolescent girl I was wanted to have similar experiences, a Gilbert-and-Anne type of romance someday. I shouldn’t be surprised that so many other girls saw Gil as the object of their affections, too. Since Saturday, I’ve read an article from The New Yorker and “25 Times Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables Melted Your Heart” on Buzzfeed.
It’s led me to consider that those carefree childhood days of mine are slipping further and further away. And I’m hoping that I can find some time soon to play those DVDs and lose myself in the world of my heroine Anne Shirley and her love Gilbert Blythe.