The Alchemy of Anne with an ‘E’
Juliette discusses her childhood bond with Anne with an E, and how this friendship has supported her long into adulthood.
“If you understand Anne Shirley Cuthbert, then you probably understand me.”
-Juliette van der Molen
We both had red hair and freckles that we hated. She dreamed of a family that she could call her own. I dreamed about finding a place where I fit. We understood each other without having to speak directly. It was one of those relationships where I finally felt understood. Every time I looked in the mirror, Anne Shirley Cuthbert looked back at me from her house in Green Gables. I knew we would be best friends forever because we pinky swore it and everything. We even shared the same middle name and I was only slightly jealous that hers was “Anne with an ‘E’” instead of just plain old “Ann” like me.
“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”
–L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
A Life of the Imagination
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables, lit a spark of magic inside of me. I was addicted to reading and books long before this, of course. I lived a rich imaginary life and I allowed myself to be transported by authors that still live in my ‘best loved canon’ today. They’re the writers I return to when I need to strip away the layers of adult that are steeped in cynicism and pain. There was always something magical about storytelling. But, there was something about Anne that was different.
If Twitter had existed back then, I probably would have composed something like: “I feel seen! #amreading”.
I didn’t know Anne’s particular pain. I wasn’t an orphan. But, I knew what it felt like not to fit in and to have people think you were strange. I grew up in an athletic family. One of my mother’s favourite stories is that during tee ball I would sit in the outfield and pick flowers. Let me tell you, not much is happening in the outfield of a tee ball game. But, there’s also a reason they put me out there, to be fair. As uncoordinated as I was, my parents also tried soccer. It turns out that if you’re a goalie, you’re not supposed to dodge the ball. All this to say, I wasn’t coordinated and I didn’t care about being athletic.
I cared about books. The library was my most important discovery, and I’ll stand by that statement 40 years after the fact. I’m still drawn to libraries. I wasn’t a writer until I discovered that was a thing I could do. It was Anne who told me about that. As I turned the pages of her book, I was in awe of this little girl who could create stories. Up until this point, I’d been reading voraciously. In school, they kept running out of reading textbooks and a teacher had to make me lists of ‘grown up’ books so I could continue progressing.
Anne Brought the Magic
Anne gave me permission for something I didn’t know was possible. I started scribbling into a journal and writing stories about anything I could think of, suddenly I was a writer. The magic of permission is that it is empowering. I dove into worlds where I could make anything possible, where it didn’t matter if anyone understood me. I would sneak books and paper out of the house when I was told to ‘go outside and play’ on hot summer days. I’d find a shady spot and put pencil to paper and just let my imagination fly. I could even imagine that Anne and I were real friends, not magic friends. I could be part of her story club and we would write about knights and quests and journey to “The Lake of Shining Waters” near Green Gables.
Anne was always there, between the pages, encouraging me and cheering me on. I read about her over and over, because I knew I needed her. She understood me. We would be forever friends.
At some point, things got serious. I was still writing, but I was growing up. People liked to say that writing wasn’t practical. They told me I had practically no shot at becoming published. I needed to get serious and think about what I would do with my life. I spent years trying to be that grown up that everyone said I should be and I spent years surviving domestic violence. Anne retreated, which really, was the only thing she could have done to save herself. Everything in my life was subject to becoming collateral damage.
This pain gnawed at me. In my worst moments I needed my imagination and the thought that I could create something to keep me alive. I lost a lot of myself through disassociation. Though it was buried, that magic was still inside of me.
Anne was patient. She waited.
“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
A Magical Reunion
That’s the thing about people you can depend on that matters. They’re patient. They wait. Others come and go, but not Anne. When I came back to writing she was right there to cheer me on and keep me going. She sits in my studio and bites her nails when things don’t look so great for my characters. She gives a fist pump when the work is going really great. She doesn’t make fun of me for the tears I shed when I hold my work in a printed book for the first time. We’re kindred spirits of the imagination and that’s a magical thing.