I thought I would use today’s “Feature Friday” segment of A Pilgrim in Narnia to highlight some L.M. Montgomery adventures this spring and in the months ahead.
My Chapter Reading for the L.M. Montgomery Readathon
For the L.M. Montgomery Readathon on Facebook, I recently read chapter 23 of The Story Girl. For those who haven’t joined in the fun yet, the Readathon is a COVID-era online community where we read through Montgomery’s novels one by one, taking a week to focus on each chapter. Primarily inspired by–and continuing to be fuelled by–Montgomery historian Andrea MacKenzie and Montgomery text critic and editor Ben Lefebvre, the Readathon includes book cover exhibitions, text-critical notes about the evolution of the book, historical background notes about Montgomery’s life and works, historical features about aspects of interest in the book, discussion questions, and links to relevant Montgomery society writings, archival pictures, and bits of news.
I was a late sign-up for reading a bit of The Story Girl. However, I think it was fortuitous that I was able to read the chapter, “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On.” It’s a funny and endearing conclusion to the “Dream Journal” cycle in The Story Girl. But, because of the narrator Beverly’s precocious circumspection, it is a chapter that also provides an unusual and bittersweet depth of other possibilities in the King family.
Here is my chapter reading (which, by the way, was far harder than I thought it would be).
Note: I had the opportunity to interview Andrea for The MaudCast in season 1. Check it out:
Another Note: As I popped into the Inkling Folk Fellowship last week for Tolkien Reading Day at just the right time, I was also asked to read the first few paragraphs of the Ainulindalë–the Music of the Ainur section at the beginning of The Silmarillion. Not Montgomery-connected, but pretty sweet. Tonight’s Fellowship meeting is about the True Narnia Code, which Joe Ricke, having learned from Dan Brown, will finally reveal to all. You can find a link on Facebook.
Other Story Girl Brenton News
In the Montgomery Readathon bio below my reading, although I suggest here that Emily of New Moon is the most resonant Montgomery novel for me, I admit that I am one of those who have fallen under the Story Girl’s spell. Indeed, I argued earlier this winter in “The Literary Magic of L.M. Montgomery’s Storied Domains: The King Orchard and The Story Girl” that The Story Girl‘s “spell” is not merely a metaphor, but that we should be reading the novel with the kinds of techniques we would use in reading fantastic fiction. Well, perhaps “argue” is too strong of a word. I haven’t quite finished my work in this area, but that little “Storied Domains” piece is a model of one of the things I am trying to do.
Another one of those things is my long-term (hopefully one-day book-length) project on “L.M. Montgomery and the Spiritual Life.” I have a class pre-notice on this topic below, but I am also presenting about L.M. Montgomery on a theological theme at this spring’s L.M. Montgomery Institute 15th Biennial International Conference. This brilliant event will be held at the University of Prince Edward Island (where I have taught for 16 years and am currently serving as an Assistant Professor in our applied arts program, ACLC) on June 22-26, 2022. This year’s theme is “L.M. Montgomery and Re-vision,” and my project really is about re-visioning, re-seeing, re-considering how we think about Montgomery’s invitation to spiritual life in her fiction by noting the theological revisioning that her child theologians undergo as they image and imagine the character of God. Here is my abstract:
“Reverent Irreverence: Images of God and Montgomery’s
‘Pilgrims on the Golden Road of Youth’”
Mary Henley Rubio claims that L.M. Montgomery “retained a deep-seated reverence for the idea of God” (188). Coupled with this reverence are Montgomery’s verdant doctrinal challenges and a particular concern for the impression bad theology might make upon a child: “What a conception of God to implant in a child’s mind!” (SJ 1 378). As spiritual formation is critical to “pilgrims on the golden road of youth” (GR), and as the imagistic moments in her novels set the stage for personal discovery, it is worth considering how images of God, both reverent and irreverent, shape her fictional characters.
Immediately striking is The Story Girl, where a literal picture of God as a “stern, angrily frowning old man” is a spiritual loss of infinite value for the children (SG 61-3). Emily Starr contrasts the old-man-in-the-sky images of her elders’ Gods with her father’s God, a figure “clear as the moon, fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (ENM 23). Clarity, beauty, ferocity, and love inform Emily’s creative and subversive moral vision, her numinous experiences, and her tentative religious experiments. And Anne, a “rapt little figure with a half-unearthly radiance,” lost in a vivid chromolithograph of “Christ Blessing Little Children,” inserts herself into the picture in order to exegete it, making it a living moment of childhood theological formation (AGG 56).
What Aunt Elizabeth and Marilla call Emily’s and Anne’s “irreverence” is really their budding theological sophistication. Therefore, it is worthwhile following their peculiar theological methods. In this essay exploring the religious imagination of Montgomery’s characters as they navigate competing religious options with childlike wonder, like Anne, I will exegete Montgomery’s images of God by inserting myself into the picture. I will autographically consider the profound ways that childhood impressions shape theological expectations in Montgomery’s novels.
Other LMMI conference-related papers and projects that will be chapters or part-chapters in that currently imaginary but heretofore realized book include:
- 2020: “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: L.M. Montgomery’s Narrative Spirituality in Rainbow Valley,” Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies (2018 conference paper, published in 2020)
- 2021: “Befriending the Darkness, L.M. Montgomery’s Lived Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams” (2020 conference paper, winner of the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s 2020 Elizabeth Epperly Early Career Paper Award, published in 2021).
This is the perfect time to sign up for the LMMI Bienniel Montgomery conference at UPEI–to spend a gorgeous springtime in fellowship and exploring Prince Edward Island, or to join us in a hybrid event.
Online Short Course: “Spirituality in the Writing of L.M. Montgomery” by Brenton Dickieson
Finally, just a note until more details are published: I am teaching a short course at the Atlantic School of Theology in May on “Spirituality in the Writing of L.M. Montgomery.” This 4-week, online program is priced accessibly, and you can find some details here.