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!