Taxonomy of Fantasy and Anne of Green Gables

Fascinating thought of the day for serious Harry Potter readers: is Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables “series” echoed in Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter adventures? Bets over at The Anne of Green Gables and L.M.Montgomery Lexicon wrote me last week to say she thinks there are points of correspondence.

She wrote:

While you’re comparing HP to other wonderful books out there, may I suggest Anne of Green Gables? 😉 I’m not sure how familiar JKR is with this Canadian classic, but we’ve been discussing some obviously similarities at a message board I frequent (where, by the way I found out about your blog via the lovely Nzie, and have been avidly following ever since). Anne is another eleven-year-old orphan who has inherited her dead mother’s green eyes. She’s conspicuously redheaded, which might provide some precedent for the hilarity of seven ginger-haired Weasleys. In another of Montgomery’s novels, Emily of New Moon, there are a lot of references to a “world beyond a curtain/veil.” More of my own theories here, if anyone’s interested.

Oh, and Meyer also cites Anne as one of her major influences for Twilight.

If you follow that link, you’ll read that Bets qualifies Harry as a “Common Hero” in Joseph Campbell’s sceme of classification. I really don’t think that is right given the symbolism involved; Harry is an Everyman figure, certainly, but the power of our identification with him isn’t that he’s typical but that he represents the logos or noetic faculty of soul a la Frodo on Mt. Doom, Capt. Kirk on the Enterprise, and Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov. I recommend my Deathly Hallows Lectures for more on that distinction and Farah Mendelsohn’s Rhetoric of Fiction for a classification scheme of fantasy fiction and heroes less mechanical than Campbell’s.

As Michael Swanwick explains, Mendelsohn divides fantasy fiction into four groups:

The portal fantasy is one where the protagonist steps out of his or her usually quiet world and into the fantastic. Mendlesohn… conflates this with the quest fantasy, and calls it the portal-quest fantasy. The immersive fantasy starts out in a coherent fantasy world and stays there. In the intrusion fantasy, the fantastic breaks into (I paraphrase Nabokov here) what we laughingly call the “real” world. And the liminal fantasy is one which never breaks through into the fantastic and yet which nevertheless feels inescapably fantastic.

This taxonomy of fantasy helps us distinguish The Chronicles of Narnia (portal quest) from Conan the Barbarian and John Carter, Warlord of Mars (immersive) from the children’s stories of Enid Blyton and the weird gothic of Lovecraft (intrusive). Favorite books don’t always fit into the categories you’d guess; Prof. Mendelsohn explains, for instance, why The Lord of the Rings is a portal quest fantasy rather than immersive fiction which surprised me (Frodo and friends “step out of his usually quiet world,” the Shire, and “into the fantastic” if the world of Middle Earth is certainly immersive and removed from our own). Basing her distinctions on the relationship of the hero to the fantasy world makes the distinctions easy to apply.

Harry Potter has elements of more than one category but is in essence a portal quest fantasy. As Mendelsohn writes:

One of the few cross-overs are the Harry Potter novels, which typically begin as intrusion fantasies — the abrupt arrival of the owls in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) causing chaos and disturbance — but very rapidly transmute into almost archetypal portal fantasies, reliant on elaborate description and continual new imaginings (Rhetorics, p. 2)

In other words, Ms. Rowling’s books all have a hero that begins a story in humdrum normalcy and who escapes into a fantasy world within and beyond the mundane starting point. Harry enters a portal of some sort (usually Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross) and begins his quest. It being a schoolboy novel, the quest is solving a mystery at Hogwarts and confronting and defeating bad guys. Harry returns to the point of entry each year except after Prince to begin the cycle anew.

Harry begins his adventures but he isn’t “normal” or “common.” He is ‘The Boy Who Lived’ and eventually ‘The Chosen One,’ however pedestrian he may be in the classroom or as a skirt chaser.

I’d say that Bets is right that Anne of Green Gables is essentially a Bildungsroman and orphan tale but I wonder if this isn’t the important point of correspondence betwwwn Harry and Anne rather than a distinguishing difference. The green eyes from mom, the eleven year old orphan, and the “new world” of her adoption make for interesting conversation, I think, if the streams of English literature in which each author is writing may make substantive comparisons difficult. Montgomery for all her virtues was not a symbolist, a satirist, or a fantasy writer and Rowling’s romance writing, if sometimes melodramatic, could use a page or two from Montgomery’s books.

Anyway, your thought, please, on the taxonomy of Fantasy Fiction and what overlap there is between Anne’s adventures on Prince Edward Island and Harry’s at Hogwarts.


  1. One of the things that struck me about the Harry Potter series is that both the characters and the books themselves seem to “grow up.” The characters age and the novels become more adult. I tried to remember any other series of supposedly children’s books that progressed that way. The only thing that came to mind at all were the Anne of Green Gables books, in which Anne begins as a child playing pretend games, then grows into an adult woman who marries, has children, and even loses a son in the war.

