In 1908, a Canadian author named Lucy Maud Montgomery introduced the world the idyllic Prince Edward Island of her childhood. She presented the land through the eyes of her little orphaned girl, Anne-with-an-e Shirley. For over 100 years, readers have fallen in love with the hot tempered, imaginative, verbose, loving Anne, and she became a classic of children’s literature.
When I was seven years old, my family moved clear across the country to Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s Maritime provinces. Being from the much younger British Columbia, I was not used to seeing centuries old cemeteries dotting suburbia, or Victorian Grande Dames, or Maple trees, or tiny village churches, or Anne. In the East, I missed my home, I missed my grandparents, I missed my friends. A child with a big imagination, I would squeeze my eyes shut if I woke up at midnight, until the clock turned 12:01, convinced that the witching hour was over; I would turn my head when we passed the cemeteries in the dark; I slept with a night light for fear of the dark.
That night light served a dual purpose – by it, the witches could not reach me; by it, I could read. We visited PEI and Green Gables around that time, and my mom gave me her pristine collection of Anne of Green Gables books. I devoured them. Her was a skinny girl, like me, who imagined things, like me, who read voraciously, like me, who desperately wanted to please everyone around her, like me, and talked everyone’s ears off, like me. She had freckles, bony knees, and an often inappropriately used enormous vocabulary that included gorgeous words like “tragical” and “dramatical”. In my eyes, Anne was a much braver version of me. I loved her. I dared not walk on any kitchen ridge poles, but my god would that I could! She loved with passion, she had “kindred spirits” and “bosom friends”, she was prideful, she spoke her mind, she fell into “the depths of despair”, and Matthew was clearly an iteration of my twinkling, loving, patient Grampa.
I read the books, I read them again, and I read them, and read them, and read them. The covers are no longer pristine, some of the covers are barely hanging on. I know which pages have the typographical errors, I know where the ink smudged, I know where Anne bursts out angrily, I know where Marilla purses her lips, to keep from laughing. And then my mom introduced me to the VHS tapes of Megan Follows depicting Anne on television. I loved the show. I could recite it, I adored seeing Anne smash the slate over Gilbert’s head for calling her “Carrots” in living colour. Megan Follows was beautiful, her big eyes and upturned nose, her read hair. I loved her. Yet, this was not the Anne I pictured when I read my books. I saw the musical version of Anne, and I loved it, but again, this was not my Anne. So, I kept re-reading my books and my Anne would show up.
This year, my sister invited us to come watch the premiere of CBC’s new Anne, starting Amybeth McNulty. While sadly not filmed on the Island, like the Megan Follows version, I have finally found the Anne of my imagination. I saw the beautiful, saturated close up posters of McNulty in her wild flower daisy chain, her eyes looking directly at the camera, freckles prominent, red wisps flying out of her braids, and it was her. The incredible, daring, gorgeous, tempestuous Anne that had existed only in my books until now. Realizing this, I wonder if this is why when my daughter’s hair is flying in the wind, her clothes selected just the way she wants, facing out into the open ocean, I find her the most beautiful. When she looks wild and free like my Anne-girl.
I am so glad that in the age of Netflix and screens and tablets, there is a new Anne Shirley, and to me, a real Anne Shirley, to introduce to a new generation, and to bring readers back to my beloved books for at least another one hundred years.