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Anne Goes Prime Time
by Michael Coren

AM SITTING at the starboard end of the back row of a 33-seat turboprop plane travelling from Halifax to Charlottetown. This is early April, snow and storm surround the flimsy aircraft, and I feel like a pioneer of the early days of aviation fighting his way across the Rockies to win a mail contract. Simply, I`m less than happy. Next to me are three young Japanese girls, screaming with joy and excitement every time the Dash 8 (1 wish it were called a Safety 8 or a Stable 8) sinks through the clouds with stomach-curdling rapidity. "Lucy Maude Montgomery, yeah!" the girls shout in unison, all holding hands and laughing hysterically. These few, these happy few, this band of sisters - they are on a pilgrimage to the land of the rising Anne, and neither weather nor death is going to subdue their passion and their devotion. The extraordinary interest of the Japanese in Lucy Maude Montgomery, the Anne of Green Gables stories, and Prince Edward Island is the product of military defeat and cultural colonialism. Which is a harsh way of explaining that after the Second World War and the American occupation of Japan a number of English-language books were inserted into the school syllabus. The most successful of these were the Anne stories, and although Yankee economic and martial domination came to an end, the influence of a little Atlantic-Canadian girl with freckles and red braids has increased over the decades. Northern Japan now boasts Canada World, a theme park based on Montgomery`s tales. There are also Anne of Green Gables Health Clubs - the mind boggles - and festivals, conferences, and literary and celebratory gatherings galore. In P.E.I. itself, welcome signs, maps, and hotel directories are in English, French, and Japanese. A Japanese phrase-book is now a prerequisite for any island trader. The holiday brochures of the smallest province`s travel industry fill their pages with photographs of the smiling denizens of Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Kyoto. A faux pas occurred recently when a staged publicity picture was required; but in overwhelmingly WASP Charlottetown no Japanese-Canadian could be found, and so a local Chinese doctor was used instead. A success? Absolutely not. The next group of Japanese tourists, polite to a fault, commented that they were delighted to see Anne catching on with their Chinese cousins. Certainly Lucy Maude Montgomery was a writer the sum of whose talents were more than Avonlea, Anne, and Matthew. She was also a far more ambivalent, ambiguous, and complex character than some would have us believe. She was a virtual orphan raised by domineering grandparents, her husband was a manic depressive, and her feminism and tenacity as an author strike us even today as being vibrant and powerful. One indication of changing attitudes is the establishment of the L. M. Montgomery Institute at the University of Prince Edward Island, with the support and cooperation of the Sciences & Humanities Research Council. A symposium for international Montgomery scholars will take place in the summer of 1994, and the University of Guelph - where many of the author`s papers are housed - is collaborating on the project. If this doesn`t drag her out of the only-for-kiddies ghetto, nothing will. The permeation of the island by Montgomeriana is, understandably, irksome to some contemporary writers, particularly on an island that produced a poet as magnificent as Milton Acorn. Louise Fleming, of the small but muscular Ragweed Press, is critical yet realistic. Her publishing house produces guidebooks to Anne-spotting, the success of which enables it to publish lesbian short stories and radical feminist poetry. "This is an island that lives by Anne of Green Gables and will die by Anne of Green Gables," says Fleming. "I mean, try being a feminist here. There`s no sex education on P.E.I., a high rate of unemployment and teenage pregnancy. For God`s sake, there`s no abortion clinic." The Anne of Green Gables Abortion Clinic? Surely not. In spite of the inevitable cynicism of urban Cassandras such as myself, Anne of Green Gables is a natural, uncontrived, and healthy extension of the artistic soul of this island and its people. The stories have deep roots, and at a time when the word "community" has been exploited to the point of redundancy, they impress us as the product of genuine community. This was premature and groundbreaking CanLit. That the Japanese adore it, that millions of children are affirmed and delighted by these books, that Polish soldiers were given Montgomery volumes in 1939 on their way to the front to encourage their resolve in the fight against the Nazis, is something not to rubbish but to relish.

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