Mary Lennox is a ten-year-old orphan, raised in India, brought now to the lonely house of her uncle, Lord Craven, on the Yorkshire Moors. There she finds the joy of living when she discovers the Secret Garden. Lord Craven’s wife died after an accident in the walled garden ten years prior, leaving him with a sickly son, Colin. Mary also discovers Colin, kept hidden from the world, and indulged in his hysterical belief that he will die young after growing deformed.
Martha Sowerby, a young housemaid, becomes friends with Mary and introduces her to her brother Dickon. Dickon Sowerby is a friend to nature in all its forms and spends all his days outdoors on the moors, enjoying the company of the wind and the animals. Helped by Dickon, Mary brings the garden back to life and rescues her cousin Colin from his self-pity.
This is such a classic book that in one sense there’s little to write about. However, if you glance over those books tagged as “Children’s Classic” and written before 1930, many of them are quite heavy going by today’s standards and have little immediate appeal to the age group. This book, however, is fresh and light but doesn’t shirk emotional and human depth. There’s a certain timelessness to it, as well: although the setting is clearly a big country house in a time when people lived in big country houses and large grounds with servants, this is merely the setting in which a young girl and a young boy can grow up.
One doesn’t have to dig terribly deep to see Mary’s discovery of the Secret Garden and her determination to bring it back to life as representing a new beginning in her own life and in that of her cousin Colin, each for different reasons hidden from the world and unable to grow up normally. Likewise, Dickon Sowerby represents the spirit of Nature, so close to the animals and the Moor he loves. Under his touch, and with Mary’s new-found love, the garden springs to life. Dickon’s mother is the touchstone of homely good sense and the ideal of motherhood.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.