  2. Excellent point, RobinG. Ms. Rowling has criticized fantasy fiction series sets, Narnia in particular, for not having its children grow up. Certainly that is not true of AoGG, who ages in every book significantly.

  3. Arabella Figg says

    Certainly Montgomery was a satirist and a great one, at that. I’ve read all her books and short stories; her sly, witty character portraits and situations (such as Anne’s unwelcome and hilarious marriage proposals), could very well have influenced Rowling’s writing; I’m betting she’s read Montgomery’s work.

    Montgomery is one of the best character writers I’ve ever read. Her writing isn’t dated, due to her trenchant observations of human nature; she just nailed people. From her well-rounded major characters to ones existing only in one chapter (“jog along, black mare!”)–you *know* these people.

    The character-writing in HP reminded me very much of Lucy Maud’s. A lot of writers could learn from her.

  4. What was Ms. Montgomery satirizing? Politics? Religion? She seems a “manners and morals” writer a la Austen and brilliant observer of the human condition but satire is a type of allegory. You’re going to have to make that case with an argument more involved than an assertion…

  5. Arabella Figg says

    I looked up several definitions of satire at the One Look online dictionary site:

    One Look General Dictionary–
    noun: witty language used to convey insults or scorn (“Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own–Johathan Swift”)

    1. use of wit to criticize behavior: the use of wit, especially irony, sarcasm, and ridicule, to criticize faults
    2. literary work using satire: a literary work that uses satire, or the branch of literature made up of such works

    1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
    2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

    Webster’s New World College Dictionary–
    1. a. a literary work in which vices, follies, stupidities, abuses, etc. are held up to ridicule and contempt
    b. such literary works collectively, or the art of writing them
    2. the use of ridicule, sarcasm, irony, etc. to expose, attack, or deride vices, follies, etc.

    I looked up a few more and saw nothing about satire being a type of allegory (although it can be used in that form). Given these definitions, satire applies to human behavior as well as other things, such as politics or religion. Montgomery satirized people and their foibles, and this is woven throughout her work.

  6. RobinG…

    I remember reading a series by Lenora Mattingly Weber featuring a teenage girl by the name of Beany Malone…does this name ring a bell with anyone else? While Beany’s (her nickname) character development may not have moved along quite like Anne’s or Harry’s, the author managed to bring the gangly post-WWII teen out of the forties and into the fifties with believeable experiences. I did not read the final 4 books until adulthood and found them poignant in a sad-to-see-her-grow-up kind of way.

  7. Thanks for the post!

    I’ll have to study the taxonomy of the fantasy genre in greater detail, but for me, the archetype of the common hero explains Harry’s modest personality. You’re right: of course Harry isn’t ordinary, he’s a celebrity from birth; but he isn’t ambitious in the academic or the friendship department. It is precisely this lack of ambition (compared to the ambition which tempted Dumbledore) that makes Harry succeed in Book 7, so modesty seems to be pretty essential for Harry’s quest, whereas in a bildungsroman like Anne, Anne needs her drive and ambition to succeed in life. It is why Harry is the protagonist instead of someone like Hermione.

    RobinG, it’s interesting that “Anne growing up” becomes a main reference point (Stephanie Meyer also says that she’s influenced by how the Anne books follow Anne’s whole life through.) This is interesting because Montgomery never intended to write eight books, she published sequel after sequel at her fans’ insistence and got very sick of Anne by the end of the series. This is very different from JKR, who knew exactly how Book 7 would end when she started out.

    (For fantasy children who do grow up, I can think of Charles Wallace and Meg and Calvin O’Keefe from the Time Quartet, although they embark on different quests in each book. His Dark Materials is also all about coming-of-age, although presumably not a great deal of time passes during the books, the major theme is maturing from child to adult.)

    One major milestone Anne and Harry share in the journey of growing up, though, is the death of their first surrogate parent – Matthew Cuthbert for Anne, Sirius Black for Harry. Romance-wise there are some surface similarities: Anne and Harry both dabble in a false relationship before realizing their feelings for someone who has been in love with them since childhood, but that’s a pretty common plotline.

    Otherwise, I can’t see any especial crossovers on the “Bildungsroman” front that can’t be found in other young adult literature.

  8. An interesting comparison . . . HP and AoGG. Not sure it (AoGG) holds up as fantasy literature. The AoGG series is more of a commentary on place, time and social constructs of the era in which it was written. I definitely agree that it more closely resembles Austen’s manners and morals novels. However, there is one nice parallel between Harry and Anne. Both orphans find their “true” home elsewhere — Harry who grew up with Muggles in Little Whinging find his “true” home in the magical world, especially Hogwarts Castle. Anne who grew up in an orphanage in Halifax, find her “true” home on Prince Edward Island (a real fantasy for her), especially at Green Gables. It is ironic, however, that Anne’s foster parents Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are about as unimaginative as can be, while Harry’s foster parents (in a sense), the Weasleys, are as magical as can be. Interesting . . .

