02/06/2013 05:35 EST | Updated 04/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Don't mess with "Anne of Green Gables"! Canadians angry at heroine's makeover

TORONTO - A new image of Canada's most beloved literary orphan has Canadians seeing red, but not where they're supposed to.

A new edition of "Anne of Green Gables" depicts the notoriously youthful and ruddy-headed heroine as a curvaceous blond teen, sparking a fierce backlash from scholars and casual readers alike.

Critics derided the cover — which shows the heroine reclining against a hay stack, clad in a plaid shirt and smiling suggestively — saying it is a far cry from the feisty, 19th-century 11-year-old brought to life in the pages of L.M. Montgomery's classic series of novels.

The controversial image appears on the cover of a Three in One edition produced by CreateSpace, a subsidiary of the Amazon group of companies that allows people to self-publish their material.

CreateSpace did not respond to requests for comment, but readers of their products were not so reticent.

"Really, who is that girl? Definitely not Anne!" wrote one reviewer on the book's Amazon.com page. "The books are wonderful and do not deserve this disgrace of a cover."

Many readers voiced shock and disgust that a beloved part of their childhood was receiving a more provocative treatment, with several arguing the updated image would send a negative message to future readers.

Others argued the picture, which flatly contradicts many textual references to Anne's appearance, amount to character assassination of a figure known for her vivid imagination and knack of defying convention.

"What a different life Anne would have led if she had been the peachy, buxom, gold-tressed maiden that graces the cover of this edition," one reader wrote. "Anne's fiery hair, unfortunate complexion and gangly build define her character...for she learns to cultivate ideals of inner and outer beauty."

The picture made a splash on social media as well, where Twitter users heaped nearly universal scorn on the image and even took to dubbing it "Anne Hathaway of Green Gables."

Nick Mount, Canadian literature professor at the University of Toronto, suspects the controversial photo was used in part to contravene strict copyright protections.

While Montgomery's text — originally published in 1908 — is in the public domain and therefore fair game for self-publishing companies, the traditional image of the red-headed, pig-tailed Anne is owned jointly by the province of Prince Edward Island and the heirs to the author's estate.

But Mount, too, joined the chorus of those decrying the cover. By portraying Anne as a rural bombshell who "looks like Daisy Duke," the publishers have come close to defacing a Canadian cultural icon, he said.

"If there's any one book that Canadians, even today in this generation, continue to have in common, it's 'Anne of Green Gables," he said, "so messing with this particular image is asking for trouble."

Neither Montgomery's heirs nor the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority, which is responsible for official Anne imagery, responded to requests for comment.