Wednesday, August 10, 2005

About re-reading The Secret Garden -- again

One of my all-time favorite books is The Secret Garden.

It starts:
"When Mary Lennox was sent to Mistlethwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true too."

Isn't that a wonderful beginning? A preface I once read, I think it was to another book, talks about the importance of getting rid of parental figures in children's literature. The problem, the author of the preface wrote, is how do you get rid of the parents without traumatizing the young reader? Most books have the children in boarding school, summer camp, visiting slightly fuzzy grandparents. Not The Secret Garden. Mary Lennox's parents die painfully of cholera in the first chapter. But it is made clear that Mary couldn't have cared less about her parents. Many people never even knew they had a child. She is a hideous child, spoiled rotten. Ten years old and still having screaming temper tantrums. What a fabulous character!

After her parents die, Mary is sent to England to live. The house she lives in has hundreds of rooms, half of them locked up. It also has extensive grounds which include a walled garden whose door was locked and the key buried ten years ago. The mystery of the garden, the strangeness of the isolated and lonely house conspire to make Mary think of something other than herself. When she finds her way into the garden and discovers the secret of Mistlethwaite Manor, she blooms along with the roses she tends.

That preface I mentioned above made another point. If Frances Hodgeson Burnett had merely called this book The Garden, it'd be a pleasant book about how gardening and exercise make you a nicer, healthier person. But by calling it The Secret Garden, by locking it away and hiding the key....now the reader is intrigued, even as our heroine is.

17 comments:

Genevieve said...

I do so love this book too. (Though I love A Little Princess even more) It is a truly wonderful opening line. I have it in Spanish too, to practice reading my Spanish (as the kiddo is starting at a bilingual school this fall).

Just watched the BBC movie of it last week, with the kiddo. We thoroughly enjoyed it, despite a couple of minor additions (they were in the spirit of the characters, so I didn't mind). Now need to rent the recent movie version which I also remember being excellent (directed by Agniewskca (?) Holland, I think). That one has Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medford.

The original B&W movie has Margaret O'Brien (miscast, I think), and Dean Stockwell as Colin, which is funny to watch.

The CD of the musical is lovely -- some of the songs are annoying but I love most of them. I wish I could've seen it on Broadway with Daisy Eagan.

Running2Ks said...

I've seen the movie, and the play. You have intrigued me about the book :)

liz said...

I did see it on B'way with Daisy Eagan. It was fabulous. And the staging! Everything was very barebones- a bed only for her bedroom, a wall only (or maybe a tree) for the garden. The scenery was on one of those turntables.

liz said...

R2K, are you telling me you've NEVER READ it?

Holy Guacamole.

Buy the edition that I linked to in the questions meme below.

allison said...

The Secret Garden is my favourite book ever. It is the old friend that I curl up with when I am feeling crummy or sad. I wish I could find the edition that my parents have; the illustrations of Mary at her most sullen are perfect and Dickon and Martha are round and rosy and lovely.

Nice to find another kindred spirit.

Beanie Baby said...

I've never read it!

*hangs head in shame*

Suzanne said...

I've never read it, either. I am deeply ashamed. Will have to repair this gaping hole in my literacy!

Angie said...

I do love this book and read it to my daughter -sadly my step-daughter doesn't seem interested. I have only seen the movie done in 1993.

It doesn't bother me that the parents in these types of books have died or that they died violently. It does bother me how it is presented. We may live and give our children a wonderful life to grow up in but there are many children for whom the scenerio is reality. Too many children these days do not understand real sorrow and the pain of not having a living parent. Books are a venue to experience foreign emotion in some degree -in this case the loss and the pain that other children face while cushioned in a wonderful journey toward happiness that softens the blow.

halloweenlover said...

I haven't read it in years, but you have intrigued me to pick it up again.

liz said...

Welcome Allison!

Angie, I think A Little Princess (which I like better too, Genevieve) shows the pain of losing a parent pretty well. And it's the same author. Also, the books by Noel Streatfeild do a very good job of showing the pain of separation from and death of parents.

James and the Giant Peach, however, does a wonderful job of violently and humorously killing off the parents in the first paragraph.

Phantom Scribbler said...

You know, it wasn't until I was an adult and a parent myself that I cried during the cholera epidemic chapter.

Though for some reason the bereaved widower thinking he heard the voice of his beloved used to make me cry even when I was a child.

I had two copies: one was in a bound volume including The Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy. The other was the green paperback. Still in the bookshelf, though I've had to tape the cover on again numerous times. I last reread it last fall. It's better for reading in the spring, though!

RussianViolets said...

Haven't read this book in years, but it, too, is going on the dreaded and ever-expaning Amazon.com wishlist.

RussianViolets said...

Haven't read this book in years, but it, too, is going on the dreaded and ever-expaning Amazon.com wishlist.

purple_kangaroo said...

Oh, yes . . . truly one of the world's great books.

Songbird said...

I love The Secret Garden so much that I have never been able to bring myself to watch any dramatized version. The pictures in my mind of Mary and Colin and Dickon are so intense and powerful, I resist replacing them with someone else's vision. What I like best about the book is how much we reside in Mary's point of view and grow with her into a less pinched and strained person, coming to life like the garden itself.

moxiemomma said...

the secret garden is without a doubt my childhood favorite!

thanks for stopping by earlier :)

Mummy/Crit said...

oh yeah, I loved it...as I read the opening in your post I thought of Mary in the BBC production, looking peaky, and sulky...I love reading people's blogs to get my 'what to read next' inspiration. Thank you Liz