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“Like it or not, Anne is here to stay.”

Editorial from The Guardian December 13, 2006. pg A.6.

Can it be that the the people of New York take a little time to snicker at the tourists who walk into town and head straight for the Empire State Building? Do the Romans get sick of people gassing on about the ruins and the Colosseum? Are the pyramid-watchers starting to grate on the good folk of Egypt? Probably.

But, for every Roman hipster who can't stand the rubes and wishes for a more sophisticated, modern and cosmopolitan clientele, there is another who sees opportunity in the crowds of gawkers and others, who can take some pride in the appreciation being offered by their ordinary fellow men. We've been reminded in recent weeks of the importance of Prince Edward Island's own contribution to the Wonders of the World - 'Anne of Green Gables'.

A visiting tourism expert rather curtly reminded our tourism authority that quiet countryside and summer beach are plentiful commodities for the world traveller, but that the red-haired orphan dreamed of by Lucy Maud Montgomery is uniquely tied to Prince Edward Island. Sell what makes you special, he advised, wisely.

The lesson was driven home all the more clearly this week, when it became clear that the orphan of Avonlea could be incorporated into Oprah Winfrey's work to educate young girls in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Like Anne, Oprah is not necessarily to everyone's taste, but she is undeniably a media phenomenon. The TV maven's decision to add a book club to her popular talk show gave publishers a chance to sell book in numbers measured by the hundreds of thousands. Her attention turns to a movie, a charity or some case of social injustice and with her turns the attention of countless millions of people. The fact that financial planners, psychologists and personal trainers have all been able to go from Oprah's guests to celebrities in their own right only speaks to the rather incredible force that can be generated by a person who succeeds in reaching out and touching the ordinary person.

We don't know how familiar Oprah may be with Anne of Green Gables, but we do know they touch their audiences in the same way. Each is a testament to determination, to self-confidence blended with compassion, to success gained by effort and integrity. That Oprah Winfrey is a real person and Anne Shirley is a fictional character matters not a bit when it comes to their mythology.

Anne Shirley seems like a natural match for Oprah because she is rooted in a view of humanity that is both clear-eyed and optimistic. People believe in her because they know that decency and compassion often win in this world, that hurts can be faced and overcome, that people can succeed by leaning on others.

It's a message that has brought success to Montgomery and her heirs for the better part of a century. And it is a fictional message that is rooted in the soil and people of Prince Edward Island like nothing else.

Whether it suits everyone's taste is beside the point. Anne of Green Gables is the world's passport to Prince Edward Island and Prince Edward Island's message to the world. We ought to make the most of it.