The Secret Garden is a classic children’s novel that is read in classrooms around the United States. It was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911, and it details an unloved child named Mary Lennox. Mary grew up in India, and she was raised by her Ayah while rarely seeing her parents. After her parents are killed in a cholera outbreak, Mary is sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, at his opulent home in England. Lord Craven rarely lives at Misselthwaite Manor because it reminds him of his late wife, who died after falling off a swing in her beloved garden. Mary eventually discovers this garden with the help of a robin and a boy named Dickon. Through Mary’s and Dickon’s efforts, the garden comes to life and leads to a special bond between Mary and her reclusive cousin, Colin.
Burnett’s novel has been made into movies, plays, and television shows. I chose to compare the book to the 1993 movie directed by Agnieszka Holland. I had not read The Secret Garden since fifth grade, so I hardly remembered it at all. When I recently read the book and saw the movie, I used a very critical eye to compare the two. As a result, I became aware of many differences that I had not noticed before.
The producers of the movie adaptation were able to keep key points from the book; however, they took many liberties with the story line. The biggest differences from the movie are at the beginning and the end. In the beginning of the movie, Mary is shown as a spoiled and lonely child (which she is), but she is shown interacting with her parents. The book implies that she merely stared at her mother from a distance. From the text: “Mary had liked to look at her mother from a distance, and she had thought her very pretty, but as she knew very little of her, she could scarcely have been expected to love her or to miss her very much when she was gone” (10). Also, the movie kills alludes to Mary’s parents being killed in an earthquake. The book uses a cholera outbreak to kill her parents and many of the servants.
In addition, the end of the movie is quite different from the end of the book. In the book, Lord Craven dreams of his wife, but decides to come home after Susan Sowerby, the mother of Martha, a servant, and Dickon, sends him a letter imploring him to come home (372-73). When he arrives, he does not go to Colin or Mary’s room as the movie depicts, but to the library where he asks Mrs. Medlock, the housekeeper, how and where his son is. The movie shows him frantically going to the rooms to find them and it is Martha who tells him they are in the garden. The movie also portrays Mary as feeling that her uncle would not want her since she had opened the garden and had his son back. The book does not even imply or mention this at all.
Even though the movie has several differences, it had many similarities, too. Many of the characters stayed true to the original descriptions. Mary was a sour child who became happy over time. Colin who was sickly, selfish, and spoiled learned that he was as “wick” or alive as others. Dickon and Martha were aptly portrayed as well. Dickon, with his at-ease demeanor, and Martha, who was talkative and bubbly, are keys to helping Mary change. Furthermore, the movie shows that as the garden is tended and grows, Mary and Colin grow and change too.
When a person reads a book, they often imagine how a character looks. Likewise, I had definite visions of the characters, and I thought the casting for this movie was perfect. The actors and actresses portrayed the characteristics of each person well. Kate Maberly, who played Mary Lennox, comes across as a lonely child who does not know how to properly interact with anyone. She is able to embody Mary’s changes through her expressions and demeanor. In the book, Colin is described as having had “a sharp, delicate face, the color of ivory, and he seemed to have eyes too big for it…He looked like a boy who had been ill…” (160-61). Heydon Prowse fit the bill with his blond hair, pale face, and big eyes that expressed his wonder at the secret garden. I felt that every character portrayed his character in a genuine manner.
After reading the book and watching the movie, I still prefer the book. The Secret Garden beckons the reader to connect with its story. Its rich textual descriptions spring to life inside the reader’s mind. In the book, Mary makes a comment about Dickon’s description of the moor, and she feels as though she is there. She says,
When Dickon talks about it, you feel as if you saw things and heard them, and as if you were standing in the heather with the gorse smelling like honey—and all full of bees and butterflies. (187)
I felt the same way as I read the book. It gave me a sense that I was there when Mary found the key, and I got excited as she entered the garden for the first time. The movie is beautiful in color, but I don’t feel one appreciates the same connection between the characters as one does in the book.
Overall, I would give the movie a “thumbs up”. It may have been different from the book, but it still reflected much of the original story line. The movie is wonderfully-cast and filmed in a beautiful location. The movie portrays a beautiful story of growth, discovery, friendship, and love. I can understand why it was made into a movie. When a person reads The Secret Garden, he can relate to the story and to the characters. I’m glad this movie was made so that children and adults could experience the beauty and greatness of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.
Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Secret Garden. 1985 ed. New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1911. Print.
The Secret Garden. Dir. Agnieszka Holland. Warner Brothers, 1993. Film.