I'm finally reading the most famous Canadian book ever written. It reminds me a bit of Tom Sawyer with a female character. However, unlike Tom Sawyer, there is no edge to Anne and her misadventures have nothing of the calculated malevolence of Tom Sawyer's. Anne is quite charming and the best part of the book is her speech patterns, which are a fine example of an enthusiastic childhood melodramatic personality. Anne herself is a very well written character. The book is amusing and charming, but there is not a great deal more to it than that. It does effectively portray the transition from childhood to womanhood, but I am not crazy about the choice that Anne makes at the end.
In some ways, it surprises me that the book has continued to last and that it is still quite so popular as it is. I think that important children's literature falls broadly into two camps. There is what I think of as the best stuff, which works on multiple levels and this is stuff like Lewis Carrol, E. B. White and Tove Jannson. Whereas, there is also another group like Montgomery, Rowling and Alcott who write well, but there is not the same kind of depth there. There might be some exploration of interesting and complex things, but usually this is done with some eye to the moral improvement of children, as that is conceived in the society in which it is written.
I am slowly coming to accept that this latter class of children's literature can have legs as well and last over the centuries. To me this is a great frustration. It is not that there is anything wrong with this second class of literature, but really it's relation to the more sophisticated stuff, is parallel to the relationship between the works of say Stephen King and Gabriella Garcia Marquez. I wish that there was more of a sea change in the way we think of children's literature, so that works like Moominsummer Madness or The Machine Gunners would not languish in relative obscurity while OK books such as this one are lauded.
We need, I think, to get more demanding with children's literature and treat it not as a genre of fiction, but as something that can be serious literature that is also accessible to children. Educating children in sophisticated reading is the greatest gift that we can give them, and is far more useful than "improving lessons."
To return to Anne of Green Gables, I am not saying that this book is bad or that children should not read it, I am just saying that it is substantially over hyped. In the end, it is extremely well written escapism with a veneer of morality thrown over it. That's fine, but it means that it is good Kids Lit and not great Kids Lit.