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Literature: The Secret Garden

Colin: Are you making this Magic?
Mary: No. You are.
The Secret Garden 1993 movie, which really sums it all up.

First published in 1911, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is a children's novel and has since been adapted into several television and movie versions, as well as a musical and an anime series.

The central narrative follows a young girl named Mary Lennox, who, at the beginning of the story, has been raised entirely by servants in India; her neglectful parents are too self-absorbed to even notice her, and she's grown into a major Spoiled Brat. When a freak accident — originally a cholera epidemic but an earthquake in some adaptations — orphans her, she is sent off to England to live with her reclusive, mysterious uncle, Archibald Craven. Little does anybody know that her presence will transform the place, and it, in turn, will transform her.

The book is in the Public Domain and available for legal download. There is even a free Audiobook available at Librivox.

The various adaptations have included:

  • The Secret Garden (1919), starring Lila Lee.
    • Very little is known about this film, as it's thought to be lost.
  • The Secret Garden (1949), starring Margaret O'Brien (whom you'll recall as Beth from the Little Women first film).
    • Interestingly, this film was done mostly in black-and-white, but made use of Technicolor for the garden segments, in a move similar to The Wizard of Oz.
  • The Secret Garden (1975), a TV series starring Sarah Hollis Andrews.
    • This series remained extremely faithful to the source material, and kept most of the characters and plot threads that other adaptations tend to excise, most prominently Susan Sowerby and her children.
  • The Secret Garden (1987), an episode of the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV series starring Gennie James.
    • Notorious because, in a twist that no other version has, it kills off Dickon. No, really!
  • The Secret Garden (1991), a musical version that premiered on Broadway.
    • This version placed more emphasis on the adults, with much of the plot being narrated by a ghostly chorus of "Dreamers". It also expands the plot considerably, up to adding in a primary conflict in the form of Archibald Craven's brother Dr. Neville Craven, who was in a love triangle with his own brother and Lillias, and is charged with both keeping Colin healthy and keeping the estate in order while Archibald is away.
  • Himitsu no Hanazono (1992-1993), an anime series starring Mina Tominaga as Mary as well as several other well known seiyuu.
    • Like the musical version it expands the story quite a bit, focusing a lot on four elements: the Sowerby family (and not only Susan, but also her youngest kids); Lillias Craven's personality and her influence around those who surrounded her; Colin's notoriously frailer-than-in-other-adaptations health, and his long and difficult way to physical recovery with Dickon and Mary's help; and the Canon Foreigners Camilla (a Romani young woman who acts as Mary's Cool Big Sis and was involved in the accident that caused Lillias's death), and Maximilian "Max" Hawkins (an accountant who used to work for the Cravens and was wrongfully accused of fraud, upon an horrible misunderstanding.)
  • The Secret Garden (1993), starring Kate Maberly and directed by Agnieszka Holland.
    • This is probably the most well-known of the films. The film features excellent cinematography, a haunting mood, and Maggie Smith in the role of Mrs. Medlock.

