I just finished listening to the audio book, The Secret Garden, by Francis Hodgson Burnet. It was my favorite book when I was a child and it was important to me for a lot of reasons.
I loved the garden and the robin, the earthy boy who could talk to plants and animals. I was so happy that the main character was a girl who didn’t do as she was told, but did as she pleased. I knew we could have been friends.
But here’s the thing. Even though I haven’t read the book since I was that very small child, I still think about the story. I have watched the film, staring Kate Maberly, as Mary and Andrew Knott, as Dickon, many times. Maggie Smith is in it and she’s always amazing. The film is wonderful and the child actors are incredible.
Listening to the book, I was able to see the differences between it, the film and my memory. The book, while racist and elitist (people would say that’s just what was happening in 1911, when it was written), is much more gentle than the film. And I only remembered all the parts that were relevant to me as a child. In the movie, Maggie Smith is hard core, compared to her character in the book. The things I remembered were more like the book with bits of the film embedded in there somewhere.
The Secret Garden is an important book. It’s about rich and poor, wanted and unwanted, children navigating through the world of adults. and finding their own way. The children are free to explore their world, as long as they don’t bother anyone and behave. But by being outside, they are able to get in touch with, and recognize, their oneness with animals, birds and all of nature.
Mainly, it’s about polite, well mannered children following their hearts and overcoming their personal and physical problems, with the help of nature, and each other. It’s about abuse, healing, joy, freedom, breaking rules, standing up for yourself and being happy. It’s also about the trickle down theory when it comes to the social hierarchy of masters and servants. Obedience at all costs, especially in the film.
I love the book and part of me will always live in that garden. It’s the best place to be, after all. Just ask the robin, he’ll be happy to tell you.