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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 iMV5BMTIzMTM2MDQ0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTUzOTAyMQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_s 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.

51HiJzuOR3L._SX300_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!



The Classics Spin!

I’m participating in the Classics Club’s “Classics Spin” this week.

It’s kind of like a game, I list a bunch of books (following certain criteria) from my Classics List, and post them here.  A number will be chosen on August 11th, and the book I have on that number I have to read by October 6th.

As good a way as any to pick another one of the books on my list that I’m going to read in August/September 🙂

So, here is my list, of books I really want to read, books I’m kinda dreading, books I’m fairly neutral about, and a few others thrown in for good measure.  In no particular order.

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  2. Don Quixotie – Miguel de Cervantes
  3. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  5. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  6. O Pioneers! – Willa Cather
  7. The Jungle – Upton SInclair
  8. Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
  9. The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  10. Little Woman – Louisa May Alcott
  11. Charlotte Temple – Susanna Rowson
  12. A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  13. Little Men – Louisa May Alcott
  14. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  15. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain
  16. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  17. The World According to Garp – John Irving
  18. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  19. Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  20.  Persuasion – Jane Austen

[Edit:  And the number chosen is 17.  The World According to Garp it will be….]

Anne of Green Gables, a new friend

I got through my first book for the Classics Club!

Anne of Green Gables

Ann on the Roof From the L.M.Montgomery Research Centre
Ann on the Roof
From the L.M.Montgomery Research Centre
by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Finished July 15, 2014.

This is one of those books that has been suggested to me repeatedly through my life, but never quite got around to reading it.  Now that I have read it,  and I enjoyed it.  I also definitely have some thoughts!

“Oh, you good old friends, I’m glad to see your honest faces once more — yes, even you, geometry.”

— Anne, upon seeing her books again after tucking them away for the summer.

Anne of Green Gables isn’t the kind of book that you devour; if I were to liken it to anything it would a leisurely stroll along a babbling brook.  I enjoyed getting to watch Anne grow through the story.  From a talkative storyteller, to a slightly more reflective one — honestly she reminds me of some of my friends and I imagine I’d enjoy wandering around Avonlea with her, renaming all the features of the landscape and letting our imaginations run wild.

 Perhaps it’s just because of where I am in my own life right now, but I found this story sprinkled with little bits and pieces of insight into religion, theology, reading and writing.   I kept coming across lines that brought smiles to my face, breaking out into wide grins during my daily bus commute. And my kindle-copy is sprinkled with highlights and two-word notes of things to revisit, let roll around in my mind, and perhaps expound on at a later date.

“[M]aples are such sociable trees… they’re always rustling and whispering to you.”

–Another Anne observation

Of course, I was also reading this as a writer.  Since I’ve been thinking about what makes a good plot, and different ways to lay out a story, I was reading with something of an eye to how the story was presented.  And Anne of Green Gables did not disappoint, at least as far as stepping out of what I’ve somehow come to expect from a book.  Anne meanders along, her story told in seemingly unconnected snippets of her life at Green Gables.  But, there are threads that weave through these snippets — it is a story of a girl, and of family.  With characters that are interesting, the promise that things would weave together, enough understanding of a larger arc, I am willing to meander on the journey.  More than willing, I enjoyed the trip.

As Anne recognized her old friends, those books that had been tucked away for the summer, I know that I have found a new friend in Anne and look forward to continuing to read her journey.

Writing Guides

I recognize that I am a geek on a great variety of levels one of them being my absolute adoration of books.  I am kind of addicted to books.  I love books — I love to read them, I love owning them.  I don’t mind reading on an e-reader, and certainly have a decent sized collection of e-books.  But there is something magnificent about real books.

Even better (or perhaps a justification for my collection), books have so much useful information in them.  Many of my books I hang onto because I have, and intend to continue to, use them for my various research needs.

A sampling of some of my writing guides.
A sampling of some of my writing guides.

Every so often I hear (or read) conversation about different writing guides.  It seems that everyone has a suggestion of a favorite book, and is constantly pulling out bits of advice from here or there.  I’ve seen a few guides mentioned over and over (and have now added a few that I had not yet read to my list to get through).  All this talk has gotten me thinking about my own writing-guide favorites.  There are a few that I have because they are sometimes very useful references, some because I feel like I’m supposed to have them, and some that really are my favorites.

Let me be honest with you, I don’t always agree with the advice given in the guides.  Even some of my favorite guides provide suggestions that I don’t necessarily agree with, some I blatantly choose to ignore.  But agree or disagree with the advice, I love to see how different authors share and reflect on their craft.  I think this is why I love reading blogs about writing; while the books tell me the thoughts of published “successful” authors, many of the blogs can give me a glimpse of the process and thoughts of authors like me, who are still finding our own voices, earning our stripes, early in our careers (in some sense).

