Book Therapy – The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Children’s stories have stood the test of time as a perfect remedy for the soul. In times of crisis we are so often drawn to stories that provide comfort, simplicity and wisdom. 

One of my favourite stories that has provided this feeling in my life is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I have loved the 1993 movie since childhood and only in the past couple of years have I read and reread the book and equally fell in love with it. We have seen so often when a book is adapted into a movie that it loses some qualities, however it is not the case with this book and movie. They both have the same tone and gentleness throughout the language and imagery that is beautifully enchanting. 

The Secret Garden, as you would expect, has a strong sense of place and the language makes you feel like you’re in a garden or surrounded by nature and animals. The writing is incredibly soothing and transports you from wherever you are with ease and grace.

Frances Hodgson Burnett has masterfully crafted a book where the children characters have been exposed to all parts of life and it is about how they are changed from within. This is a rather different story than many others in its genre as it doesn’t create fantastical circumstances for the children to learn from and take back into their lives. Everything that they deal with and learn from happens to everyone at some point in their lives. The children in The Secret Garden are conditioned by their circumstances – which include selfishness, grief, anger, and loneliness – and undertake a transformation through careful self reflection and they change their behaviour and traits for the better. 

So much of the story is focused on mindfulness and the healing power of nature. We see the main character Mary flourish, like her secret garden, when surrounded by nature and taking it all in with mindful attention and curiosity. She grows healthier, hungrier, and stronger in body, and much more self aware, steady and calmer in mind. For the first time in her life, she is able to be independent, focused on something other than herself and her own needs, and is driven by a solid purpose to restore the garden. 

We are introduced to Mary’s cousin Colin who did not have a fortunate start in life with his health and has continued to feel burdened and limited by it. Colin has the most visible transform in the story when he learns to walk, however it is driven primarily by a few changes in mindset that allows this to happen. We see in Colin’s story that your thinking can dictate how you feel and affects everyone around you. We see a change where Colin has been assisted by other people out of fear, then gradually he is being supported from a place of love, which includes companionship, being soothed and to be told off when he needs it. His change in thinking also comes from distraction – Mary tells him of the garden and stories from her earlier life in India – and Colin starts to imagine what life could be like outside his bedroom. He ruminates less on his health and his imagination runs wild on what might be possible and all the things he can learn. 

The story encourages us to leave our comfort zone, something we seldom do when we are dealing with a medical condition as we may already be in a state of uncertainty and wish to keep our lives consistent. It is our imagination and moving outside our comfort zone that gives us expansion, which is something that may have diminished and we crave in our lives. 

The Secret Garden has an element of ‘Magic’ as the children call it. We would now refer to it as a life force, spiritual belief, positive thinking, affirmations or calling upon your power. The children believe the Magic makes the garden grow, and eventually they feel that it affects them too, and they use it to enrich their own lives and those around them. 

“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.”

We know that nature heals you; it may not heal the primary issue but it can help all the secondary effects. We all need sunshine, fresh air, earth and water. Animals can be a great source of comfort to us in love and friendship, as well as a responsibility to care for them. In nature we see the natural state of things – the beauty in the imperfect and unkept, places and plants that have been through great transformation or damage. Mary is quoted by saying:

“Don’t let us make it tidy,” said Mary anxiously. “It wouldn’t seem like a secret garden if it was tidy.” 

We see in The Secret Garden that care, love and belonging can make anyone or anything flourish. It is a story that encourages realistic hope and empowerment that anyone can access. 

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

If you are looking for a story that is comforting and full of gentle transformation, I would highly recommend The Secret Garden. I would also recommend the free LibriVox audiobook read by Karen Savage – an excellent format to enjoy this book and Karen has such a bright, youthful voice!

Take heart Readers, I’ll keep the light on.

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