March has me in its grip. This time of year, all the places I haven’t seen call to me like sirens. The beautiful sun-lit walking trails and leafy green curtains I frequent aren’t enough. I’m restless, like the little mermaid in her grotto. “Except I don’t wanna be where the people are,” I told my husband the other day, “I just wanna get out of here!”
In this mood, and instead of swimming off like a rebellious red-head, I picked up L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle. On a bright afternoon I sat outside and promptly got lost in this new story.
Like everything I’ve ever read by Montgomery, it was truly enjoyable. One I’ll read again for sure. I’d heard it is considered to be Montgomery’s greatest literary work. (I never would have thought so if I’d judged this book by its cover…so don’t! Don’t judge this book by its cover!) It’s written for an older audience than her Anne and Emily stories. There’s so much I could write about (will I ever be able to write everything I want to about a book!), but since new places are what I pine for, setting shall be the topic of discussion.
Montgomery has an unmistakeable sense of place and setting that defines all her stories. Every detail, especially of houses and country surroundings, are carefully chosen and vividly described. The protagonist’s room, with its “faded, dark red paper; the ceiling discoloured by old leaks and crossed with cracks;…the jar of ancient potpourri made by her mother on her mystical honeymoon…” introduce the stifling, unimaginative surroundings, and even people, that Valancy has grown up in.
Contrast this with a description of her new surroundings in October, later in the story: ” A great, tinted peace. Blue, wind-winnowed skies. Sunlight sleeping in the glades of that fairyland. Long dreamy purple days paddling idly in their canoe along shores and up the rivers of crimson and gold. A sleepy, red hunter’s moon.” Readers learn from these descriptions that Valancy has found her Blue Castle, her own place of wonder and beauty, in real life.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there were a few less-than-satisfactory details of The Blue Castle . But, to be honest, I overlooked them easily enough in the enjoyment of a new story. Montgomery’s signature lavish descriptions, humor, depth of feeling, and unforgettable if not recognizable characters make this one story that brought a new place to life for me.
At the end of the story, Valancy has a chance at last to see the world. “Valancy, before this year you’ve spent your life in ugliness. You know nothing of the beauty of the world. We’ll climb mountains-search out the magic of east and west-run hand in hand to the rim of the world…it will take a lifetime.” I like to think I’ll have my chance one day, too.