Thursday, February 18, 2010

Anne of Green Gables--International Icon

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.


  1. My Anne books are in flitters they have been so read! I didn't know that about the Japanese translation, it was most interesting, thank you!

  2. Welcome, Heckety! I live across Canada from Anne's world and I'd heard it was practically a Japanese shrine. But I didn't know to what degree until I began preparing this article!

  3. I agree about the ability to relate to a novel is the fact that it something I have felt - or could feel. Even when I have read stories in the Bible -as a reader I try to imagine myself feeling or doing the same things that those people are doing. Maybe that is why I love stories that take basic Biblical stories and develop them so that my imagination does not have to do the work - the writer does that for me. Francine Rivers is an author that does this well. Thanks for the article Valerie

  4. Ah, Anne with an e, who can forget her. When writers talk about "high concept" and "Goal, motivation, conflict" and "raising the stakes" I nod sagely and believe only an action packed, explicitly sexual thriller has a chance of making it big on the world stage. Yet Anne, a very tame, domestic tale about an orphan girl in a peaceful world, continues to sell. Why?
    I think you're right, Valerie, Montgomery made the setting real to everyone and Anne embodies a universal truth that transcends time and place and culture.

  5. Fascinating. I had no idea Anne of Green Gables was so popular in Japan. It is a great story so I shouldn't be surprised.

  6. I'm so glad you told me about this Val! :)

  7. Thanks, everybody, for coming by :)

  8. Hi Valerie
    Thank you for this interesting blog. I had no idea there were Japanese translations and that they was so popular.

    I grew up in the UK and Rhodesia and loved the Anne books.

    As an adult I discovered the Emily of New Moon books and love them just as much.

  9. Valerie, I loved reading Anne of Green Gables when I was younger. Lucy Maud Montgomery created a compelling story world that I didn't want to leave and I still associate Prince Edward Island with the 'Anne' books. Great post :-)

  10. Laura O'ConnellFebruary 19, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    Hi Valerie,

    Yes, most people can relate to Anne because they are looking to find where they belong.
    I didn't know the Anne was so popular in Japan. Thanks.

  11. Have always loved the anne books but wasn't aware of all those translations! Thank you for those great thoughts, Valerie, a real challenge to any writer.