Imagine you wrote a story so popular that 100 years from now, children still read it.
Your story, told in a series of books, is turned into movies, musicals, TV shows – even anime.
And because you based your books loosely on your own life, with places and people you know, people travel thousands of miles to feel closer to you and your world.
That’s the real-life story of author Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne Shirley, the lovable, spunky character she created in her books about Anne of Green Gables.
Montgomery, like fictional Anne, grew up in Prince Edward Island, a small province in eastern Canada. Left parentless as a child, she was raised by elderly grandparents who were gloomy and strict.
Montgomery yearned to be a writer. She fell in love with the island’s natural beauty, weaving it into her stories and poems. Her first published poem was in 1890, four days before her 16th birthday. Thrilled by this success, there was no stopping her.
Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.
This entry, from a notebook of story ideas Montgomery kept, refers to an event in 1892 when distant cousins sought to adopt an orphan boy but were sent a girl instead.
It inspired Montgomery to write the fictional story of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old, redheaded orphan mistakenly sent to Green Gables, a farm whose elderly owners wanted a boy to help with chores. (Spoiler alert: They keep Anne, just as Montgomery’s cousins kept their child. Any similarity between the two girls ends there, Montgomery always insisted.)
Anne’s island adventures spill forth in eight books published between 1908 and 1939. The first, “Anne of Green Gables,” has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into at least 35 languages.
As a youngster, Montgomery visited relatives whose two-story farmhouse had dark green gables. (A gable is the triangular part of a wall formed by a sloping roof.) This modest dwelling became the model for the home Montgomery invented for Anne.
Green Gables is now a Canadian historical site. It had 250,000 visitors last year, well above the population of Prince Edward Island itself. Many come from Japan, some to be married there. Anne’s life has long been studied in Japan for clues about Western culture, including “girl power.”
“People are continually entranced,” said park operations manager Kyle McKinnon, “by the story of a young girl who screwed up absolutely everything, but it all worked out.”
Havia Lewis, 11, visiting last month from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, likes that Anne is “very intelligent. She uses big words.” Havia’s mom echoed that. “I’m a huge fan,” Tara Lewis said, “because Anne’s strong, she’s outspoken and she’s dramatic.”
Claire Morris, 14, from Brampton, Ontario, confessed that her mom made her read the first book. “But I liked it, and I read all the rest on my own,” she said.
Anne’s imagination and intelligence make her a “good role model for girls,” said Claire’s mom, Shannon Morris. That’s why, when Claire turned 9, she had an Anne-themed birthday party. Guests used real china tea cups, played old-timey games and wore big hats with long red braids. “It was a good party,” Claire recalled.