The Secret Garden: Old Friends in Many Forms

The Secret Garden

Cover of a 1911 publication of The Secret Garden
Cover of a 1911 publication of The Secret Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Francis Hodgson Burnett

The second book from my Classics List!

I don’t recall when I first read this story — I do know that I owned two copies of it.  The first I still have, an illustrated copy that I always felt had “too many words” to be a children’s book , but I liked some of the pictures — and I adored the story.

My very first copy of the story.
My very first copy of the story.

The second copy I just recently got rid of, having carried it with me through a number of cross-country moves, it did not make the final cut this time.  By the time I got rid of the book (after much debate and hard effort) it was well worn, showing that it had traveled much, and been read with fair regularity.

This is the copy of the book I parted with recently.
This is the copy I parted with recently.

But I’ll admit, it’s been a few years since I more recently re-read this, and I’m glad that the Classics Club gave me the opportunity/excuse to do so.  I found the story heartwarming (still) but also interesting to see what stood out to me more, the bits of story that I longed for more details about, and the way that the voice of the characters started to ease into my thoughts (seriously, I had to work very hard to keep a character I’m writing from slipping into Yorkshire like the Ben or Dicken).

What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?

[August Classics Club Question]

What was most interesting (and surprisingly enough, ties well to the Classics Club meme question for August) was thinking about the ways in which my understanding of the story have been influenced by the other adaptations of the story.


The first version of the story I was exposed to, that picture book version, was an adaptation, and there are — of course — a great number of movie versions.  I know that the Warner Brothers version is fairly popular, but the one that I saw first — the one that sticks in my memory is the older, made for TV version.  I wonder, in part, if this is because they chose to cast an actress with darker hair for the role of Mary (though she is clearly stated to be blonde), and since I have darker (though still very much just brown) hair I related a bit more to her.

Another reason I loved this movie has nothing to do with the story itself and more to do with the fact that it helped me understand some interesting things about memory.  You see, growing up I would say that one of the reasons I really liked this movie, really felt moved by it, was because of one of the early scenes.  As they are taking Mary out of India the locals are burning things, trying to get rid of the disease that has killed so many.  As she is being dragged away from the house, clutching her one familiar possession, that item is snatched from her and thrown onto the fire.

For years I believed that what they took from her to throw on the fire was a book.  It wasn’t until a more recent watching that I realized that memory was incorrect — it was a doll that got taken from her.  But my mind could not understand the pain of having a doll taken from you.  A book, though, that I could relate to — that made sense to me.


The largest influence on my understanding of the story in the most recent years, though, has been the musical adaptation.  I have never seen it performed, simply listened to the music (a lot).  The musical certainly makes alterations to the store — especially in regard to who is related to whom — but the core of the story remains the same, some of the lines are even directly drawn from the novel.

All these adaptions ran through my mind as I was reading the story, and it simply enriched the story for me.  There is the story as Francis Hodgson Burnett wrote it, and then there is the story that has grown out of it — the shifts that people have made in their retelling, and the story that we make in our own minds when we recall such a familiar tale.  When well done, they can feed off of one another, creating a story that stretches beyond the story.  I also think that it speaks highly of the original story, which can spark such interest that people want to find ways to retell it through the years.

Ultimately, I think it is wonderful when classics are adapted — it’s a way to spread these great story’s and characters.  A great many of the classics I’ve chosen to read in the next few years have been adapted into movies, plays, and musicals (actually, I debated having a whole section of “books I picked because of their musical adaption).  Adaptions may not be “as good” as the original… I tend to try to treat them as an entity of their own — judging them on their own merits rather than in comparison.

…she didn’t know that she was disagreeable.  She often thought that other people were, but she did not know that she was so herself.

It was delightful to get to revisit The Secret Garden in its original text form, to get to know these characters once again, human, ghost, landscape and animals are all characters in this story.  It was amazing to experience the joy at the magic of growth, change and the coming of spring.  I always find it interesting that the main character is a character that we’re not particularly supposed to like at the start.  There are clear references to how unaware she is of just how spoiled and challenging a child she is — part of her growth comes as she realizes these things about the people around her.

“The rain is as contrary as I ever was,” she said. “It came because it knew I did not want it.”

 I also loved how much The Secret Garden can be read as being about the power of story.  For just one example, it is a story that holds Colin in bed thinking he is going to die — a story which he created for himself.  It is the story of magic that allows him to be willing to find the strength that he did posses.  I know that others will see other things in the story, the power of the natural world, draw to Mary’s love of the garden, and that is one of the great things about story’s like this one, they have a number of levels to connect to them on.  For me,  it is the power of story that stands out and keeps drawing me back.

The Classics Club is a group dedicated to reading and writing about “the classics.”  It’s a great group, and I’m glad to be a part of it!


12 thoughts on “The Secret Garden: Old Friends in Many Forms

  1. I still love The Secret Garden to pieces. And the TV movie version you mention is how I was first introduced to the story when a child, because they had aired it on French TV. I read the book for the first time shortly after. I have re-read it many times since then. I remember finding the TV movie on DVD on Amazon a year or two ago. I was ecstatic, especially as at this moment they only had 2 copies left!


  2. My mother had read the loong version to me as a kid, and I am reading that same book to my daughter now. It is a wonderful book.


      1. Yes it is a good sit down book. Surprisingly even though it is a big book with few pictures, she is excited to hear what happens next. And she just lays on her bed and listens.


  3. This is one of my favorite books and movies. The first time I read it was in 7th grade for a book report. I still love it. Dicken was my favorite and the father scared me.


  4. I’ve read the book, watched the tv series (the 1975 one!) and the movie (1993 – somehow missed the 1987 one) and seen the musical and have the soundtrack on cd. I guess I kind of like The Secret Garden. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Thanks for the memories. I’ll have to go back for a revisit.


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