This book contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Arc Words: "The Magic" and "I shall live for ever and ever!"
  • Berserk Button: Colin hates when people look at him.
    • He also has one connected to finding lumps on his back until Mary tells him in no uncertain terms that he doesn't have any.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Martha gives off this vibe. Mary once considers slapping her like she did to her servants in India, but thinks better of it because Martha "seemed like she might slap back".
  • Big Fancy House: Misselthwaite Manor.
  • British Accents: The original book features a number of them, ranging from Yorkshire to RP. The various adaptations tend to be hit and miss with regards to accurately conveying the required accents.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Mary, Colin and Dickon. They also form a Two Guys and a Girl Power Trio.
  • Brutal Honesty: Mary frequently tells Colin that people dislike him because he is hateful to be around (not realizing that she could also be talking about herself).
    • Martha who is not used to working for the gentry, frequently tells Mary (who still expects help getting dressed at age nine) that Martha's four-year-old sister can look after herself better. She also compares wealthy kids, who are taken for walks by a nurse rather than playing on their own, to puppies.
  • The Caretaker: Mrs. Medlock, who in the 1993 and animated version takes it to a Knight Templar extreme.
  • Character Development: Mary and Colin gradually become less spoiled and selfish and learn to care for other people.
  • Children Are Innocent: Despite the general demeanor of the story's two leads, it still manages to play this one straight.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For both Colin and Mary.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Practically the Aesop.
  • Cool Big Sis: Martha, to Mary as well as literally for Dickon.
  • Creepy Child: Most adults see the very still, quiet, sour Mary as this before her Character Development.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Ben Weatherstaff.
  • Culture Clash
  • Death by Childbirth: Oh, Lillias. Falling out of a tree when pregnant didn't really help, either.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Averted with Mary's parents. While they weren't horrible people, the book doesn't gloss over how they neglected her. Played straight with Colin's mother.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Mary.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mary might as well not have had a father for all she remembers him.
  • Downer Beginning: The book opens with Mary's entire household (including her parents) dying of the cholera.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Essentially how the book begins. The first chapter is even titled "There Is No One Left".
  • Evil Twin: Mary's mother appears to be this to her sister Lilias. While Lilias is described nicely by most who talk about her, her sister neglected Mary to the extent that most of her acquaintances in India didn't even know she had a daughter.
  • Fish out of Water: Mary, who travels from British-occupied India to England.
  • Foil: Colin to Mary — it is through him that the beginnings of her growth are emphasized and encouraged. In fact, to begin with, he's practically her Shadow Archetype.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: By following a robin, Mary finds the key to the secret garden.
  • Free-Range Children: Martha's family runs on this.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Dickon.
  • Friendless Background: Both Mary and Colin.
  • Funetik Aksent: The Yorkshire accents, which Mary thinks is a different language at first. By the end of the story she becomes so fond of Martha's family that she tries to speak with this accent herself.
  • Hey, You!: Mary sees so little of her parents that she never addresses them, but in her head, she calls them "The Mem Sahib" and "Captain Lennox."
  • Hope Sprouts Eternal: Mary's efforts to bring the long-neglected secret garden back to life leads to her own redemption and character growth.
  • Ill Boy: Colin Craven, however there's nothing physically wrong with him, most of his illnesses are caused by hysterics and his own morbid thoughts.
  • In Harmony with Nature: Dickon astounds even his own family with how happy he is on the moors and how well he gets along with animals. Of course, he trains Colin and Mary in his ways.
  • Inherent in the System: Whether in India or England, Mary's and Colin's initial sickly, Spoiled Brat tendencies can be attributed to their wealthy parents being able to dump them on servants who, thanks to custom and the social hierarchy, have to just give them their way instead of nurturing or disciplining them. Martha even comments early on that wealthy children being coddled and waited on by nurses leads to them being dependent and ungrateful, while poorer children like her siblings learn early on to be more self-sufficient and appreciative of what they have.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ben Weatherstaff, who believes that he and Mary are Not So Different.
    • Mary and Colin themselves. The difference is that they don't end the book that way.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Mary and Colin, full stop.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Mary and Archibald Craven are regarded as this at the beginning. The former because she prefers to play by herself, and the latter for living alone in a huge mansion with no visitors and the doors all shut up.
  • The Lost Lenore: Lilias, the deceased owner of the titular garden, lost through Death by Childbirth.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Dickon serves as a male version of this for both Mary and Colin. Until he shows up, his sister Martha is a good Manic Pixie Dream Girl for Mary.
  • Meaningful Name: Archibald Craven is a weak, sickly hunchback.
    • Also Mary, to a lesser extent, as it earns her the fitting nickname "Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary."
  • Missing Mom: Mary's mother passed her off to the servants right after she was born to keep her quiet and out of the way, and never so much as looked at her since.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Averted by Mary, who used to hit her servants. Since they only wanted to keep her quiet and out of her mother's way, she learned to manipulate them young.
    • In a way, this is symbolic of Mary's Character Development. At the end, Mary is a much better person and obviously considers her maid, Martha, to be a friend.
  • No Antagonist
  • Odd Friendship: Mary's friendship with Dickon.
  • Old Retainer: Ben Weatherstaff. Lillias charged him with taking care of the roses in her garden, and he was so devoted to following her orders that, even after Archibald ordered the garden to be locked up, Ben continued to get in by climbing over the wall.
  • Parental Neglect: Mary's parents died from a deadly plague, but even before that they were distant and didn't care much about her. Many of her parents' acquaintances in India are unaware that they have a daughter at all. Colin is distanced from Archibald, and we all know what happened with Lillias.
  • Polyglot: Mary's upbringing by Indian servants exposed her to various dialects from birth, and she was formally taught French. Several times, she tries to imitate the broad Yorkshire accent under the impression that it is a different language (which isn't exactly a stretch).
  • The Power of Friendship
  • Public Domain Character: Which is why there have been so many movie versions since 1994.
  • The Raj: Mary was born and lived in the then British-ruled India until she was 11. She was mostly raised by Indian servants as her parents were distant, which is truth in television- Rudyard Kipling spent so little time around his parents that as a child he preferred to speak Hindi.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Archibald is reputed to be a dreadful-looking hunchback, but when Mary meets him in person he's revealed to be normal-looking, with high and crooked shoulders. Colin is reputed to be a hunchback as well, and unable to walk due to malformed legs, when actually he's just a sickly boy who is so spoiled the servants never try to get him walking.
  • Spoiled Brats: Colin and Mary
  • Team Mom: Mrs. Susan Sowerby, so very much.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mary hands a big one to Colin when he's throwing a tantrum—at age ten, no less. Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • There Are No Therapists: Physical or otherwise. Good thing they don't need them.
    • Not that Colin wanted them around anyway.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mary's mother might have survived the cholera outbreak if she hadn't delayed her escape to attend a dinner party. Lampshaded by the young officer that reminds her that she should have fled over two weeks ago.
  • When He Smiles: Ben Weatherstaff. Mary is shocked by how much nicer he looks just by smiling.
  • Woman in White: Mary. Colin's father finds black too much for a child, and white is the only alternative, since she is in mourning for her parents.
  • World Tree: The eponymous garden might as well be this.

