Have you seen those questionnaires for book lovers? My answer is always the same. “If you were forever stranded on a desert island, what book would you want with you besides the Bible?” Anne of Green Gables. “What work of fiction would you save from an indiscriminate tornado?” Uh, Anne of Green Gables. Here’s the best one: “If you had to recommend only one English-language novel to visiting alien authors from Mars, what would it be?”
Not even every earthling understands what the big deal is about this novel published in 1908. The prose is beyond flowery, and author Lucy Maud Montgomery might never have heard of the principles of POV—or if she did, she charmingly chose to ignore them. And for Pete’s sake, its central character is an eleven-year-old orphan girl who longs for puffed sleeves, without question considers being born with red hair her greatest burden, and whose imagination is well beyond anything most of us have ever encountered in a single person.
So why does this book remain a favorite for so many twenty-first century readers well into adulthood? Here are only three of the many reasons I think that is, and what I think all novelists—male, female, and Martian—can learn from Ms. Montgomery’s beloved bestseller.
1. The character of Anne authentically captures the spirit and vulnerability of the human heart. Anne’s heart is open and tender from beginning to end, with a spirit I think the author subtly portrays as God-protected before arriving at Green Gables. Anne's story also reflects some of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s personal experiences, hopes, and dreams, as well as a developing faith we instinctively know is the author's own. When novelists infuse their characters' lives with some of their own life-shaping events, emotions, and deepest beliefs, readers relate and respond.
2. The characters of Matthew and Marilla authentically capture the life-affirming gifts of compassion and acceptance. The Cuthberts are an older, never-married brother and sister pair, mistakenly sent a scrawny orphan girl to help them run their farm instead of the boy they requested. Even though Anne’s charm as a “real interesting little thing” has much to do with their decision to keep her, their compassion toward a little girl who has never been shown real love is unforgettable. When an author portrays genuine acceptance and love in their stories, readers often feel inspired to live out acceptance and love in their own lives.
3. The character of Avonlea authentically captures the importance of growth in community. Fictional Avonlea in the real Prince Edward Island is the beautiful, Canadian setting for this and most of Ms. Montgomery’s books. Anne loves her new home and its many places that have "scope for imagination." But it is the island's cast of characters that provides her real-life, character-building and faith-building interaction as over the course of the book she becomes an admired young woman of sixteen. When today’s novelists create community that allows their characters to belong and grow, they encourage modern readers to appreciate, or if necessary seek, the life-giving life-sharing everyone needs.
Now, excuse me, please. I have to read Anne of Green Gables one more time. Those Martian authors could arrive at any moment, and I must prepare to point out all the best parts.
After twenty-four years with publishing house Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, most recently as an executive managing editor, Jean Bloom returned to Central Indiana to be near family and take her freelance editorial business full-time (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she often posts articles about the writing life. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.