For whatever reason, I decided recently that I wanted to re-read a childhood favorite, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Another of her books, A Little Princess, was essentially the bible of my early reading years -- serious inspiration -- but when I saw an utterly charming edition of The Secret Garden on a recent bookstore visit (check it out via this weird Amazon Associates thing I'm trying out) ), I just had to buy it.
And read it in three days. Laughing, crying, delighted.
My reading list this year has been wandering all over the place. It's not really that surprising to me that after Dragon Tattoo, I turned for solace to a sweet childhood favorite. Seriously, there was too much murder, violence and torture in Dragon Tattoo, but I was too deep in to stop, even though I had to give up reading it at night because of its creepiness. But what's super-fabulous -- and this has happened before, more than once, maybe it's happened to you, too? -- is how The Secret Garden actually reinforces themes from other books I've been reading, particularly yoga texts by Swami Chidvilasananda, in a way I never could have imagined or anticipated.
The Secret Garden is fundamentally a story about awakening to shakti, about the delight of being alive, about the great joy of awakening to the pulse of life that flows through all of us, all creatures, and binds us together. Amazing! And first published in 1911.
A horrible unloved child, Mary Lennox, who "by the time she was six years old...was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is sent to live with her horribly unhappy uncle Archibald Craven on the moor in Yorkshire after her parents die in a cholera outbreak in India. She is a beastly girl, utterly ignored by her parents, accustomed to kicking and slapping her servants.
Without giving away the whole story (and really, I do recommend this book, so charming), Mary's hard little Grinchy heart begins to grow when she meets a robin. A robin! No wonder I loved this book when I was a kid. "It actually gave Mary a queer feeling in her heart, because he was so pretty and cheerful and seemed so like a person ... The robin hopped about, busily pecking the soil, and now and then stopped... Mary thought his black dewdrop eyes gazed at her with great curiosity. It really seemed as if he were finding out all about her. The queer feeling in her heart increased." There are many adventures: a delightful boy named Dickon who is an animal-charmer and has squirrels, a crow, a fox for companions; a spoiled, rude, crippled boy who is redeemed; a garden that they bring back to life -- over the course of which Mary loses her sourness, becomes happy, full, loving.
But the chief charm of this book for me is what the children refer to as Magic.
When Mary found this garden, it looked quite dead... Then something began pushing things out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren't there and another they were... I keep saying to myself, 'What is it? What is it?' It's something. It can't be nothing! I don't know its name, so I call it Magic. I have never seen the sun rise..., but from what they tell me I am sure that is Magic, too. Something pushes it up and draws it. Sometimes since I've been in the garden and looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden -- in all the places.And of course, of course, this garden is within us, as well as without us.
And then this morning, in the new book I'm reading, The Yoga of Discipline by Swami Chidvilasananda: "At the heart of the universe, Gurumayi says, lies supreme bliss, and to live in the experience of this bliss is the highest expression of human nature." This bliss is the very Magic found in the garden, that "strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest." Sometimes it takes a robin to make us see it. Or a lovely story like Hodgson Burnett's.
Such a wonderful reminder, thanks to the former Mistress Mary Quite Contrary:
So long as Mistress Mary's mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow-faced, sickly, bored, and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, ... with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures,' there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired... Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.May we all tend our roses, and fill our minds with robins and springtime. Truly we are surrounded by and made of Magic. How grateful I am to Frances Hodgson Burnett for the hours of childhood and recent joy she has given me, one hundred years after she published this story. Super big Magic!