The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden - Tasha Tudor, Frances Hodgson Burnett I have very vivid memories of studying this book in high school. Or so I thought, until I picked it up and skimmed through. Turns out, we had studied the BBC mini-series and excerpts from that same mini-series. In any event the story had progressively won my over even in my teen years so I felt compelled to give the actual book a try. In any event there's definite sentimental value in this story for me, so I was not disappointed in the least by this classic children's tale.

The Secret Garden tells the tale of a spoiled unloved and uncared for child named Mary, living in India with her family but cared for primarily by the help. She is given everything she asks for because her parents don't want to be bothered by her. In the first chapters a wave a cholera wipes out her both her parents and most of the hired staff. She is found quite alone in the house by two men come to check on the state of things. From there they manage to find her only living relative; a reclusive uncle in Yorkshire and they arrange to have Mary move into his huge, lonely house. At the start, Mary is quite unlovable, having never been loved herself; she's spoiled, sickly, obnoxious and none too pleased about her new living arrangements. She soon comes to realize that her uncle is never home, there are no other children in the house with over one hundred rooms; and most of them are locked. Soon more mysterious secrets are revealed about this house. While exploring the grounds, Mary finds out that other than the multiple gardens around the estate, there is a secret, locked-up garden that no one has been in for 10 years. She also claims to hear crying on some nights coming from inside the house though the staff assure her it's only the wind.

As the story progresses and Mary must entertain herself outdoors mostly, she begins to transform. The climate in Yorkshire much agrees with her and all the playing and running around seem to be improving her health...and her disposition. She resolves to unravel the mysteries of this house and with the help of young Dickon, her maid's brother she embarks on an adventure that will completely transform her, and the residents of the Yorkshire Manor. While she is quite hard to sympathize with in the beginning, Mary character evolution is nothing short of spectacular. The inherent magic of the garden and of the manor awakens her spirit and allows her to have a normal childhood finally. I absolutely loved Dickon, the story's little animal charmer and all around kindred-spirit. Colin is also a bit difficult to sympathize with at times, but once you understand his past it's not hard to imagine why he is the way he is. Another highly enjoyable aspect for me was the garden and all it's wonders. While the magic within this story is not magic strictly speaking (in the Harry Potter sense for example), it's a magic of imagination, of nature, of secrets and of sheer wonderment. The lush descriptions of greenery and flowers and trees, the personification of the robin (which I really enjoyed), and the simple imagination of children is what makes this book magic.

I'm quite pleased that this book lived up to my memories of it, and I sincerely consider The Secret Garden to be an absolute must read for any fans of children's fiction. While the broad Yorkshire accent some of the characters speak can take a bit of getting used to, I found I picked it up rather quick and eventually enjoyed the expressions and the pronunciations. A classic tale for sure and one not to be missed.