Saturday, January 21, 2012

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

      The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is the book that sparked my love of literature. I’ll never forget the day in third grade, when I was eight-years of age, when my teacher announced that she would be reading this book to the class, and afterwards showing the movie(specifically the 1993 adaptation). The moment she began to read the entire class of rambunctious(and at times, ill-behaved) children became entranced by the narrative. Afterwards, I read any title that bared any similarity to The Secret Garden, from Stewart Little to James and the Giant Peach, from The Princess and the Goblin to The Velveteen Rabbit. Essentially, anything that was available in the juvy fiction section of the library I read with earnest. Still, no childhood book holds a greater place in my heart than The Secret Garden.
         The story begins in India. Mary Lennox is the spoiled daughter of parents who do not love her. As she has known little love, she shows little in return. Early in the book, she is cited as the most "disagreeable-looking child ever seen". Though it is of little wonder why she is so disagreeable, as readers are told the full story of her life in India before tragic circumstances sent her to live with a relative in the moors of Northern England. For you see, while in India, Mary’s parents and the entire house of staff and servants became inflicted by one of the most deadly maladies in history—cholera. Forgotten as she hides away in the manor nursery, Mary is discovered the next day by officers who come to inspect the decimated household. It is then that she learns the fate of her parents, though Mary is hardly sad. How can be expected to miss those who barely occupied a fraction of her life, and who she only saw from distances and doorways? So begins Mary’s long journey back to England and to Misselthwaite Manor where her guardian, Archibald Craven, resides. Then begins her new life, and it is filled with mystery, hidden relatives, strange boys, and the ever evolving character of the moors around her.
        This story is delightfully complex for one aimed at children. Mary, who is an all-together unlikable (yet understandable) sort undergoes great growth of character while the story progresses. She learns what it is to have friends and how to love something and feel loved by it in return. She never looses her fire however and puts up with absolutely no nonsense. And it isn’t just Mary who changes. The bleak and dull moors around the manor, which Mary hates at first, change with the seasons and in turn mark moments of growth in Mary’s character. The writing is delightful, though older readers who are being introduced to this book for the first time will have to keep in mind that it was written for a younger audience and as such is paced fairly quickly. Despite being aimed at children however, this book achieves many of the desirable elements that one would look for in a book aimed at adults. The writing is consistently good and easy to follow and the characters(even Mrs. Medlock) manage to achieve more than two-dimensions and come off as thoroughly human. The ending is also very fulfilling, and the only thing that readers will want for is for more story. Because of childhood nostalgia, it is difficult to give this story anything less than a perfect score. So naturally, I won’t bother trying. The Secret Garden is a part of the public domain, do readers who own e-readers or who don’t mind staring at their computer screens can download this gem for free at Project Gutenberg. For us traditionalists who enjoy a physical book, this title isn’t too expensive (the Puffin Classics edition pictured above sells for $4.99 U.S.D.) and it can also be found at most libraries.
     So, are you looking for a light read to help reawaken the child in yourself? Or perhaps you have a young relative who is either fond of reading or one that you would like to see take up the rewarding life-style of a book nerd. Look no further than The Secret Garden.
Rating: 5

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