Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Rave: The Secret Garden

(By Frances Hodgson Burnett)

I recently read this again, as you can see in my nice books-I-have-read widget. When I was six, it was my most favourite book and the best I had ever read (which wasn't hard, considering it was the first 'proper book' I read, i.e. it had chapters), and I still think it's one of my all-time favourites. It is possibly the cause of my obsession with squirrels (I saw another one today! And got really close and took a picture!) because Dickon has TWO PET SQUIRRELS THAT RIDE AROUND ON HIS SHOULDERS, and it features Magic with a capital M and secrets and funny accents.

In between googling 'pet squirrel' and thinking about squirrel breeding programmes (do they exist? If not, why not?), I have been wondering what it is that makes The Secret Garden so enjoyable. I have never really been that enamoured of gardening, though I like to look at flowers, so it can't be the emphasis on green things. I'm a fan of fantasy, but the Magic in this book is of the kind you can easily find in real life, if you look for it, and not the stuff of myth.

Here are the elements I think attract me:
  • a secret place all one's own that grown-ups can't find (even though I am currently grown-up. I think.)
  • following on from that, a secret that grown-ups don't know
  • transformation from horrible person to nice person
  • rude main characters, so great dialogue - things you'd love to say but never would
  • life lessons - and these are quite overt. I've always remembered the bit about having your quarter of the orange, and not the whole orange. I wonder if you could have such obvious lessons in a contemporary book... Or maybe it's the age it's aimed at combined with Edwardian sensibilities
  • determined main characters, who follow their whims and Do Stuff
  • exotic locations: India and the Yorkshire moors
  • the characters themselves are the antagonists - they must overcome their own faults to reach the happy ending
  • a happy ending
Though I'm always a bit disappointed by the ending, which seems abrupt. I want more, FHB. At least a page more (I am told several authors have written sequels, so maybe I should search them out).

I see some of these things in my own writing (though hopefully not the overt life lessons - I'd rather people thought about things than be told what to think), and I think it's a good exercise to do: examining your favourite books to see what attracts you so much.

If you have not read The Secret Garden, it is in the public domain and worth a look.

What are some of your favourite books? Why do you think you like them?


    1. Why isn't "SQUIRREL" one of the labels of this post? lol
      ...and why can't I think what I was going to write here before I got distracted by labels? :-(

    2. Oh! I never thought of having a squirrel label! I shall have to make one. But then the majority of my English posts so far have mentioned squirrels... Hmmm.


    what do you think?