What is up with all the Anne’s? Spunky, red-headed, saved orphaned girls named Anne/ie/a seem uniquely suited to capture our hearts.
Anne of Green Gables, little orphan Annie, and lately Anna of Frozen, have a seemingly endless power to make us love them (and pay to watch them and read them).
Can we analyze this? Are we anaclitic to our Ann’s? Are they an analogy for our inmost desires? Is this due to an ancient, ancestral pull? Are they anthemic to our ideals? Or is this all purely anecdotal? 😉
First, there was Anne of Green Gables in 1908. This Anne lived in the late 1800s in Prince Edward Island, Canada, having been rescued from a life of hardship by a pair of older siblings in an idyllic farm town. her heart-warming escapades chronicling personal growth have earned her tremendous popularity: 50 million copies of the book and numerous film adaptations – as well as a musical.
Author LM Montgomery reportedly wrote the orphaned heroine as a model of youthful idealism and spirituality, and she has certainly been that. Anne’s ideals apparently made her a hero of the Polish Resistance in World War II.
Then, there was little orphan Annie, first the subject of a popular comic strip in 1924 that attacked the politics around New Deal, then the subject of a musical and movies that celebrated them. Whatever your politics, however, everybody loves a good cute curly carrot-top belting out “Tomorrow, tomorrow!” Her Cinderella story from rags to riches is the setting for an overtly raw defense of optimism in trying times.
Our modern era can’t go without its Anne, either, of course (and I don’t mean “Anne with an E,” the terrible Netflix adaptation that poops on everything Anne is about. And that’s all we shall say about that.)
Elsa might have been the break-out star of Frozen with her showy “Let It Go,” but Frozen’s moral backbone rests squarely in her sister Anna. She’s rich, not poor, but one could certainly consider her isolated upbringing to be a serious psychological disadvantage. Her rags to riches is more a life that goes from solitary to social, as Elsa finally opens up their castle to the world. Her sunny optimism is put to the test, however, when she must help save her sister, her kingdom, and herself from Elsa’s powers and petty white male scheming. In the end, it was Anna and Elsa’s happy faces together that launched a thousand happy young girls into lives as Disney consumers.
So what it is about these Anne’s? What is their persistent appeal?
One key might be from the name itself. Anne means favor, or grace, which itself is the free and unmerited favor of God. These girls certainly receive this quality – they are recipients of grace themselves from those that rescue them from their dire upbringings. But then they also return that grace in kind to others, even likely others – Anne, Annie, and Anna bring their kind whimsy to everyone from crochety neighborhood gossips to stray dogs to palace ducklings (respectively.)
And really, in a harsh, horrible world, grace is our best hope, isn’t it? Whether it’s from God (as you consider her to be) or from Anne’s or us or all of them? Goodness and kindness don’t seem native to this place – so we need serendipitous grace. We need a person who has seen the horrors and still rises above them with hope, giving hope to us too in the process.
The notion of grace is not exclusive to writers in North America, of course, nor to those who practice western religion with the actual word “grace.” In Hinduism there is a word “Kripa,” which means divine grace. And in yoga, one of the four main paths is Bhakti yoga, which cultivates acceptance and tolerance by seeing the divine in all creation.
If Anne/Annie/Anna were to practice yoga, I’m pretty sure they would go the Bhakti route.
But why, then, the red hair? I’d suggest that it’s because red hair just isn’t normal for our society – just like the Annes’ grace is not normal. Red hair stands out and shows the world these girls stand out too. After all, it takes flying above society’s conventions to give out grace, and their red hair gives these girls their wings to do just that.