Gilbert Blythe and the Fairy Tale Love Story
Over the weekend, a Canadian actor named Jonathan Crombie passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. He was 48. Though certainly not a household name, millions of women mourned the loss of the man who played Gilbert Blythe in the television adaptation of the Anne of Green Gables books.
As a young girl, I was obsessed with Anne of Green Gables. I read all of the books (there are 8!). I was an introverted girl who loved to read and kept myself entertained with elaborate stories in my head, just like Anne. I loved the flowery descriptions of Prince Edward Island, the wild Canadian island where Anne lived. Though the book was written in 1908 and described a way of life completely foreign to a girl growing up in the American suburbs in the 1990s, Anne of Green Gables was beloved by nearly every girl friend I know. Perhaps like the Little House on the Prairie books (which I also loved), the books were appealing precisely because of the alien lives they described, lives punctuated by hardships and the romance of simpler bygone times.
Even so, I was a little bit surprised at the outpouring of emotion surrounding Crombie’s death. There was even an article in the New Yorker, titled aptly enough, Why We Loved Gilbert Blythe. Writer Sarah Larson sums it up beautifully–the way Gilbert was so many young girls’ first love, a sweet and funny and charming boy who won all our hearts, even though he had to work for Anne’s (which probably just made us love him more). I suppose it makes sense that the loss of the actor who physically embodied the character (because we ALL watched the movies…A LOT) would mean so much to people. In a way, his death made us look back at our childhoods, maybe even remembering our own first loves and relationships.
Gilbert Blythe was like a human version of the fairy tale Prince Charming we’d been told we should love since before we could speak. He was mischievous and flawed and our age. He wasn’t a cartoon. He wasn’t perfect–he had personality. And even though many of us probably weren’t lucky enough to have the real equivalent of Gilbert Blythe in our lives, it was nice to know he could exist, out there somewhere. Even I still believe in him, deep down.