Anne of Green Gables, the Canadian novel by author Lucy Maud Montgomery, has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1908. Over the years, the heroine Anne has been brought to life in musicals, museums and street theatre on eastern Prince Edward Island, which provides the backdrop for the adventures of the young chatterbox. Now, the sites mentioned in the book have become a major tourist draw, pumping millions of dollars into the island's struggling economy.
The recent visitor was Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, who visited the island with her husband Prince William in July.
Montgomery is said to have drawn on Anne's childhood experiences in the smallest of the Canadian provinces to describe her life after she is adopted from an orphanage in Nova Scotia to help on a Prince Edward farm. One in four visitors to Prince Edward Island takes in at least one Anne attraction, such as the recreated fictional town of Avonlea, the site of Montgomery's childhood home or the Anne of Green Gables gift shop on the main street of the provincial capital Charlottetown. Prince Edward Island still echoes the charms of early 20th century Canada depicted in the books when villagers travelled in horse-drawn carts, wrote long letters, wore long dresses, and where a cow running amok in the garden accounted for action.
"Many people think Anne was a real person," said Chantelle Macdonald, who once played Anne in shows on the island. "It's difficult to tell them this person did not really exist. They sometimes confuse Anne with the author."
Japanese Anne fan clubs
Anne is so popular worldwide that the staff at the Cavendish National Historic Site, which includes Montgomery's cousin's farmhouse, have a hard time convincing visitors that she is a fictional character.
And in Japan, where Anne of Green Gables has been on the school curriculum since 1952, the heroine is widely adored. There are Japanese Anne fan clubs, an Anne academy and even a nursing school named after her.
Japanese are the third largest contingent of visitors here, after Canadians and Americans, and some even travel to PEI to get married at Green Gables.
Macdonald suggests their enthusiasm for all things Anne may have helped propel her popularity elsewhere.
"In Italy, only five of the books were translated. But in the 1980s, everyone watched the Japanese animated version of 'Anne of Green Gables' on television," said Rosanna Gatti, who was visiting from Italy with her family. AFP