Pollyanna’s hard, mature edges were surprising.

I always wondered what the original book of Pollyanna was like and so I recently read it.  Unlike the reviews describe and what I’ve seen of the movie, the book is very sophisticated and mature for a kid’s tale.

The Glad game (trying to find the gladness in some terrible situation, the core of the book) is more about clinging to God when all else has deserted you than some kind of in-born natural good cheer about everything, which is kind of how Pollyanna is presented and what her name’s become a byword for.  That’s what Pollyanna’s father was doing when he taught it to her as they stood looking at a missionary barrel with crutches in it instead of a doll, after many barrels with almost literal trash in them.  Pollyanna’s life is brutally hard and her quest to find the light in it is what inspires the rest of the town to suck up their own problems and look for any bit of gladness.

Weirdly I looked up reviews of this book and nobody mentioned the strong anti-divorce message, in which Pollyanna, an 11yo girl, keeps a wife who accepts gifts from other men from divorcing her drinking, cursing, brawling husband and possibly abandoning her children through the Glad Game and also just socializing with the couple’s kids. The husband and wife decide they need to both stop their sketchy, trashy ways and stick closer to each other. Pollyanna is quite aware of what’s going on without anyone having to break it down for her.  She was a missionary’s kid out in California.  She probably saw quite a bit, if the adults around her in her New England small town thought about it.  That’s what I mean when I say it’s surprisingly mature.

I did not count like Pollyanna’s preacher father did, but knowing that there probably are 800 verses commanding us to be glad and rejoice had me crying with joy.  Something to do one of these days, anyhow.

There’s also some very sophisticated and cynical material about Pollyanna’s options as an orphan, and again, I continue to be set down about my preconceptions of “old” books, particularly old kids’ books.


17 thoughts on “Pollyanna’s hard, mature edges were surprising.

  1. I’m so glad you did this. I also read the book, although the movie starring Hayley Mills is OK, it falls so short of the book. Whenever people disparagingly refer to “Pollyannas”, they ought to look into it a little better before speaking so irresponsibly. That book has been a wonderful addition to our family library. By the way, Eleanor Porter wrote a sequel entitled “Pollyanna Grows Up” which I’m planning to purchase soon. You might enjoy it also.

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  2. What a fun post! I am all about the old fairytales and childrens books, before they were sanitized and Disney-fied. Yes, there’s some strong stuff in them, but they taught us what it was like to be a human, how to handle the challenges we will often face. I was really blessed as a kid, I had access to many of those old tales and they taught me some valuable skills. It’s kind of sad, to be a “Pollyanna” today is disparaged, it’s perceived as a negative.


  3. I could use a book like this right now. My father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer this week at only 68 years old. Our family is devastated but pulling together and helping out in whatever ways we can. We have a long journey ahead of us now and finding something to be glad about may help keep our spirits up. If you have moment and can offer a prayer for my dad, I would appreciate it so much.

    My oldest dd who is 16 has a lump in her breast that is being removed this Monday. The dr’s assure us they are almost certain it’s benign because cancer is very rare at her age but, of course, can’t be 100% until they biopsy it. It’s a little nerve wracking because on ultrasound there were a few features that looked abnormal. Please say a little prayer for her as well.

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