  9. Enjoying this conversation everyone.

    Kathy, I actually disagree that Marilla and (especially) Matthew were unimaginative. I can’t remember the exact line, but I remember when Marilla was in such ‘ires’ over the puffed sleeves Matthew told her that just because they were raised to be so cheerless doesn’t mean they should treat Anne the same. I think there is much allusion to Marilla and Matthew’s connection with the dreaming Anne throughout the story. Of course, that’s just my perspective…. 🙂

  10. NHisSteps: Perhaps you are right and “unimaginative” isn’t the right adjective. Maybe it would be better to describe Matthew and Marilla as feeling bound by personal history and convention and not having the freedom or confidence to “push the envelope” so to speak. I do think that their adoption of Anne opened them up over time to thinking “outside the box” (their own box, that is).

  11. Now that I can completely agree with.

  12. Red Rocker says

    Agree that Montgomery is a great satirist of the human condition. She does it very slyly: embeds it in books written for children, puts it in the mouths of her characters so she herself is invisible in the process, and does it without commentary or reflection, so that the reader is left alone to ponder on what she has said. The result is that one can read the books on multiple levels. There is always the main story, which although not immune from tragedy, is guaranteed to have a happy ending. Thus the orphan Anne, used and abused from the moment she is big enough to fetch and carry, finds happiness on the magical island of PEI. There is the underlying reality – poverty, ignorance, stifling, unreflective rigidity, distrust of anything which is unfamiliar, unquestioning religious conformity, moral self-righteousness, women giving birth to endless children, drunken husbands, mothers abandoning their children, parents tyrannizing their children. And beyond it all is Montgomery’s spiritual affinity for the beauty found in nature.

    It is in depicting the grim reality of the human condition existing side by side with the beauty she finds in nature that Montgomery shines. Her heroines turn to nature and for the most part are blessed with loving – if spiritually and intellectually restricted – relatives. But the world which surrounds them is a harsh one, one for which a satirical sense of humour is a necessary tool for survival.

  13. Arabella Figg says

    I commented before your excellent comment went up, Red Rocker; I think it just now appeared. Your first two sentences could, I think, also apply to Rowling’s writing.

    There are at least a couple LMM stories that didn’t conclude with a happy ending. One rather chilling one was either a chapter in Anne of Ingleside or a short story, in which the Blythes attend a funeral where a woman comes to publically excoriate the dead.

    But I think you summed up Montgomery’s writing very well. She certainly had enough trauma and tragedy in her own life, including a mentally-ill husband, from which to draw. Yet she was able to see the comic side in almost anything.

    Cats have no sense of humor, but are certainly funny…

  14. Red Rocker says

    Arabella, the funeral story you allude to was in Anne of Ingleside, when Anne remembers a funeral she went to. I found this on the Internet; I guess the copyright has run out. This is the dead man’s ex-sister-in-law, addressing the congregation at the funeral:

    You have listend to a pack of lies … you people who have come here ‘to pay your respects’ … or glut your curiosity, whicher it was. Now I shall tell you the truth about Peter Kirk. I am no hypocrite … I never feared him living and I do not fear him now that he is dead. Nobody has ever dared to tell the truth about him to his face but it is going to be told now … here at his funeral where he has been called a good husband and a kind neighbour. A good husband! He married my sister Amy … my beautiful sister, Amy. You all know how sweet and lovely she was. He made her life a misery to her. He tortured and humiliated her … he liked to do it. Oh, he went to church regularly … and made long prayers … and paid his debts. But he was a tyrant and a bully … his very dog ran when he heard him coming.

    She goes on to list his selfishness and his cruelties, and finally bursts into tears. As she is leaving Peter Kirk’s second wife stands up – and thanks her.

    Despite the misery of her early childhood, Anne was actually one of the happier of Montgomery’s heroines. Emily – the one closest to her because she too was a writer – gave up writing for a period in her life because the man who loved her told her she was no good at it. Many of Mongtomery’s heroines are browbeaten and bullied by their grandmothers or elderly aunts who hate them for no good reason except that they were born. And the story of Pat – of Silver Bush – is in some ways disturbing. Pat grows up loving her home so fiercely that she can not accept a marriage proposal from any man, not even from the one man who was her childhood friend and loves her loyally for most of her life. She grows older – is into her thirties which, in those days, made her a spinster aunt – and becomes more and more lonely and unhappy, especially when her brother brings home a bride whom she hates. But she stubbornly refuses to leave her home until it burns down in a fire – which the new bride carelessly sets. Then and only then is she able to get on with her life. Montgomery emphasizes Pat’s love for Silver Bush, and it’s possible to take that at face value, but it’s tempting to try on a few diagnoses: agoraphobia, social anxiety, or even some kind of schizoid disorder.

