In last week's Watercolor Wednesday, I shared a piece inspired by one of the enduring quotations from my childhood, which I mentioned in a previous Top 10. The quote was "If there's a key, there must be a door" from The Secret Garden. I've actually been thinking about this book a good bit lately, not only because of the watercolor piece, but because I finally tracked down a DVD copy of the Hallmark film from the 1980s. This is one of two film versions I remember watching as a child (the other being MGM's classic adaptation) and it is by far my favorite adaptation to date. (I will add that I also enjoy the musical adaptation, if for no other reason than that Mandy Patinkin can sing like nobody's business.)
My appreciation of this book has grown over the years. While I'm more skeptical of the whole "positive thinking" aspect of the story, I still think having a positive environment and attitude can contribute to a person's health. To be fair to Burnett and her characters, Mary's insistence on Colin getting better is far less saccharine than, say, Polyanna's. Upon further reflection, I think it's a fairer assessment of the book (and my feelings toward it) to say that I don't think the book quite goes as far as Polyanna in its insistence on never acknowledging darkness and bad circumstances. Mary's own circumstances (and her reaction to them in the earlier parts of the book) are certainly dark enough. The book's theme (from my memory of it) is truly more about the positive effects people can have on one another. Mary spurs Colin out of his melodramatic depression, but she is spurred out of hers by Martha, Dickon, and Ben.
As a child, I didn't appreciate the book's elements of Gothic mystery -- the forbidden corridor, the lonesome wailing, the secrets of the house's past -- as such. To me, they were simply parts of a good story. As an adult, I appreciate the connections to other works of literature that these elements give The Secret Garden as well as the atmospheric shift they introduce to the book. MGM's film, with its shift from black and white to Technicolor as the garden is revived, illustrates this tonal shift. The book develops Misselthwaite Manor and its place on the Yorkshire moors as a dark, mysterious, and lonely place. It is only when the garden has been opened and tended that life, light, and fellowship really pervade the lives of the characters. Dickon's family is an exception to this, of course. But Dickon himself is like an avatar of the garden's virtues, tying Mary to nature and to other people even when she doesn't want to be.