Sunday, January 24, 2010

Closing Thoughts: The Secret Garden

Pages: 278
Pages so far: 5681
Books read: 16
Pages/book: 355.06

I have no idea why it took me so long to finish this book.

Oh wait, I know exactly why. It's kind of a boring book.

Which is odd, because I love the story and the characters, as I've always enjoyed the films and (most of) the plays/musicals I've seen that have been adapted from the book. As I finally read the narrative for myself, however, I was a little bit let down.

I need to reiterate that it really, really is a nice story. I can see how it's become a children's classic, but I can also see why it wasn't very popular when it was first published. The narrative style is awfully repetitive, and the author sort of belabors her point a little more than necessary. And I think the point is awesome, that the act of loving positively transforms a person, and that love has healing power, and all of those wonderful truths. Furthermore, I love the three-way juxtaposition of new life in the garden against new life in Mary against new life in Colin, and how they're all touched physically as they begin to heal and grow spiritually/emotionally. Good stuff.

And in case you miss it, the book tells you that it's happening in virtually every chapter.

"Mary was changing. The fresh air had done her good, and her muscles grew stronger as the formerly sickly-looking girl was getting fatter. She was also kinder than she had been. She was, for the first time, becoming healthy."

That's not actually in the book. Wait, maybe it is, but you get a generic paragraph (or two or three) that looks a lot like that about eight or twelve times in the book. Two chapters later, it'll be something like, "Mary realized she was changing to even a greater degree than she had been changing two chapter ago. Her muscles, once scrawny, then progressively less scrawny, were now even more progressively less scrawny, and she laughed a good bit more than she had even laughed when she last realized she had been laughing more than she had been laughing fresh air was good for her!"

Et cetera.

Okay. I'm being a littler over-the-top on the snark here (not my fault; my other blog is shut down for a whole nother month!), but I stand by my point. How many times do I need to be told that fresh air and laughter were making the snotty girl and the snobby boy into better people?

Then there's all the stuff about Magic, and how the Magic is in all good things, and how love is part of the Magic, and so is growing, and beauty, etc. Then Dickon's mom shows up and says everybody prays and sings and gives thanks to the Magic, they just call it different names. Okay, obviously, this is spiritual bunk, but I won't nitpick on this issue. I wouldn't have even brought it up had the book not devoted so many of the later pages to this concept of the Magic, that which some of us call God and some of us call nature and some of us just call Magic. (They even sing the Doxology at one point, and Dickon's mom tells them they were singing to the Magic just then) When Robbie reads this book, I won't have a problem with it, and I'll use this point as a discussion starter. That said, I can understand why some folks are uneasy with the way that's handled.

Finally, the last chapter reads almost like a thesis. In case you hadn't been following anything that had happened in the prior 250 pages, here's a recap explaining all the good things that happened, and how they taught the children to be loving cousins, and how the whole manor was changed because of it. It's really long and unnecessary, as I think the kids reading the book have probably figured it all out before that point, and it would have been nice to get to the father traveling Europe, because I sure as heck wanted to know how he got home at that point.

And he comes home. And it's a really touching, beautiful ending. And then the book seems to end mid-paragraph. I thought at first my copy was missing a page. Of course, that's a really minor quibble.

Now, what I loved, and what I loved about this book as a child:

The intricacy of the secret between the children is handled really, really well. They are actually quite clever in their plotting and planning, and the reader gets to feel like a co-conspirator with the three kids and the cranky old gardener. You really want them to manage to keep it a secret under Mr. Craven comes home, and you want to see the reactions on the faces of all of the maids and servants almost as much as Mary and Colin want to. A huge part of why I think this book has become such a beloved classic is that kids love tales of clever children outwitting grown-ups. Kids also love secrets. I think adults love secrets, too, which is why we still do surprise parties and why everyone gets so excited about wedding engagements. Secrets are awesome, romantic, and exhilarating, and the secret-keeping portions of this story are compelling. The characters all have a sort of mystical quality about them, yet they remain relateable and accessible because we really want to believe these sort of people exist. The handling of the moor as a setting is solid, and it gives a sort of fantasy element to the story that allows us to buy some of the more far-fetched people and situations we're going to encounter.

Really, it's a good story. I like it. It's a story of love. It's a story of family. It's a story of change and redemption.

Unfortunately for this reader, it's also a story of repeating itself. A lot.

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