Saturday, March 15, 2008
The Secret Garden
Not since I was a little girl climbing into my bed to read the most thrilling book in the world, have I been so excited to read a book. The new Secret Garden is sitting on my night stand.
I was just eight years old when my father came into my room one evening with a special gift for me. I opened the package to find this enormous volume entitled The Secret Garden. I loved to read, but this book presented challenges because the reading level was way beyond my comprehension. Never-the-less I was thrilled. The fact that the words were beyond my years, made the book seem even more magical to me. It was a secret world of words, and I wanted to discover the meaning of each and every one. To unlock the meaning of the story of Mary Lennox, when she had to move from India and was sent to live in Misselthwaite Manor in England.
There is something about a secret garden that calls to the heart. The spirit of the soul longs for the inner sanctuary. The symbolic key that we search for, which unlocks the doors to answer our question of what lies beyond the mysterious gate. I cherished this book and struggled with the vocabulary that eluded my young age.
Year after year I read parts of this intriguing book. Until one day I understood the words and the story and the magic. It would not be until years later that I saw the spiritual significance to this beautifully constructed story. It was the story that I would know and live and struggle with, and the book became the script for my play. The play to find my spiritual path, my secret garden.
During my early years I collected all editions of The Secret Garden. My fascination for this story never changed. The year before we left to live abroad, my mother, knowing how much I adored the story, gave us tickets to see the musical version of The Secret Garden then on Broadway.
My husband enjoyed the event, but I wept at the end, because the enlightenment seemed to shine so brightly that my heart seemed like it wanted to burst. The music of the play was so haunting and my destiny seemed so obvious that I wanted to deny the truth. I didn't know anything yet about our move, but somehow I felt an ending approaching. In 1991 my husband gave me a copy of The Secret Garden illustrated by my favorite illustrator, Tasha Tudor. A year later we were off to live away from our country for ten years and my spiritual journey continued.
I have many volumes of this book, illustrated by various artists, my playbill from when we attended the Broadway production, and lovely illustrated day calendars. My favorite book is actually the one that has no pictures at all, because it reminds me of the same edition my late father gave to me fifty one years ago.
I was in Barnes and Noble a few weeks back and there on the shelf displaying the new non-fiction books was The Annotated Secret Garden by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. No, I wasn't in the children's section of the book store, it was where all the new books are on display. I saw the cover and Oh this is the best cover of all. I slid the large volume off the shelf and quickly looked for a big comfy chair to snuggle into. Like a little girl I sunk into the very worn oversized chair and opened up this treasure so carefully. Turning the pages and revisiting familiar illustrations I couldn't put the book down. In the back was Frances Hodgson Burnett's timeline, a Chronology. In the margins of the story are notes, incredible notes that tell why she wrote the story and how her life was woven within this story. I was in love and I couldn't wait to purchase the book so that I could get home to fluff those pillows and sip a good cup of tea as I devoured each word.
This book is the most magnificent biography filled with incredible facts about how this wonderful story was born. I learned so many things about Frances Hodgson Burnett, including that although she was from England, she was inspired by the gardens of her home in Long Island. As a young woman I lived only minutes from her home but never knew it. To think that I could have driven by the actual inspiration for her secret garden, is magical to me.
I wrote to the author to tell her how much I am cherishing this book, and she wrote back to tell me that this was a true labor of love. Oh, but you know that when you hold this book in your hands. When you browse through the countless photographs of Frances Hodgson Burnett's life and when you see the beautiful illustrations. Oh, and you just know that Gretchen Gerzina loved The Secret Garden too, because she has constructed an adult version of the book. It has all the magic of a children's story, but written just for those of us that adore the book. She is the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor of Biography and a professor of English at Dartmouth College and lives in Vermont.
As I climb into bed at night and get under the bed covers, I fluff my pillow and smile the same smile I did when I first discovered Mary Lennox and The Secret Garden. I open the book as if it is a treasure and cherish every word as I am led to finally understand the key to the symbolism that only Frances Hodgson Burnett held. This book, you see is the key to her Secret Garden.
Pillows hand-made by my sister Lynne
I have a link to a beautiful video of the 1991 Tony Award ceremony , narrated by the beautiful Julie Andrews. Many of the lovely songs sung in the musical version on Broadway are performed in this video.
I found a movie trailer from the 1993 movie version for you. I remember watching this movie with my mother and little daughters in our family room in Hong Kong. I think that this actress most suits the Mary Lennox I imagined when I first read the book.
Tonight I will once again tuck this treasure under my arm as I climb the stairs to our bedroom. I will have a cup of tea in the other hand and as I climb underneath the covers I will feel the same thrill that my father gave me so many years ago. Thank you Daddy, I wonder if you knew when you introduced me to this book how much it would influence my life.
The song for this post is Always from her albumn, Little Miracles.