“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression.”
Aren’t these great opening lines by Frances Hodgson Burnett to The Secret Garden? Cleverly, she tries to make us instantly dislike the heroine. Already, the challenge is inherent ~ what will happen to make us like her? Do we feel sorry for her? Will we, in fact, ever like her? We are hooked into the story from the beginning as we join in with the narrator’s description of how a horrible child appears to others. The narrator is allowing us to dislike Mary in the subtly woven, understated judgement of her character.We are not used to horrible children, only good, charming, angelic ones, so the character of Mary jumps off the page immediately and tells us to expect the unexpected.
Of course, as the story goes on, we revel in Mary’s development as she grows in spirit and confidence alongside the beautiful hidden garden. We experience her triumphs vicariously, as all that is lovely in her also blooms along with the garden. The story is a wonderful metaphor for discovering the hidden and secret beauty in ourselves and how this recognition heals us.
When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down.
One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.”
Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!”
I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I?
I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.”
Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray.
With love from Dr. Niamh,
Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamhchildrensbooks.com
Just saw the video clipping and read the perfect preface…just brilliant…!!
Thank you so much Dr Pendyala. I am glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for your comment and for visiting.
This is one of my very favorite books. I have read and reread.
It is so wonderful. Thank you for your lovely visit.
Thanks for the reminder of this incredible story. It is timeless and needs to be reread every now and again.
I really enjoyed your preface. Hadn’t thought about the author writing a character in a negative manner, so that as we get to know Mary we love her for her spirit. Have never read the book, but have seen the movie many times and love it.
Thank you, Patricia. I always enjoy your comments.