Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Secret Garden

I really admire John Steinbeck's writing but couldn't stomach the evil upon evil upon evil in East of Eden. It read like the six o'clock news on steroids. I took it back to the library and picked up The Secret Garden, which it seems everyone's read but me. I wasn't prepared for Snow White meets Pinocchio meets St. Francis of Assisi ~ a character named Dickon who enters one scene with a crow named Soot on his right shoulder, squirrels named Nut and Shell on his left shoulder and in his coat pocket, a rescued newborn lamb in his arms, and a little red fox trotting by his side. Though it's a bit syrupy, I enjoyed the innocent interlude anyway.

The Secret Garden reminds adults of the healing power of childlike wonder over childhood wounds. The golden nugget of wisdom at the heart of this charming allegory is the Proverb: As a man thinks in his heart, so is he, or the words of Jesus in Luke 6, For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.

At the beginning of the novel, cousins Mary Lennox and Colin Craven, both 10 years old, have developed self-defeating attitudes due to parental abandonment. The mystery of a locked garden, also abandoned for 10 years, intrigues them. Nurturing this garden, they nurture their own and each other's hearts. Their transformation brings wonder and delight to the adults around them. Key change agents in the story are members of a local family, Dickon's, who enjoy simple pleasures, are one with nature, and who love giving life.

As if the metaphor of tending a garden (with its need for weeding and seeding to produce beautiful flowers) weren't enough, author Frances Hodgson Burnett plants another strong analogy. Dickon's family speaks a broad Yorkshire dialect, which Mary delights in learning. I especially liked one vocabulary lesson, when she learns that wick means alive or lively. As she abandons her dour outlook, replaces it with newfound purpose and wonder, and reaches out to love others, Mary becomes more wick.

My innocent interlude is over. Next book: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

1 comment:

tandemingtroll said...

I have only read a little bit of "The Secret Garden", but I love Francis Hodgson Burnett's other book, "A Little Princess." It is one of my all time favorite books and I read it at least a dozen times as a child and read it to each of my children at least once in their lives. The movies that are based on the book totally change the plot and take away the beauty of adoption, which eventually takes place.