I do have my favorite guides, and different reasons that I like them and have hung onto them (through multiple cross-country moves).

Room To Write, by Bonni Goldberg.

 I think this book was a present from one of my High School teachers.  If it wasn’t really… well, that teacher gets credit in my mind anyhow.  I love the variety of prompts this book provides (though, to be honest, I find myself going back to a few of them over and over, and not pushing myself to try the others.  Must. Change. This.).  It also has some great quotes that I enjoy looking through and reflecting on.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.

 This is one of those, “doesn’t every writer have this book” books.  I forget how I came to own my copy, and thinking on it I’m not sure that I have actually read it all the way through.  It’s one of those books that I feel like I need to have, and will look at it on occasion, but haven’t quite finished it yet.  However, it does contain some excellent information about those “shitty first drafts,” which has been so reassuring and helpful.

Zen in the Art of Writing , by Ray Bradbury.

love this book.  Absolutely, positively love it.  I’ve re-read it a number of times, some parts of it more than others.  It is a series of short essays, some of them drawn from the introductions to his books.  In them I find inspiration for writing, for being a writer, and for life in general.  It’s a great encouragement to hold true to your passions, to follow your heart, and to let go of those things that may hold you back.


What are your favorite guides (for writing or otherwise)?  I recently got a bunch of free writing guides (on my Kindle) and will probably be commenting on some of them soon, but would love to hear what the books are that others most appreciate (and why)!

I Should Not Have to be Ashamed of What I Read.

Someday I will learn this patience thing, and to not put up a post right away.   But this one… this one I really want to put out there now.

I remember at one point, some years ago, I had a conversation with my sister about our tendency to wander around in the children’s and YA sections of the bookstore.   She noted how she loved the fact that, now she was going into education, she had an excuse to explore those books.  I’d been working with kids for years, so never thought twice — no one ever asked me if the books were for the children I worked with or for myself.

I was slow to get into reading “age-appropriate” books.   Until I was about nine years old, I only read chapter books if they were required for school.  I much preferred my picture books.  Then I was finally introduced to books that I liked which didn’t contain pictures, and a monster was born…. I now devour books, I adore them all.  But, still, some of my favorites are not books that are “written for adults.”

I realized, recently, that one of the reasons I adore having my kindle is (in addition to the ability to carry a rather large library around with me without breaking my back) is that I can read Continue reading I Should Not Have to be Ashamed of What I Read.

A Writers Reach: Remembering Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a writer, poet, storyteller, and all around amazing woman.  I remember, clearly, when I read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, in an Honors English Class, in eight grade.  I still have that exact copy, nearly every sentence highlighted, notes scribbled in the pages (I had yet to learn the fine art of actual, useful, note-taking within a text).

I recall being struck by many things in that book, but the one that has really stuck with me was how beautifully she used language.  Here was a piece of prose, that was also poetry.  Power, and beautiful, and haunting.

Throughout life I’ve revisited her work, read her poems,  and her reflections and thoughts.  And now, upon her passing, it is amazing to see the flood of people and organizations that are joining in remembering her.   Sharing her wisdom, and her beautiful words and her contributions to the world.

Many are reflecting on her impact, on the impact she had on the world, as well as the more personal impact she had on people.

On WordPress you can read various bloggers reflections about her, as well as a collection of quotes from her.

Maya Angelou on Facebook

Maya Angelou Twitter Tags

I hope, that someday, I can have even a fraction of the impact on the world that she has had.



We Need Diverse Books!

The recent We Need Diverse Books (#weneeddiversebooks) campaign that’s been taking off has me thinking about diversity in writing.

And then, recently Raevenly Writes pondered the question of writing relationships that might not fit within our own mainstream culture, writing something that may be completely normal within the society the story takes place, but may be at odds with the readers expectations of a relationship.

But as an author, you can’t ignore how your audience works. I’m not saying everything has to be hetero-normative whitewashed, just that it helps to think about the head space your audience is coming from. Just because it’s a non-issue for you and your characters doesn’t mean it won’t be a huge issue for them, and a potential distraction.  –Raevenly Writes.

And that, that right there, is something that I’ve wondered about myself, in what seems like it should be minor ways… but they end up being less minor the more I think about them.  Just because something seems normal and “a non-issue” to me, and my characters, doesn’t mean it will be a non-issue for my readers.  I recognize that I have lived my life jumping from liberal-bubble to liberal-bubble.  Surrounded by people who Continue reading We Need Diverse Books!