Lolita of Green Gables

February 12, 2013

Multiple Pages
Lolita of Green Gables

The Japanese: nuked too much, or not enough?

Exhibit A: Their epidemic affection for a century-old B-list children’s book set in Canada’s teeniest province and starring the original “red-headed stepchild,” a decidedly un-Japanese heroine named Anne Shirley—better known as Anne of Green Gables.

In an Anne-inspired bout of brattiness, I’ve neglected to type in the “TM.” It’s true, and vaguely tacky: Author L. M. Montgomery’s estate and Prince Edward Island itself have trademarked the book’s very title.

The Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority also controls, and collects royalties on, “the commercial use of images, likenesses, objects and events” depicted in Montgomery’s series about the bold, big-hearted orphan who makes good. This includes the eponymous musical—one of the world’s longest-running—which countless Japanese tourists have pilgrimaged to Charlottetown to see and hear since 1965.

Ironically, the only thing Lucy Maud’s heirs can’t control is publication of the book itself, which lapsed into the public domain in 1993. Anyone can print Anne of Green Gables and stick any old cover they want on it, too.

“The Japanese: nuked too much, or not enough?”

So somebody did just that. It’s enough to make one wish the Japs hadn’t traded kamikaze for kawaii.

Last week, with a predictable dollop of Yankee-bashing, Canada’s largest newspaper reported:

Anne of Green Gables goes blond on new U.S. cover

See, somebody uploaded the book’s text to Amazon’s online self-publishing arm, CreateSpace, and started selling it, as many other folks have done before. (Who can blame them? Anne of Green Gables has sold tens of millions of copies ever since no less than Mark Twain pronounced the titular heroine “the dearest and most loveable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”)

The trouble is, whoever did it this time chose an unbelievably inappropriate stock photo to grace the cover: one depicting an impeccably made-up, catalog-model blonde teen who’d look more at home casting her come-hither gaze from the front of Lolita.

Or a mug shot. My first reaction was that someone had cruelly swapped out the image of Canada’s best-loved heroine for one of its most hated women: the “Barbie & Ken” serial killer, Karla Homolka.

Such knowing “ironic” degeneracy wouldn’t have surprised me. Look at the “Sexy Costumes” craze that prompts women to become consequence-free “whores for a day” every October 31. But what started as a run on “Sexy Witch” and “Sexy Mountie” slut-o-ween getups inevitably devolved to hipster pseudo-parodies such as “Sexy Anne Frank.”

(At this rate of decay, expect to witness “Sexy Sharon Tate’s Murdered Baby” either this year or next.)

You can tell this anonymous Green Gables poacher wasn’t even trying to be amusing in a twisted, postmodern kind of way. That’s because the cover model is a blonde, and the whole point of Anne Shirley is her red hair, an instant signifier of her untamed personality and outsider status. She character calls her ginger locks her “life long sorrow;” Anne’s chief tormentor (and future husband) Gilbert nicknames her “carrots,” not “bananas”—just before she smashes a writing slate over his head.

If you were going to go for a “Sexy Anne of Green Gables” look, as either a cynical “commentary” on something-or-other or just to hopefully move more units, you’d obviously keep her red plaits and maybe even her straw hat. You’d just shorten the dumpy dress to hit right below the butt and add a pair of those stay-up white stockings with the little bows on top.

You might even ask a harajuku girl to help you out. The kinderwhore look has been popular in Japan for generations, with human females striving to look as much like Hello Kitty dolls or anime characters as possible, often through the use of scary contact lenses and even plastic surgery.

(We really need more research on the long-term effects of radiation, m’kay?)

Believe it or not, though, Japan’s “Lolita” problem isn’t the real fount of Anne’s popularity there.

Montgomery’s book was introduced into the country’s school curriculum in 1952 after a departing missionary left her beloved copy with a well-known Japanese author and translator. Anne embodied a blend of the familiar (an orphan who loves her island home’s idyllic natural beauty) with the exotic (her red hair, short temper, and lack of social graces). This winning combination assured Anne of Green Gables over fifty years of popularity in the Land of the Rising Sun. A 2010 Japanese film about the book’s “philosophy” was a big hit, especially with “women in their 30s and 40s…who take to the film’s message of handing down the story of Anne from one generation to another.”

When the Green Gables House in Charlottetown caught fire in 1997, Japanese fans raised millions of yen to restore it. PEI residents returned the favor by donating to relief efforts after the tsunami.

Anyway, I suppose this whole over thing could be worse. As Margaret Atwood complains of the original illustrations for Anne of Green Gables:

[E]veryone in them has a very small head…leading us to wonder about the degree of inbreeding that was going on around Avonlea.


Daily updates with TM’s latest


The opinions of our commenters do not necessarily represent the opinions of Taki's Magazine or its contributors.