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"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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30 June 2009

Red hair and freckles never sounded so awesome

A column I used to really love doing for The New Indian Express in Bangalore was all about young adult literature I loved. I stopped doing it, eventually, but I thought I'd post some of them here for you and get your thoughts. I L-O-V-E discussions about childhood favourites, and today it's about one of my favourite little orphan girls, who I'm sort of homesick for now.

It’s been a century of one of my most favourite little orphan girls of all time. Anne—lovely, lissome, red-haired (sometimes auburn), Anne-with-an-e—hits a hundred years this year and from the internet I find that her home town of Prince Edward Island in Canada is totally marketing this. There is a musical, new contests, a L.M Montgomery symposium and, perhaps the oddest, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has launched a picture of Anne landmarks from space. The Japanese love Anne, by the way. There’s a special anime Anne and tourists often come to visit with their hair dyed red and in two pigtails.

As for me, my obsession doesn’t go that far. Sure, I own all the books. And sure, I could probably quote them through and through if you asked me, and even go over some of trivia. And yes, I have gone on the internet and found e-texts of some of the out-of-print books that I haven’t been able to find (about characters that aren’t Anne, but are still charming.) Maybe I even wanted red hair for a bit and the attentions of the cutest boy in Avonlea. But I don’t think I’d go to the extent of dying my hair (shades of Anne Of Green Gables when she dyes her hair green, remember, remember?). So, I’m just about on the other side of obsessive fandom.

While Anne was fantastic—I mean, really, what was not to love?—and the TV shows and movies never filtered into India, so I could keep my memories of her untainted and unspoilt (although I would be the first in line to buy tickets for a movie if they made one), the older she grew, the more I wasn’t feeling it. Once Anne’s House Of Dreams was done, she became, well, boring. Regular. A housewife with a bunch of kids. And it wasn’t even her story anymore, it was told from one of the children’s eyes. It was satisfying to see how everyone turned out, but the big Blythe family just didn’t feel as well defined as little homeless Anne Shirley living with the Cuthberts—dour, spinster Marilla and shy and reclusive Mathew.

That’s when I started to switch to Montgomery’s other books. There were mostly about kids with one or both parents gone, although Pat Of Silver Bush had a happy home with a large family. (It’s just that Pat’s particular neurosis was to never ever leave her home. Pat was altogether too whiny for me.) Next to Anne, I liked Emily Of New Moon best, although I could never find a copy in bookstores, so I had to read about her online. Emily too is an orphan, and life is not as hunky dory as it is in Avonlea. She doesn’t care for her aunts much, has some peculiar childhood friends and grows up to be a writer. Her life is a lot less pretty-pretty and more real than Anne’s was, even though Montgomery’s style of writing remains as gentle with both.
Also I loved the Story Girl series, which is more like two novellas, not taking off into personal histories and what happened before and what happened after like most of Montgomery’s books do, but just focusing on one year at the King’s farm, where Beverly and Felix are visiting family (their father being away—not dead but away—but still satisfies the whole missing parent thing) and the things they do with their cousins, especially one cousin called Sara Stanley or the Story Girl who can make even the multiplication tables sound like wondrous information.

Characters that endure, that was what Montgomery did best. If I could create just one of her women, women who came to life as soon as you read about them and women you wanted instantly to befriend, I’d be a happy writer.

PS: Here is a pretty exhaustive reading resource for all of Montgomery's books online. You're welcome!


  1. I loved the Chronicles of Avonlea books - the characters were just so... quirky. Kilmeny of the Orchard was incredibly sweet. And Gilbert Blythe... *sigh* !!! :)

  2. Hey meenakshi…
    You were a pretty voracious reader as a kid.. which I can judge as u go on writing about characters n books I seriously have never heard of..Or is it bcoz when we were kids, we were busy reading only best-sellers n in d meantime ignoring all d great books n authors out there ? Unfortunately we do that even as adults!!
    I feel what u r today n all that great writing that u churn out is all a result of ur exhaustive reading in ur childhood? Isn’t it?

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  4. Hey... Anne of green gables is one of my all time fav books. The movie is not bad either... but the sequels just don't feel the same. She mellows down in them and I don't like that...

  5. HI! this is the first time i am ever leaving a comment here and for some odd reason it feels funny. well, the reason that i am finally posting a comment is because of Anne. it might sound weird but Anne is my role model. if i can conduct myself half like Anne, and if i can really imbibe her philosophy of life, my problems would seem non-existent. and i agree with Buls. the movie is gr8 but the sequel which does not follow montgomery's story anyways, just sucks.
    love you for this post.

  6. Its always lovely when I come across people who read authors other than the Enid Blytons and the Jules Vernes as kids !!