    Anyways, all this suggests that she was not oblivious to the dark side of life, although she wrote of it with humour for the most part.

  15. All very much why I don’t preach funeral sermons on how great the dead person was but on what Christ did for them, poor worthless person that they were.

    Aside from that, I never read any of the Anne books or anything else by Montgomery. Nor ever saw the tv series.

  16. Arabella Figg says

    RR, thanks. I was pretty sure the funeral story was in Anne of Ingleside (after hunting through various books). The Blythes leave the funeral, chilled and sobered. It’s a very dark story.

    I have read all of LMM’s fiction, a biography and the first half of her autobiography. Magic for Marigold isn’t too cheery either.

    I agree about Pat of Silver Bush and Mistriss Pat. Rather odd story, with Pat’s puzzling, obsessive love for her house. Agoraphobia? Very possibly; I hadn’t considered that before. Pat’s love for her home may reflect LMM’s feelings of loss in moving to Ontario. Or regret over marrying her husband and desiring independence. I don’t read the Pat books often because I always cry over Judy’s death; she was one of LMM’s great characters, along with Rebecca Dew of Windy Poplars.

    Nevertheless, I think LMM’s books and stories were more autobiographical than we may understand.

  17. I also forgot to mention, John, that you should be getting a commission from various people because after reading these posts there’s usually one or two books that I feel compelled to go out & buy. 🙂

  18. Arabella Figg says

    Oh, RevGeorge, you are in for a delight with the Anne books. You’ll laugh “fit to kill” over parts of AoGG. In the biography I read, there were deluges of letters from adults of both sexes stating how they laughed and cried over the book. One man read AoGG to his wife while she went through labor and entertained her through it. Mark Twain called Anne “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”

    Films of Anne can *never* capture her, especially her entertaining long speeches, one of the great joys of the first book; also they can’t portray her rich inner life and thoughts, “that’s what.”

    One of my very favorite LMM books is The Blue Castle (that, and A Tangled Web, were adult efforts). Her sly satirical humor abounds in this tale. And a favorite Anne book is Anne of the Island, where she goes to college. Philippa, Aunt Jimsie, Gog and Magog, and Patty’s place are not to be missed.

    You might check out this Slate article I found while looking for Twain’s quote:

    Have fun!

  19. Stop Arabella Stop!! Too much stuff to buy!! And then to read!! Overload!! 🙂

  20. Red Rocker says


    I too love Judy Plum (and her sister-in-spirit, Rebecca Dew) What a marvellous character, the perfect comforter and provider of food, the running voice of reason and reality and the loyal, loving, nurturant presence which we should all have in our lives. I have wondered, sometimes, how the actual mothers in Mongomery’s tales are either absent or distant, even the seemingly loving ones. Very autographical, I agree.

    I also love The Blue Castle, the tale of the waking up of Valancy to courage, independence and love.

    But I think my favorite books are the two Pat books. I love the way Montgomery describes the chores and comforts of daily life in the country, Judy Plum’s tales, and even Pat’s obsession with Silver Bush which starts out as warm and wonderful love and evolves into something disturbing and wrong. I cry at Judy’s death, of course. Not just for her sake, but because it marks Pat’s final descent into social alienation. I always felt that her rescue at the last moment by the return of Jingle was unconvincing.

    revgeorge you are truly blessed that you haven’t read any of Montgomery’s books: you have so much to look forward to.

  21. Arabella Figg says

    Red Rocker, as Anne would say, “you are a kindred spirit.”

    How wonderful to find someone else who lreally knows and loves LMM’s work. I’ve had no one to discuss it with and feel very satisfied to have done so. I’ve been thinking about reading the Pat books again and shall do so.

    One of my favorite lines ever is in The Blue Castle where Barney says “I don’t care a hang for a cat without stripes.” Amen! Also, when after being thoroughly condemned by her Uncle James, Valancy says “What will you have left to say when I commit murder” Jab! Cracks me up every time.

    And, yes, RevGeorge, you have some serious fun ahead! Read the Anne books in order, not forgetting the Chronicles of Avonlea collections.

  22. Red Rocker says

    And just before we let this one go, don’t forget about The Story Girl and its sequel: The Golden Road Sara Stanley is probably my favorite LMM character although she’s not a typical one. We have no access to her thoughts, feelings and motives (the narrator is her cousin, Beverly) which increases the interest. Of all of LMM’s designated “story tellers” (i.e.Judy Plum, Rebecca Dew, Susan Baker), she’s the only one who is still a child. And the author (through the narrator) professes her fascination for the character. And I could be wrong, but I believe this is the only book in which the narrator is a male.

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