Behind the Bookcase, Part 2: At Home with ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

‘It’s lovely to be going home and know it’s home,’ she said. ‘I love Green Gables already, and I never loved any place before. No place ever seemed like home. Oh, Marilla, I’m so happy. I could pray right now and not find it a bit hard.’” Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

I still remember the first view I had of Green Gables. I was watching the movie with my parents when Matthew brought Anne, an orphan, to what would be her new home. As he drew back the reins on the horses, I looked through Anne’s eyes on a white gabled house, set within a lush, pastoral landscape. And with her, my heart leapt at the beauty I saw; the whole world seemed to stretch right up to its doorstep.

Conflict: Will she get to stay? Is this really her home?

As an adolescent, I certainly felt that hook. No, I didn’t have red hair and I wasn’t an orphan. But by the time I was in fourth grade, I understood alienation. I knew, with Anne, what it meant not to measure up to the ideal. I knew what it meant to feel like an outsider. But I also knew something else—something far more powerful. I knew love…

The walls of my kindergarten class weren’t normal walls. They were part of a pod. I can’t help but think that pod people must have designed them. The whole thing was on such a terrible scale for children. The building was cavernous, I could see no end to it—and I felt swallowed up each time I entered the mouth of the beast.

When my parents would ask me what I hated so much about school, I would always reply, “My teacher’s face is too white.” I didn’t have the words to tell my parents the real problem. Part of it was the way she disciplined us. She yelled, and my parents never yelled. She spanked, and my parents never spanked. Part of it was my own introverted personality. But as I look back now, I realize that when I walked between those walls, I felt unhinged and free-floating. An electron without its nucleus. I did my best to obey. I was naturally compliant to authority. But I hated being there because I knew that no matter how I tried to please my teacher, no matter how I followed the rules, she would never delight in me. Her rewards and punishments were without relationship, without love, and because of that, even the idea of her was frightening to me.

But that year, in a flash of brilliance, my mom gave me a necklace. It was absolutely beautiful in my eyes: gold with a flower carved on the locket and a small diamond-like jewel. What was most beautiful, what made me prize it above anything I owned—my sticker collection, my Wonder Woman underoos, even my heart bedspread—was the picture of my mother’s face inside it.

I can’t help but think about the scene in Lord of the Rings where Galadriel gives Frodo a magical light and prophesies, “May it be light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” That’s what my mother’s face in this locket was to me. With one look at it, I could imagine her again, could imagine my worth through her eyes, and the darkness was bearable again.

It is impossible to weigh my mother’s love. I was born into a web of relationships, and each of them is precious in its own way. But in those tender years, my mother was my primary caregiver; and thus she was the greatest reason early on that I felt at home in this world.

Thus, when I met Anne Shirley near the end of my childhood, I saw myself. Anne had once been on the outside looking in on beauty and love. I had certainly felt that at times, and I had seen others treated cruelly at school and in life generally. But through a benevolent author’s hands, Anne was brought inside the circle. She became part of Green Gables—its natural world, larger community, and the Cuthbert family.

Yet more than just a home, Anne found a kind of redemption. Where she once was hot-headed, she learned to control her tongue. Where she once was ugly, her freckles faded, and her hair softened to a “real nice auburn.” And perhaps most importantly in the first few books (and the movie), through many trials and tribulations, she learned to forgive—to let go of the self-destructive pride keeping her from her true love, Gilbert.

L.M. Montgomery’s world was not perfect. It was a world where people suffered. But no matter how a Rachel Lynde or Josie Pie might be excoriated for narrow views, no matter how Matilda Blewett might treat those around her cruelly, God was on his throne, and His world was a good one. Just as in my own home, in the world of Green Gables, love working within the rules would always be enough to bridge any divide and to bring the outcast home.

Be sure to read the first post of Behind the Bookcase, In Search of a Hiding Place, if you haven’t already. Next in this series is Anne Frank and I: Behind the Bookcase, Part 3.

I’m also curious if my identification with Anne Shirley and her world resonates with anyone else? If not Anne, maybe another book or character worked in that way for you? My brother once told me that the book Hatchet was a kind of earth-shaker for him. In what ways can you see Anne of Green Gables and others of L.M. Montgomery’s books representing a Christian worldview? Or ways it is in conflict with a Christian worldview?

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  1. Iniseebiabalo on March 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I can think of nothing less pleasurable than a life devoted to pleasure.

  2. Laura Whelan on March 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Anne has a special place in my heart, Emily, because she put words to things I had always felt but was a little too shy to ever say out loud. She saw beauty in the simple things around her. She treasured Diana as her “kindred spirit,” and when I read that phrase for the first time, I thought, “Yes, that’s exactly the word for it.” She felt things deeply, sometimes too deeply, and that struck a chord with me too. And then there are the “scrapes.” Don’t we all have scrapes that we never meant to get into, but somehow we find ourselves in the middle of them?
    Anne and her stories resonated so much with me that my best friend from high school (my kindred spirit) and I went to PEI the summer before we graduated from college, in a sort of pilgrimage to Anne’s “home.”
    In looking at Anne’s life, I think we detect the guiding hand of Providence moving and working in and through different situations–going to college, staying home to teach and take care of Marilla, falling in love with Gilbert–so many pieces falling into place, pointing to a grand design for it all. Maybe I’m stretching it and Montgomery just liked to tie things up in a bow, but I think there is an underlying sense of peace and purpose in the not-perfect life Anne does have.

  3. emily on March 21, 2011 at 9:22 pm


    Thank you so much for that heartfelt reply! I love your last line: “I think there is an underlying sense of peace and purpose in the not-perfect life Anne does have.” I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Marlo on March 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Anne took up residence in my heart when I was a little girl and still lives there. I love the warmth and humor of these stories, the goodness surrounding the ordinary. The grace. I can’t wait to share them with my daughter when she’s older.

    I’m also thankful to World for featuring your website. I love finding guidance and thoughts about books for all my young readers. I’m subscribing!

  5. emily on March 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm


    Thank you for your thoughts on Anne’s story. I think you’re right, that there is a lot of grace and goodness in the ordinary of that story. I liked it so much when I read it last year that I actually read a lot of it out loud to my 3 year-old…and we both enjoyed it so much. I am always amazed by books that can span the ages that way.

  6. emily on March 22, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Forgot to say thank you, Marlo, for subscribing! We’re so glad to have you along for the ride!

  7. Alexia Anderson on March 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I am so glad to hear you say that you read Anne to your 3 year old, because I have been dying to read it to mine! I just wasn’t sure it if was too mature for her. I read it for the first time last year and I loved it so much that I read it again! I laughed and cried with Anne and I just cannot believe I missed out on this book as a child! I think the reason I love the book so much is that I find I relate to Anne in a two ways. I can relate to her as myself, when I look back on my childhood, and now as a mom, I can relate to her as Marilla, because my little girl is SO much like Anne! I often find myself feeling like Marilla, as I try to channel her energy in a positive way. Anyway, I loved the story and I hope that my little girl will too! Thank you for your blog!

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