‘Anne of Green Gables’ now Anne of the whole wide world

John Mazerolle
Daily Brew

[YAHOO CANADA/John Mazerolle]

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
—Anne of Green Gables
, L.M. Montgomery

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Canadian who doesn’t know Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables.” And many Canadians know that its redheaded heroine, Anne Shirley, is big in Japan.

But did you know she’s beloved in Iceland? Or changed the publishing world in Slovakia? Or that Anne has versions in Arabic and Hebrew, Polish and Slovenian, Turkish and Mandarin?

“Anne of Green Gables”  — the Canadian classic about a young orphan girl growing up in Prince Edward Island — is also a world classic. Call her Anne of the Earth.

“Anne of Green Gables has been translated into at least 36 languages and it’s also appeared in braille,” said Benjamin Lefebvre, a scholar who has been attending the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s biennial conference for the last 20 years.

This year’s conference began Thursday, with Anne experts from Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States taking part at the University of Prince Edward Island. The theme is L.M. Montgomery and Gender, and the book’s approach to gender is part of the reason her story works across multiple languages and cultures, Lefebvre says.

“It’s both a traditional patriarchal community but also one where women exercise as much control as they possibly can and that’s just taken for granted. That’s not shown to be radical…That’s what translates really well even if every translation has an element of localization.”

Anne without God

Many of the versions published and produced around the world do have interesting quirks.

The Hebrew translation’s book cover shows what appears to be a sizable mountain range on Prince Edward Island. In Germany, the first translation only included scenes that were in the 1985 mini-series. And in Slovakia the book, first published under a communist regime, has no mention of God.

“God was ‘the luck’ in our translation,” said Natalia Dukatova, who is scheduled to speak at the conference on the topic of Slovak children’s literature through the lens of “Anne of Green Gables.” “It wasn’t providence. It was luck.”

Dukatova said before Anne there had been no translations from English literature about girls.

“I think this was a great impact from your world to our world,” she said. “And Slovak children’s writers started to write about girls as well.”

[Attendees from across Canada and around the world listen to a presentation during the 2016 conference of the L.M. Montgomery Institute in Charlottetown on Thursday. YAHOO CANADA/John Mazerolle]

New Annes all the time

New versions of Anne — on TV and on the page — have not slowed over the years.

A TV-movie version featuring Martin Sheen ran earlier this year, CBC plans to air a new multi-part adaptation in 2017 and a new Icelandic translation was completed in 2012.

Translator Sigríður Lára Sigurjónsdóttir said the old translation from 1933 took out everything that wasn’t vital to the plot and even moved some events around.

“They make two years into one, and they have Anne and [her love interest] Gilbert be friends much earlier. In the original text, that happens on the very last page.”

Ásta Gísladóttir, one of the Icelandic publishers of the new complete translation, says the old version makes Anne relatively innocuous and glosses over so much it wasn’t immediately clear to her that the book takes place on an island.

Even still, the complexities that make Anne Shirley beloved worldwide shone through.

As Anne herself put it, “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me.”

Gísladóttir said Anne is both traditional and non-traditional.

“While she’s traditionally religious she isn’t pious … She’s kind of always on the edge — and humorously so. She’s vain but she can laugh at herself. She has all these flaws but they’re always endearing and they’re always relatable.”

She showed me the way’

Anne’s best known international stomping grounds — Japan — is a different story. The book’s translation has always been excellent, Yoshiko Akamatsu said.

“Anne of Green Gables” is in Japanese schools from elementary to high school and a 1979 anime version was very popular. So popular, in fact, that it was subtitled and translated into other languages, including English.

Akamatsu’s eyes light up and her voice bubbles when she talks about the first time she read the book.

“I felt that my whole world had changed… [This] imaginative way of looking at everything in the world was very fresh for me. It’s a very universal point to enjoy this book. She showed me the way.”