by Eleanor H. Porter
First off, if your only experience with Pollyanna is the Disney/Haley Mills version, I am so, so sorry. Do yourself a favor and read the book – if you can possibly erase the movie from your mind! For this review – a little chat about this book and why it is delightful, and then a bit of ranting about the Disney version.
If, by chance, you’ve never come across Pollyanna in any form – it is the story of a young girl who, orphaned, comes to live with her aunt. A strict, no-nonsense spinster, Aunt Polly’s entire world is turned upside-down by the arrival of cheerful, enthusiastic, loving Pollyanna. Pollyanna, who seeks to find the bright side of every situation, soon endears herself to the whole neighborhood. In the process, she makes friends of all kinds and has little adventures. When tragedy strikes Pollyanna’s own life, she has to learn to play her own game of being glad.
The “Glad Game” is the keystone of the Pollyanna story. Pollyanna grew up very poor, the daughter of a “mission” minister “out west,” who subsisted on the charitable donations of churches “back east.” Pollyanna explains to her friend Nancy, Aunt Polly’s maid, how the Glad Game came to be –
“Why, we began it on some crutches that came in a missionary barrel.”
“Yes. You see, I’d wanted a doll, and Father had written them so. But when the barrel came the lady wrote that there hadn’t been any dolls come in, but the little crutches had. So she sent ’em along as they might come in handy for some child, sometime. And that’s when we began it.”
“Well, I must say I can’t see any game about that, about that,” declared Nancy, almost irritably.
“Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about – no matter what ’twas,” rejoined Pollyanna earnestly. “And we began right then – on the crutches …. Why, just be glad because you don’t-need-’em!”
For Pollyanna, the habit of the Glad Game has become strong. She dances about the neighborhood helping everyone find something to be glad about.
While Pollyanna has been mocked for her simplistic outlook on life (although, really, she’s eleven, so I feel like a child-like outlook on life is not unreasonable when found in, you know, a child), and “Pollyanna” is a term for anyone saccharinely sweet or naively optimistic, I don’t really find Pollyanna to be annoying. And, truthfully, there isn’t really a downside to trying to find the silver lining out of hard circumstances. I’m a bit of a Pollyanna myself, though, so that may have something to do with it.
I’m sure that Porter had no idea that her little book would completely take off. Her writing makes it obvious that she was simply trying to share a message about the importance of being glad and kind, two lessons that I feel our modern society could also take to heart. Pollyanna’s attitude also emphasizes the fact that people who try to be happy generally are – and, after a while of trying, often become people who are “naturally” happy. I don’t think people are born happy or not – I am a strong believer that people develop either into people who are happy and a joy to be around, or who are negative and always grousing.
Pollyanna frowned; then she laughed.
“Why, Nancy, that’s so! I was playing the game – but that’s one of the times I just did it without thinking, I reckon. You see, you do, lots of times. You get so used to it – looking for something to be glad about, you know. And most generally there is something about everything you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”
There honestly isn’t a great deal of a story, per se. No driving plot, just quiet character development. However, Porter wrote one sequel (Pollyanna Grows Up), and then the “Glad Books” were trademarked and several other people wrote various sequels. Over the years, I’ve collected several of them, and I’m going to try to read the series straight through, or at least as many of them as I can get my hands on. So we’ll see if Pollyanna matures throughout the books.
A brief word on the dreadful Disney version of this book – first, the movie Pollyanna is one of the rare ones that I saw many times before I ever read the book. In a way, this ruined sections of the book for me. In the movie, Aunt Polly is a selfish, money-hungry aristocrat who thinks herself too good to be a part of the town’s society (in fact, in the movie the town is named after Aunt Polly’s family; in the book, Beldingsville is just a little Vermont town like any other). In the book, Aunt Polly is just a regular person, although well-off, who works and interacts with the people in the town quite normally. In the movie, Jimmy Bean has a much larger role, and is played by young Kevin Corcoran, and I cannot get his fact out of my head when I’m reading these books. It’s not so bad for this first book, but I’ve read Pollyanna Grows Up before and (spoiler) she married Jimmy, and really? Haley Mills and Kevin Corcoran!?
In the movie, Aunt Polly is a dastardly woman who wants to tear down the orphanage (or something like that; I can’t remember for sure) so the entire town has to band together and defy her by having a fund-raising festival. Of course, evil Aunt Polly forbids Pollyanna’s attendance to such a dreadful event, but our intrepid heroine sneaks out of the house and goes anyway.
Which brings us to the most annoying difference between movie and book – Pollyanna’s very character. Yes, movie Pollyanna is friendly and optimistic and frequently uses the world “glad,” but she is also sneaky, disobedient, defiant, and, frankly, annoying. Book Pollyanna, while she gets into trouble at times, always does so innocently. She is quick to apologize and willing to accept rebuke and correction. She loves her aunt, and wishes to please her.
And that’s why I get genuinely angry when, in the movie, Pollyanna is injured when she falls out of a tree while trying to sneak back into the house. Book Pollyanna would never have done such a thing (book Pollyanna is injured by a car). It makes me so furious when movie Pollyanna is rewarded for her dreadful behavior – it is, of course, used as a catalyst to change Aunt Polly’s attitude and unite the whole town. Gah.
Most book-people frequently shudder over movies-from-books, and many of the more famous ones garner a great deal of attention. But it’s a lot of the old Disney movies that make me the most angry, because they basically steal the title of a book and then make up an entirely different story. Why!? And while many people grew up watching Disney classics like Pollyanna and 101 Dalmatians, they tragically never read the amazing books that are so much better. So do it. Find a copy of Pollyanna, try to keep images of Haley Mills far, far away from your mind, and find out how much better the book is than the movie (again).