If I sit quietly awhile and think long and deep about those people and things that have captured my soul and shaped my thoughts, Anne will come to mind.
Amidst all the books in all the world, most precious are those that carry in their text the extraordinary ability to bring the reader back to the moment when first they opened the page. Anne of Green Gables is keeper of that charm for me. I read, and all of the rosy hopes and castles in the air come streaming back, like birds flocking to their home tree at evening.
But Anne is no mere expression of childhood nostalgia. She is universal girlhood. And girlhood is a special, hallowed thing. The wistful yearning for love and beauty that burns within Anne called clearly to my hungering childish soul. Kindred spirits abound in Avonlea and I clung to them with all my heart. Author L.M. Montgomery understands the intricacies of human nature and childhood, and bundles these universalities into a very personal package. Even though I could not yet understand or express this, somehow, intuitionally, I felt that here, I belonged.
There is something inherently wonderful about L.M. Montgomery’s coming of age story; the redemption of an unloved orphan by a pair of stiff and ancient siblings, and the community that comes to both belong to Anne and claim her as its own. The childhood predicaments, sorrows, and sheer joy chronicled here are both amusing and tender, unveiling the familiar thoughts and experiences every child has known.
Unlike much of the classic fiction touted in this modern day, the world of Green Gables is not a respite from all that is wrong with the world. Rather, any idealistic naivety in Anne is gradually realized for the sweet, albeit vain, soap bubble dream that it is. The imaginative dreamer glimpses reality little by little, culminating in Anne’s first tryst with grief.
Perhaps this is the beauty of growing up with Anne. I read the book (and the other seven in the series) many times over the course of my childhood. In the beginning the imaginative dreaming and grandiose quest for all that is bright and beautiful resonated most deeply with me. I felt the world, with all it’s aches and cheer, rather than saw it. I wanted to catch it all in doubled fists and release it back in words and music and colors. Anne of Green Gables called on me to not be a passive purveyor, but a fellow creator. In befriending Anne I came to understand that art is meant to be loved, enjoyed, and echoed back.
Now as an adult I read the same words over and see a greater, truer light. I too fell headlong into romantic and idealistic naivety. Perhaps such is the downfall of the budding artist. I too learned that there is a curse that touches all, and that sorrow is as integral to life as joy. As a child I identified with the search for beauty, and as an adult I understand that it is found in the heavy and the yielding. What a masterpiece Montgomery has created. Human nature is revealed poignantly, wondrous and weak. The depths the soul are laid bare and raw before my eyes. Anne is me. Anne is us all.
At some point in life we begin to gaze back upon those days of dreaming instead of looking forward to them. The orphan girl buds and grows, and while Anne’s imaginative ardor remains, it has been tempered by trials of body and spirit. To quote the girl herself, “I’m not a bit changed–not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real ME–back here–is just the same.” And though I too have packed away my castles in the clouds, I am able to return and find them standing just the same each time I open Anne of Green Gables.