    Anne's world was as enchanting as it was lethal and unforgiving.. much like the world we live in. A potion full of innocence, sweetness, quirkiness, strangeness and also cruelty with some gibberish thrown in is what Montgomery so consistently gave us. Today, more than anything else, it throws off unrelenting nostalgia. It was a real pleasant surprise.. having someone talk about Anne.. really !! :-)

  7. You totally struck a major chord in my heart with this post. Last year, as Canada celebrated 100 years of Anne, there was a contest asking for letters to Anne. The judges were the Queen's representative, LM Montgomery's grand-child and a few authors..
    And one night, I decided to write to Anne, because she is so much like me. Two months later, I was one of the winners of this contest (leading to interviews on tv, newspapers, and free perks). As part of my prize, I got to take my family to Prince Edward Island, and see "Green Gables" (yes its an actual house, where Lucy Maude grew up herself)....and I got to visit Avonlea..a make believe village in which you become one of the characters, try out icecream for the first time, frolick around hand in hand with Anne, wear dresses with puffed sleeves, drink lots of raspberry cordial, flirt with Gilbert (the actor they picked to play Gilbert is oh so yummy) and give Mrs. Lynde reasons to gossip about. (Her comment on my shorts was that young ladies should not display their knickers..haha). Magical little wonderland..and yes, I got to meet many Japanese tourists sporting the "Anne hat" (a PEI souvenir straw hat with red braids)...maybe if you and the beau ever make a trek to Canada, you can visit Anne's Land too.
    I'm delighted you loved Anne too..haha. Did you know, Lucy based most of Anne on herself?

    Here's some pictures I took during the trip (well, I actually took 1308 pictures...these are just the ones I put up)..

    And here's the letter, if you feel like killing time and indulging in Anne stuff...

    I really recommend a PEI hosts 2 of the world's top ten beaches...gorgeous little island..

  8. I like Anne, but her children appeal more. To me.
    Especially Walter. And, he dies. Sigh.

    Rilla of Ingleside is fabulous, it describes the war without being bleak or preachy about it. It's the only one that made me sniff after Dumbledore plunged off the Astronomy Tower.

    Una was heroic. And romantic. And simple.

    Besides, Anne was the first heroine EVER who wasn't pretty.
    Which earns her brownie points. Lots.

  9. I never got past The Famous Five. I don't think I still have...

  10. This is like discovering a kindred spirit :). Montgomery is one of my favourite authors. She gets dismissed too often as a children's author but I think her books are much more than that. I loved Emily, particularly the 2nd and 3rd books, more than Anne, because as you say not everything was hunky dory in her life. I think she was closer to LM in real life too. If you haven't read them already I'd recommend "The Tangled Web" and "The Blue Castle" which I think are really really good and more adult themed than any of her other books.


  11. If you want the movies, the DVD place up from Crepe Station will get it for you... I ordered mine from there...takes a week or two... not necessarily the Anne of my imagination but she does a fair job and Prince Edward Island looks breathtaking in the film...

  12. menu,

    i read your interview in the vanitha. heard about your literary works.

    i have ''IT''all in my diaries, YOU said it all to the WORLD,
    You spoke MY HEART OUT,

    Terrific writing , ummah I love it, wanna read mine, simply mail me.......

  13. first time writing a comment on your blog, Gr8 peace of writing. keep it up...

  14. thank you for reminding of these lovely childhood books...i'm rereading all of them again...;) and playing truant from work!

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  16. As much as I love Montgomery and all her books (especially The Story Girl, that's my favouritest!), I canNOT stand E-books. I truly DETEST them. I hate it when I can't smell the book, so there. I refuse to read books online.

  17. hiiiiiii.. Meenakshi..

    hop u r doing well..

    tk cr..

    may all ur drmzz come true...

  18. You write very well. Keep writing great posts.

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  20. Thank you so much for providing the link, right now I've been benched by my organisation and I was wondering what the hell do I do with all that free time. I read all your blog posts and had run out of material to read.

    I confess that I'm techncially challenged. I am truly grateful to you for introducing me to e-books. :)

  21. hey. totally got the same feeling everytime i went to the 4th and 5th books in the anne series - i would go into such massive depression seeing the mundane anne that i'd go back and read the first book again! it worked.

    also, delurking...
    hi :)

  22. Love your blog! Check out mine. Pretty similar:

  23. Signet Books has the whole lot out. I got copies of all the books you mentioned and many more. I'm sure you can find them in Bombay, if, of course, you want to buy them.

    Thanks for the writeup. I wrote on Anne ages ago for my column too (kiddy supplement), and also about 'Chronicles of Avolea'. Love them all.

  24. Hey eM,

    You didnt watch the TV film of Anne of Green gables?.. You can watch it online, on youtube...i would suggest you rather not... I will never understand how movies/series hardly step up to the expectations, built by the books ... Also, you should watch Annie, the movie about the red haired Orphan ... it's the cutest and the most nicest of all times ..

    anyhow, just wanted to say hi ... I have been stalking your blog since forever, but i hardly comment.. keep it up :)

  25. thank you!!! i fell in love with Anne after the Hallmark series. I still haven't gotten over Gilbert Blythe, though.

  26. Ooh.. You brought back such sweet memories. I loved Anne of Avonlea series! And I loved Anne - such spirit, and yes, I wanted to be just like her.
    Sakhmeth, awesome chance man!!
    Btw, have been stalking(read subscribing) to your blog but first time commentator :)

  27. I loved Anne of Green Gables the mostest. I can quote the lines even now.
    I loved "Chronicles of Avonlea" too and as a 10 year old my Prince Charming use to take the form of Gilbert Blythe for the longest time until I figured they don't make them brown haired boys in India. Hmphhhh!

  28. i still love Anne. and obviously gilber *wink* i've read other works by LMM too, and she remains one of my favourite authors. she definitely had a way with words.
    it was a pleasant coincidence to see this post. i just finished reading story girl :)
    @sakhmeth: lucky you!!


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