The stories we read

Among the Shadows.

Recently I read another of L. M. Montgomery’s books, Among the Shadows. It is a collection of short stories that share some aspect of the darker side of her writings. There are elements of mystery and supernatural in her Emily books that made me curious to find this one. There are a few spoilers in this post- so don’t read the last paragraph if you hate spoilers!

By now, I will say that I’ve read enough Montgomery to see that she explores similar topics throughout nearly all the stories I’ve read, in different shades and forms.  Meaning, if you are looking for tales of real witchcraft or darkness, you will probably be disappointed in these stories.The supernatural stories make up part, but not the whole, of this collection. The ‘darkness’ she explores in Among the Shadows is mostly the darkness of the human nature, whether through treachery, deep loss and sadness, or the desire for the unattainable, and portrayed alongside innocence, redemption, humor and sympathy.

In fact in all but two stories, there are happy endings for nearly all the characters, or at least the protagonist. These two stand out for a couple of reasons. The Red Room involves a foreigner who gets what she wants but at cost to others, including the narrator; it is a clearly a choice not celebrated by the author. My Post-Colonial Theories memory stores were tingling the whole time I read this one, but that’s another post.

The second story, in an unusual twisting of opposites for Montgomery, ends with the resolve of one mystery and the happiness of one long-suffering character, but the protagonist does not get what he wants. It most closely resembles a tragedy of all of them, in my limited understanding. Oh, I forgot the title of this one, but-to be honest-I hate giving out spoilers, so I apologize, but without a ton of regret. 🙂 I will say that I thought I had this one all figured out until the very end. Then I just sort of sat there in disbelief after the last few sentences. It seemed like a very un-Montgomery ending, which I think shows one side of her flexibility in writing.

There is a little of  the humor that Montgomery fans are so familiar with. The Deacon’s Painkiller had me laughing out loud.  This and one or two others (I think) are marked by the author’s  exploration of human foibles, hilariously written yet not without some measure of compassion or understanding.

The theme of redemption is common in Shadows. A released convict feels hopeless and worthless until he encounters unexpected loyalty; an estranged couple is reunited through a supernatural occurrence; a weary and self-righteous minister is humbled when he falls in love with the town’s outcast, whose true nature and potential are invisible to all but him.

I imagine that to many readers today, the particular stories might seem a little sappy or unrealistic; not in the supernatural sense but in the way redemption takes place. Montgomery was a romantic in many ways, a person with deep and sensitive feelings. In this way it makes sense that these themes and characters would bleed their way onto the pages of her writing. As a kindred spirit of Montgomery’s, more than one of these stories brought tears to my eyes.

And there you have a brief and selective review of Among the Shadows. If you are only familiar with the lighter side of her writing such as Anne of Green Gables, you might enjoy this different shade of Montgomery. You’ll find a few supernatural spooks, a few laughs, quite a bit of heartache, some of the mysteriously unexpected, and plenty of romance, all in the unmistakeable palate of Montgomery’s wordcrafting. Feel free to let me know what you think of this collection if you get your hands on it!

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