I didn’t include Anne of Green Gables in The Book List, because I have read the whole series. . .four times. But, I just got back from a literary adventure on Prince Edward Island and I want you to know about it.
I am sure you know that Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L. M. Montgomery is the story of a plucky, red haired orphan raised on a farm on Prince Edward Island. I grew up idolizing Anne Shirley and I never stopped. I have a picture of one the book covers on my wall to remind me to work harder and be more wonderful. Throughout the eight book series Montgomery describes the natural beauty of P.E.I. in vivid detail. It turns out that the houses and scenery she described really exist on the Island. You can go and visit them, and I did and it was amazing.
On the way from the ferry to Cavendish–the town where Montgomery grew up and which she renamed Avonlea in the Anne series–we got a little turned around and ended up on this road.
It looks exactly like the Avenue/White Way of Delight that Anne and Matthew take to Green Gables when she first arrives on the island!
“‘And what DOES make the roads red?’
‘Well now, I dunno,’ said Matthew.
‘Well that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about?'”
We did eventually get to Green Gables. Montgomery didn’t actually grow up at Green Gables, it was the home of her aunt and uncle. There are plenty of pictures of her at the farm and many descriptions of it in her journals. Anne tourism is quite valuable to P.E.I, so they turned the site into a national park. It is absolutely beautiful. Perched on top of a hill that slopes down to a border of shrubs and flowers and beyond that the real, actual Haunted Woods.
I can see why Montgomery chose this place for Anne’s home. There is something romantic about the shape of the land. Plenty of “scope for imagination.” You can poke around the farm house, which is furnished with antiques or reproductions from turn of the century farms. There are two short hiking paths, one goes to the real Lovers’ Lane and the other goes into the Haunted Woods.
It really does look haunted doesn’t it? All those pointing, reaching spruce fingers. Fallen trees are allowed to rot where they are. It is creepy and beautiful.
Apparently, the Japanese love Anne of Green Gables. A lot. They show up on tour buses and even get married where Montgomery got married. However, the location itself is not too commercialized. You can get silly things like raspberry cordial and Anne dolls, but the merchandising seemed fairly restrained to me.
Seeing Green Gables absolutely made my heart sing. I love the idea of literary tourism generally, but I particularly love that people get excited about Anne Shirley. Apparently, people are going to Sweden to do Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tours. That book is about sex, violence, crime, violent sexual crime, deceit, loss, failed human relationships, etc. Not concepts I want to dwell on. The Anne books are an ode to girlhood, innocence, friendship, imagination, pluck, nature, whimsy, hard work, being kind to people. Concepts that warm the cockles of your heart. It felt really wonderful to know that other people love Anne as much as I do and want to honor L. M. Montgomery and the concepts and characters she made so vivid.
And that was just day one. On day two we set out to find the Lake of Shining Waters. We made another delightful wrong turn and ended up at a house simply called Anne of Green Gables Heritage site. Hands down the coolest historical site I have ever been to. It is L.M. Montgomery’s paternal grandfather’s home and it rocks!
This house has been continuously owned by the Montgomery family, which means that nothing has ever been sold, which means that it still contains items that L. M. herself played with as a child. Seriously.
No joke, that is the actual Magog of Gog and Magog, described in Anne of the Island. I saw this little china dog and my heart nearly exploded from joy. It felt like meeting one of Anne Shirley’s own friends.
The actual, legit rosebud tea set that Anne ate off of. (Shh, I know she didn’t really eat off of it, Montgomery did, but it’s super easy to suspend your disbelief and feel that Anne ate off of these very plates. She did, guys. Really, she did.)
The best thing about this little museum/house is the tour guide. He is a tall, grizzled, old cousin of the author. He grew up in the house and he is such a wonderful raconteur that even my grumpy-old-man of a father enjoyed visiting this place. He tells delightful stories about the artifacts, which are just sitting out as they would have been when Montgomery visited her grandfather. No ropes. You can touch things. The proprietor grabs the heirlooms with his big bear paws and waves them about in a way that makes your heart jump. He has a nonchalant attitude toward the history of the place, probably because he grew up there. Visiting this house is one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Really.
Across the road lies another house that Montgomery loved and wrote about, Silver Bush, and the Lake of Shining Waters.
This is the spot where Montgomery was married. Oh, and you can view her wedding dress in another location, the house where she was born. Anyway, Silver Bush has some neat artifacts, including a quilt made by the author. I was most thrilled by this one:
Remember, Anne says that in one of her foster homes there was a bookcase filled with china. It had two panels and in one of them she would talk to her reflection, which she named Katie Maurice. Well, it turns out that Montgomery lifted that story right from her own life. She would talk to an imaginary girl named Katie Maurice in this bookcase. Don’t think for a second that I didn’t pause for a moment to talk to my reflection in this thing.
That was the end of my Anne tour. It was wonderful. A Bucket List event for me, for sure. In conclusion, if you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables (we can’t be friends) you should. You’re never too old. Montgomery is witty, so you’ll get a laugh out of it at the least. I cannot express the impact this series has on my life and personality. Getting to know Anne Shirley makes you a better person.