Megan Follows first rose to fame as the star of the CBC series Anne of Green Gables, which remains the highest rated Canadian drama series since airing in the 1980s.
Follows now narrates the audio adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s three-book series, Emily of New Moon.
Emily of New Moon is a darker set of books than Anne of Green Gables. The series follows Emily Starr, who is sent to live with snobbish relatives after the death of her father. Despite being bullied by her classmates and cold family members, Emily makes new friends and holds on with her quick wit.
The new audio adaptation is produced by Chatham-based company Voices in the Wind.
Follows spoke to Chris dela Torre on CBC’s Afternoon Drive about returning to the world of P.E.I. writer Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Afternoon Drive9:29Megan Follows on voicing “Emily of New Moon” audiobook
What attracted you to this project?
It’d been a long time since I’d done audio recordings and audio book work. I wanted to explore it and go back into that world. It was a fun revisiting of the author, to hear her language again, to be transported to that time and place. Even though it’s obviously a different series with the Emily of New Moon books, but still obviously so strongly the voice of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who I’m a fan of. It was a fun opportunity to just sit in the booth and talk.
Could you explain what the Emily of New Moon series is about?
Emily of New Moon is about a young woman. In the beginning, her father is dying and she is going to have to go and live with relatives. A lot of Lucy Maud’s stories are about children who are thrust into a world that can, at times, be very unforgiving and very judgmental. They have to become huge advocates for themselves and find their voice and their place in the world. Emily is on that journey, too.
How do you compare Emily with Anne Shirley?
They were written at a little bit of a different time. I think that Emily, in a way, maybe is a bit truer to some of the rougher challenges that Lucy Maud herself may have faced. She was orphaned as a young woman. Her mother died when she was very young and then her father went out west and she was left in the care of her grandparents.
The adults are quite unforgiving at times in Emily of New Moon. They are very tough, strong-willed people. It’s beautifully written, but it’s not always a friendly, warm place for this young woman.
I think about the creative challenge of this particular kind of work, having only your voice to tell the story. From what I understand, this turned out to be 6.5 hours worth of material.
It’s dense. What’s funny, too, is that Lucy Maud writes a lot of characters. She’s very, very strong in the dialogue. We think of Lucy Maud and we understand her incredible, descriptive ability, but she really gets into characterization. You’ve got their father doing this and that and then there’s Uncle Jim and then there’s an aunt and others and they’re all sitting around a table.
Her work is very evocative. She really brings people to life.– Megan Follows on Lucy Maud Montgomery
When you’re going, “Oh my God, you’ve got 16 people around the table and I’ve got to find somewhat of a voice that’s separate from all of them.” They’re just having this great dialogue, these conversations. Her work is very evocative. She really brings people to life.
What was that like for you creatively?
I guess it was perfect, given the world that we were all living in at the time. We were in COVID. The recording studio had just opened back up. This is back in the winter. It was going from the isolation of one space into a recording studio all sanitized down, in this cocoon-like world.
In a way, the true beauty of the literature is that I got to be transported to outside my circumstances and situations into someone else’s life. That’s really the beautiful thing about her work.
Even aside from COVID, it’s a pretty fascinating project for the year 2021. How do you think audiences might benefit from a slower and more patient form of entertainment?
I think we have these two different worlds happening. On the visual front, we obviously have TikTok and Instagram, these new shorter visual platforms. We also have longer ones.
The true beauty of the literature is that I got to be transported to outside my circumstances and situations into someone else’s life.– Megan Follows
But podcasts are the other extremes. People are prepared to sit down and listen for anywhere from minutes to hours. It’s like going back to the old days of radio dramas. They’re going to do these dramas, but it’s just going to be the voice. We used to call that radio drama.
The Secret Life of Canada18:14S3: Crash Course on L. M. Montgomery (a.k.a. Maud without an E)
It was written as a children’s novel, but what do you want people to take away from this and why should people invest their time and in this version of Emily of New Moon?
The truth is that Lucy Maud wasn’t just writing for children. She was writing as a voice and an advocate for young people, as well as characters of many ages that are enjoyed, deeply multi-generationally. There was a movement at the time that tried to discredit this author, but the truth is that she really tried to find a voice that speaks not just to children or women or young women. It happens that these characters are young women or are girls. Huckleberry Finn is not just something that we think of as a children’s novel. It’s a voice that she just had a beautiful access to.
She was writing as a voice and an advocate for young people.– Megan Follows on Lucy Maud Montgomery
I think there is something that people identify with — being ostracized, being bullied, being excluded, the fear of not fitting in, not being wanted. What is my voice? How do I belong? How do I find a voice and a place in the world? That is as much a part of our present day situation.
How do we appreciate and love the natural world? Lucy Maud Montgomery was a huge lover and supporter of the conservation of the natural world. We are now at a spot in time, if that isn’t one of our critical, important issues, nothing else is really. She really was very ahead of her time.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.