"Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow." ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden was first published in its entirety in 1911, and it has been a favorite of young girls ever since. There’s a lot to be learned from this 331 page compilation of human tragedy and triumph.
The book opens in the dreary depths of winter, where the world seems gray and life at a standstill. The air is crisp and bitter, much like the tongues and hearts of the inhabitants of Misselthwaite Manor. Winter seems to have that effect on people. However, winter is the season where a choice must be made, by everyone, will we be bitter or better. Will we choose to blossom with the rising of the spring sun?
Oftentimes, people will find themselves in the depths of the despair of tragedy and unfortunately choose to stay there. They allow their hearts to solidify into a hardened stone. Some hearts never heal. The Secret Garden is filled with characters struggling with loss, grief, despair, and demoralization. The beauty that lies within the pages of this book is that no matter the darkness that enshrouds the situation, there is always hope, there is always a way to find the path to better days.
Mary, one of the most introverted child characters ever to grace the pages of a children’s novel, is contrary by definition. However, the girl has lost both of her parents, moved to a new home where she knows no one, and quite spoiled by her affluent lifestyle in India. Mary finds solace in a secret only she knows, in the forbidden garden that had been shut up by Master Craven at the death of his wife. Ironically, it was Master Craven himself who gave Mary the key to the garden when she only asked for a bit of earth.
The garden is dead to the eye, but along comes Dickon to prove otherwise. Dickon, the son of Susan Sowerby and the brother of the cheerful maid assigned to tend to Mary, cuts the bark of one of the trees in the garden and says, “It is quick.” Now back in those days, the word quick meant alive. I love this particular part of the book, because it teaches us something we don’t often practice these days: you must look deeper beneath the surface to find life and hope.
Another favorite part of the book of mine is where Mary teaches Colin, the supposed invalid son of Master Craven, that he is not a victim of circumstance. We’ve all met or been the sick person who is cranky and certain of impending death. Colin is mean-spirited and bitter. He has to make a choice, one that can only come from him. Will he try or will he lie down and die, because that is what is expected of him.
We all have our secret garden. It is the place that lives within. It is the place where the flame of hope burns eternal. No matter what it looks like on the outside, there is life and beauty, hope and love that exist inside. Some people call it the will to live, or the primal instinct of survival, I call it faith.
You see, The Secret Garden, is about finding the one thing that will save us all. It’s about finding the faith to believe in something greater than ourselves. The garden, Lilias’ garden, in the book is only a symbol of that faith. It is reflected in abundance and beauty and grace, only when the source of its life is tended; friendship also known as fellowship, believing in miracles, and knowing that there is a life source that is far beyond our own imagination.
We must all tend our garden in such a manner that it emanates the glory and steadfastness of the one who planted it. To do anything less is to give away the keys to the Kingdom.
Through literature, we learn to live, to love, and to conquer!