I did not intend for The Secret Garden to be my “Green” book for Cannonball bingo but when I finished reading it to my 8 year old last night, it seemed silly to not take advantage of it fitting the green square. This is my beloved copy from childhood. I can’t recall how many times it has been read over the years and with this re-read it has now been shared with both my children. The Secret Garden captured my imagination as a child with its combination of mystery and wonder and has held a special place in my heart ever since. Reading it aloud to my children has been a joy, watching them be captivated as I once was.
The first thing that jumped out, this time around, was the use of the word “queer”. Originally published in 1911 the word queer had a different connotation than it does today. At that time it was still used to describe something which is strange or odd but was starting to make the transition to negatively describing sexual preferences. The frequent use of queer led to discussion with my children regarding what the word has meant over time and the reclamation that is currently happening with the word. Another thing that needed explaining was British colonialism in India. Once those were clarified, we were able to proceed with only the occasional aside.
Very simply, The Secret Garden is the tale of two children learning how to be healthy children. Raised by people not their parents, and never given rules or structure to their lives, led to Mary and Colin being very disagreeable people that no one enjoyed being around. Their poor health was a result of the environment in which they started life. As the story progresses, Mary and Colin attribute the changes that happen to them the result of Magic.
Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” (Colin) said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.
The true magic of the garden is that it awakens in them the desire to change. The improvement in their health comes not from literal magic but from positive thinking, being active outdoors with the intent to create stronger muscles, and a healthy diet. Interacting with Dickon and his “creatures”, along with the joy of caring for the garden and watching it come alive in the Spring, stimulates a sense of wonder in Mary and Colin that has been dormant. For the first time in their lives they begin behaving as children their age ought to act and they blossom along with the garden.
The newest movie adaptation, based on the trailer, makes the garden “literally” magic, which rubs me the wrong way. There is nothing inherently magic about the garden other than the ordinary kind that happens every year with the changing of the seasons. To make the garden Magic takes away the important message about being able to create change through positive thinking and taking action to achieve one’s goal, which is a shame.
Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.
In the past I would have given this book 4 stars but this time through I gave it three. What happens to Martha? About halfway through the book she is forgotten as a character. Dickon is more of a magical creature than an actual boy, making for a shallower character than either Mary or Colin, though I suppose that is what makes him so charming. It is continually mentioned how poor Dickon’s family is and how they barely have enough food for the 14 children. How is it that his mother, Mrs. Sowerby, has the resources to send extra milk and buns to Mary and Colin? This is later addressed by the children giving money to Mrs. Sowerby but it is implied that she supplied the food for some time before the change happens. The story begins with Mary and the start of her transformation but then the book does a pivot and becomes mostly about Colin’s change. The final chapter of the book focuses on Mr. Craven, who up to this point has barely been in the story, and ends with Colin and his father reuniting. The story doesn’t have a proper ending for Mary, which feels odd considering how the book starts. I suppose these are minor quibbles but reading The Secret Garden as adult has pointed these faults out to me.