My grandmother was a dedicated L.M. Montgomery fan. She had an entire display cabinet filled with Montgomery’s work and made the pilgrimage from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Canada to visit Prince Edward Island. The appreciation of the Anne books has passed down the generations – I’m now reading them to my pre-teen daughter.
The series chronicles the adventures of Prince Edward Island orphan Anne Shirley, accidentally adopted by a pair of aging siblings. The series chronicles her life from her adoption at age 11, around the mid-1870s, until the end of the First World War, when Anne is in her early fifties.
Unusually for a book series, Montgomery returned to Anne in her later years and filled in some gaps in her chronology. The two later-written books are much weaker – if you’re reading the eight books in order of Anne’s life, it’s easy to get discouraged mid-series. If you take away anything from this article, it’s that it’s worth skipping some of the lesser books in the middle of Anne’s arc to reach the stronger books at the end of the series – Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside.
Anne Books Ranked
#8 Anne of Ingleside
Book #6, published 1939
L.M. Montgomery is a natural short-story writer, and the Anne series is weakest when she lapses into a series of vignettes with no over-arching narrative. This is especially true of Anne of Ingleside – it does little more than tell some inconsequential stories between Anne’s House of Dreams and Rainbow Valley. There’s little at stake and the closing pages contain an unwelcome spoiler for a major event in Rilla of Ingleside. As Montgomery aged, she became more inclined to feature grumpy old ladies in her stories.
#7 Anne of Windy Poplars
Book #4, published 1936
Like Ingleside, Windy Poplars is a later book that fills in a chronological gap in Anne’s story – this time, the period between her engagement and marriage. The format of the story, often told in letters from Anne to her fiancé, makes it a messy read. But there are worthy plot ideas all the same – Anne’s relationships with colleague Katherine Brooke and the Pringle family are both filled with delightful tension. For some reason, the book was originally titled Anne of Windy Willows in some countries.
#6 Anne’s House of Dreams
Book #5, published 1917
A newly married Anne moves away from Avonlea to Glen St. Mary. There’s an interesting narrative around Anne’s new friend, the distant Leslie Moore, while man-blaming Miss Cornelia is fun. But Captain Jim is an unwelcome intruder, hogging the spotlight away from Anne. He prattles on so much that the book could have been titled Captain Jim’s Lighthouse of Dreams. It’s unrealistic that a hardened sea captain is so genteel – Montgomery is much better at portraying female characters and children. The absence of children and adolescents in House of Dreams makes it more serious than most other books in the series.
#5 Anne of Avonlea
Book #2, published 1909
The second Anne book covers her tenure as a teacher in Avonlea’s school for two years. It’s less eventful than the books on either side, with little at stake to push the narrative forward, but it’s charming anyway. Anne has largely outgrown youthful hi-jinks. To compensate, Marilla adopts twins, Davy and Dora Keith, and the naughtiness of Davy provides much of the humour of the book. Grumpy neighbour Mr Harrison is another welcome addition to Avonlea.
#4 Rainbow Valley
Book #7, published 1919
Anne is merely a supporting character in the seventh book of the series. The focus shifts to the motherless family who has shifted into the manse of Glen St. Mary. Rainbow Valley chronicles their adventures alongside Anne’s own children. Rainbow Valley was inspired by Montgomery’s own life as a minister’s wife. It was my grandmother’s favourite Anne book – she enjoyed the antics of the children.
#3 Anne of Green Gables
Book #1, published 1908
The first Anne chronicle features the series’ most iconic characters. Alongside the talkative orphan Anne Shirley, the shy Matthew Cuthbert, his acerbic sister Marilla, and their opinionated neighbour Rachel Lynde are all among Montgomery’s best creations. The story loses momentum around the middle as it chronicles a series of Anne’s misadventures, but it still features some of Anne’s most iconic moments. The story relies upon Anne’s confused relationship with Gilbert Blythe to keep a common thread.
#2 Anne of the Island
Book #3, published 1915
Anne enters adulthood in the third book in the series, and accordingly, Anne of the Island ratchets up the tension. By my count, she receives six offers of marriage during the four years that she spends at Redmond College in Kingsport. There’s not only marriage at stake – a childhood friend passes away, while another becomes a mother. The pacing is a little odd at times – it spends more time on her packing for Redmond than it does on entire years of college. But the final few chapters are some of the most emotional in the series, as Anne makes significant life decisions. Davy’s letter writing recalls the childhood charms of the earlier books.
#1 Rilla of Ingleside
Book #8, published 1921
Like Rainbow Valley, Anne is merely a supporting character in Rilla of Ingleside. Her youngest daughter, Rilla, is the focus, while the family’s housekeeper Susan Baker also enjoys the limelight. Rilla of Ingleside is notable as a contemporary Canadian book written by a female author about World War I. It’s darker than the other Anne books – the events of the war cast a shadow over Glen St. Mary, with young men going to war. Rilla of Ingleside is fiercely patriotic – the outbreak of World War II upset Montgomery intensely. In a 1940 letter, she wrote, “This nightmare that has been loosed on the world… unfair that we should have to go through it again.”
Do you have a favourite book in the Anne series?
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