Funny how we reasonable Westerners think ourselves above the myths and folklore of the past. We acknowledge their existence, but every reasonable person knows that those stories aren’t true. Or so we think.
Touring Cavendish of Anne of Green Gables fame challenged some of my ideas about reality. At Green Gables we saw Anne’s childhood home and walked through “The Haunted Wood” where the dreadful White Things live. Although not a huge Anne fan, I enjoyed the visit. Throughout the tour, however, a nagging question kept invading my thoughts. Did Anne with an “e” actually exist? Of course, the rational side of me immediately said no. I’m sure I could read all the histories and birth records of Canada and not find any physical record of an Anne Shirley who lived in Cavendish. But my emotive dimension resisted this rationalism. I could identify with L.M. Montgomery’s feeling of violation. If Anne did not exist, why do thousands of people from around the world visit this nearly hallowed plot of ground?
I find it fascinating that my youngest sister (8 yrs.) has no problem with these apparent contradictions. To her, Anne, Gilbert, Matthew, and Marilla are as real as gravity. This is where Anne did that. That is where Anne did this. And so forth. It’s all real to her because she knows how to exist in the world of Anne’s creator…the imagination.
So did Anne exist? I say yes because she lives in our hearts and minds, and I think we all agree that those are real. Enough said. For some intelligent reading along these lines, read The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye.