Has anyone out there ever heard of Focus on the Family Radio Theater? They are a rather incredible recording studio that dramatizes books, stories from history, and their own original productions. I grew up listening to them, everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Adventures in Odyssey. They were a very prominent part of my childhood, whether we listened to them on road trips, or in the living room while we puzzled, or did our school work at the dining room table.
One of the books that I remember listening to very distinctly is The Secret Garden.
Oddly enough, I never really read the book until this last year. I’ve had it on my shelf for ages, loved the story since I was probably as young as ten years old, and watched my younger sister blaze through it for school and love every page. And yet, I’d never picked it up.
When I finally did, I couldn’t put it down.
The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox, a lonely English child living in India. Her father is an English officer stationed there, and her mother is a great beauty with no time for her little sour-faced daughter. Mary is left in the care of her servants, rarely getting a glimpse of her parents as they flit past her, intent on their own lives.
But an outbreak of cholera lays waste to the household, and with both of her parents dead, little Mary is sent to England to live with her uncle. Archibald Craven, the master of Misselthwaite Manor, in Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a very different place from India, and Mary has a great many things to learn and adjust to, include learning to dress herself, although she is already ten years old and ought to have learned long since. But the fresh, Yorkshire air begins to work in the little lass, and she slowly loses the pinched, sour-faced, disagreeable air and begins to look—and act—like a normal child.
But Misselthwaite is not all that it seems. Grief hangs heavy over the Manor, a shadow that is ten years old. Her uncle, Archibald Craven, refuses to see her for more than a few minutes at a time and is often away traveling, as if he would like to escape the house and the memories trapped inside it. Mary begins to hear stories of a garden, a secret garden, that belonged to Mr. Craven’s dead wife. The door is locked now, the key buried, but Mistress Mary has never been taught to mind her own business or to leave well enough alone, and she goes looking for it.
The fresh, clean beauty trapped inside this book fed my soul. The simple, gorgeous descriptions of springtime coming to life on the moor brought a breath of fresh air into my little house, and made me wish for my own little ‘bit of earth’. Frances Hodgson Burnett did an incredible job of portraying the moor, the gardens, the flowers, and the new life of Yorkshire, and of the magic and enchanting beauty of spring bringing life to dead earth. May we all remember the magic of the changing seasons so well.
And over the walls and earth and trees and swinging sprays and tendrils the fair green veil of tender little leaves had crept, and in the grass under the trees and the gray urns in the alcoves and here and there everywhere were touches or splashes of gold and purple and white and the trees were showing pink and snow above his head and there were fluttering of wings and faint sweet pipes and humming and scents and scents.