Its been a while since I posted, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I finished reading the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, an all time classic and part of any top 100 book recommendation. Though not my favourite book in any category, it touched a chord somewhere, and I decided to post my next blog on exactly that.
I am a self-confessed book-worm and am always in the process of reading a book. I prefer reading a book to anything else and have at least 4-5 unread books on me at any given point of time. Like any other regular book reader I also have my favourite authors and genres, the Secret Garden sadly falls in neither of them. If I was to make another confession; it is that the only reason I even read this book was that it was available for free on kindle and I am trying to read more classics.
Agreed, this is not the raving praise a classic deserves, but don’t get me wrong, I liked it, I really did. The book is simple, its clean in a manner of speaking, it is a book with an honest, clear and heartfelt message, and most importantly; it is a book that one day I would love to read to my kids (whenever I have them).
The book is about a little girl named Mary, who is unloved by her parents and is a spoilt child with a disagreeable appearance and personality, a girl who has grown up with everything she could ask for; everything but love. After losing both her parents, she is shipped off to her distant uncle, in Yorkshire, who happens to be a hunchback. The uncle’s story is not a happy one either, with him being a ‘cripple’ and having lost his wife ten years ago. It’s at the mansion that Mary learns what it is like to be a girl, to be human and more importantly to be happy. It is at the mansion that Mary makes friends for the first time, first with Martha her maid, the Robin living in the Garden, Ben Weatherstaff; the Gardener, Dickon and his animal friends and finally Colin her cousin. It’s at the mansion that Mary discovers the secret garden, a ‘magical realm’ situated in reality; whose magic stems in part; as stated by Colin, from being a secret. This book is all about how Mary and Colin discover human relationships and discover the magic in the garden and in themselves.
While there are a number of aspects that would get discussed in a book review, through this post I would like to concentrate on what I felt was the most important part of the book; the magic. In many ways, that is what this book is about, magic, but not the Harry Potter types. It’s about the magic that is the power of nature, that is the power of human relationships, that is the power of positive thinking and self belief and most importantly of being happy.
The magic of nature; is the one that is talked of the most and in the most direct manner in the narration. This magic is demonstrated in the manner in which a dreadfully unhealthy girl and boy ‘transform’ when they come in contact with nature, quite like the ugly ducklings turning into beautiful swans. It’s the magic of nature that bestows upon Mary and Colin; strength for their bodies, appetites for their tummies and laughter and happiness for their hearts. This book demonstrates the preserving, healing and nurturing ways of nature. The author rightly places the timeline of the children’s growth; their ‘spring’; to the spring in nature, with the children blossoming and blooming with the garden. This book shows how even a dead looking tree or person; who appears to have no hope can be saved and can truly blossom if only shown a little love and care. The book shows how much damage we humans have done to ourselves by cutting ourselves off from nature, both in terms of our physical and mental well-being. It quite plainly points out the power of fresh air; clean nutritious food and physical exercise.
However, it should be noted that in no ways is this magic potent enough; its powerful no doubt, but unable to pull off miracles. No; the magic of nature in many ways is incomplete, without the other magics existing in the world. One such magic, is that of human relationships, of love. This book showcases two children, starved of human love and contact, whose only relationships have been with their servants; who are used to giving whatever their Master or Mistress desire, so as to avoid a tantrum. This book also showcases, a boy born into a poor family with a number of siblings, as being happier and healthier than the two children with all the material comforts money can buy. Within this magic, the most powerful form is described to be that of the relationship between a parent and a child. Thankfully for once, the author did not bias this towards the mother, as Colin equally craved the love, attention and approval of his father, as Mary had done of her mother; the “MemSahib”. This strong relationship is also showcased in the instant attraction and affection the children feel towards Dickon and Martha’s mother.
This part of the book made me think of as to what is in the love of a parent and a child that is so powerful. Perhaps, it’s the knowledge that if a child has this love, this protection, then they would not be forgotten about in a house infested with Cholera like Mary was, or would not be an ‘cripple’ and so upset for a long part of their life as Colin was. I have been blessed in the fact that I have a very strong relationship with my mother, and I know I am stronger for having had that. But I am also not delusional, I know there are bad parents out there; the Memsahib in this story is one of them. So what makes these relationships so powerful? from my own personal experience I would say its the sheer knowledge of being loved and the knowledge that even though your mother drops you from a cliff; it is only to teach you how to fly and that she will catch you before you hit the ground.
For the parents in turn this magic is in the form of the children being a manifestation of themselves, of literally being a part of them. This is seen in the book in the manner in which Colin’s father is afraid of looking at his son while he is awake. One of the reasons for this can be that Colin has his mother’s eyes and it pains his father to have to look at them. However, for me the bigger reason is that his father was afraid of looking at the failure of his parenthood; he was afraid of facing the possibility that he had let down his son; had passed on his ‘disease’; his ‘weakness’ to his son, which would eventually kill his son before he grew up. In many ways, I believe while parents have the power to afford strength to their children, children in turn provide parents with an opportunity at healing, at redemption and in many ways at forgiveness. Children provide their parents with an opportunity to in many ways relive their lives, to correct their mistakes, to live their dreams. While I know, this places an unbelievable pressure on the kids themselves, and is perhaps unfair to an extent, it does afford a healing touch to the parents themselves. Though the book doesn’t showcase it, I hope that seeing Colin healthy and happy, his father gets some peace, happiness and even forgiveness himself.
Finally, the third and probably the most potent magic for me, is that of positive thinking, of self belief and happiness. This is most clearly seen in the difference between Dickon and Mary and Colin. While Mary and Colin are both unhappy kids, who don’t play, run, laugh or even smile, Dickon is probably someone who has never had a bad or negative thought in his life. Mary has grown up with the belief that she doesn’t like other people, and is essentially starved of human contact, Colin is a child who has grown up constantly hearing that he is an invalid, a tragedy and will not live to be a grown up boy, and will probably be a cripple. While surrounded by these negative thoughts, both the kids are unhealthy and unhappy and overall disagreeable in every sense of the word. However, the moment they have something to engage their minds positively, they begin to grow healthier and more agreeable in their personality. For me, personally, this is the magic that hits closest to home. I am well aware of the power of both positive and negative thinking, having gone through a pretty low phase little more than a year ago.
The book, is not complex in its writing style, its direct in its message and doesn’t rely on hidden clues to get its point across, it is story telling in its simplest form. The comparison is simple between Mary and Colin, who have had neither of the three magics, and Dickon who has all three. While Mary and Colin have definitely had the more comfortable life in terms of material comforts, there is no doubt on whose life I would choose, and it would not be theirs. This book also does not tell us anything we don’t already know, but probably have taken for granted in a manner that makes us forget sometimes. Like it is said, sometimes the best kept secrets are the ones kept in plain sight. So go on, spend some time outdoors, do a little gardening, build and nurture relationships, love a little, think positive and most importantly be happy. Build your own secret garden, your own safe haven, where you nourish and cultivate your personality, to blossom and grow and become stronger and happier than you have ever been. Weave some of your own magic, remember what Colin said, ‘the magic is in me’.