Sometimes we think we have to be familiar with the culture of a story in order to understand the story itself. How, then, can you explain the fascination of the entire world with Anne of Green Gables? This beloved novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery has been translated into more than a dozen languages including French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Korean and Japanese.
In fact, Japan has been obsessed with Anne since Hanako Muraoka translated Akage No An (Red-haired Anne) in 1952. Anne has been required reading in the Japanese school system ever since. More than ten thousand Japanese tourists travel to Prince Edward Island, Canada, every year to visit the museum in the village of Cavendish, the setting of Anne of Green Gables and its many sequels. Quite a number of Japanese couples even choose to get married in Anne-themed ceremonies.
Anne-with-an-e has been celebrated in a fifty-episode Japanese anime series in 1979 as well as numerous documentaries over the years. In 2008, both Canada and Japan commemorated the 100th anniversary of Anne's publication with postage stamps in her honor.
What makes Anne so popular in Japan? Girls certainly can't identify with her looks--green-eyed redheads are not common there. Nor is the culture remotely similar. People everywhere have gotten to know a piece of Prince Edward Island through Anne Shirley's eyes, walked with her in the White Way of Delight, and rowed with her on the Lake of Shining Waters even though we may not have any landscape in common. Somehow, the escapades of the beloved orphan, Anne Shirley, transcend culture.
How can this be? Because Lucy Maud Montgomery brought to life an orphan girl who only wanted to belong, an emotion common to all of us. We can identify with Anne in her trials because she speaks to basic human conditions.
This is the key to international fiction, in my mind. For a story to 'take off' and find readers everywhere, it needs to address what we all hold common.
Valerie Comer writes novels of romance, fantasy, and faith from a farm in Western Canada.