Its various adaptations contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The 1993 movie takes every event from the first half or so of the book (taking place over months) and jams them all together to take place in a matter of days or weeks, removing some character depth and growth in the process. Of course, this being a film, the time line is a bit fuzzy.
  • Adapted Out: The character of Mrs. Susan Sowerby is oddly absent from the 1993 film.
  • Break the Cutie: In the anime version, Camilla and Max Hawkins were horribly broken in their backstories, which also influences Max in his revenge quest against Archibald. Not to mention, we get to see exactly how badly Lillias's Death by Childbirth broke Mr. Craven himself...
  • Break the Haughty: In the 1993 version, Mrs. Medlock, after Archibald Craven gives her a verbal smackdown near the end. Not only does she break down in a sobbing heap on the steps, but she offers to resign as well.
  • British Accents: The original book features a number of them, ranging from Yorkshire to RP. The various adaptations tend to be hit and miss with regards to accurately conveying the required accents.
  • The Caretaker: Mrs. Medlock, who in the 1993 version takes it to a Knight Templar extreme.
  • Death by Adaptation: Dickon, in the 1987 film version.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the anime, when it seems he's about to lose the manor to Hawkins and be economically ruined, Archibald Craven makes arrangements for Mary and Colin's caretaking and gets ready to blow his brains off with a gun while staring at a picture of his dear Lillias. He backs off at the last moment.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!:
    • The 1987 version is rife with this, featuring Julian Glover as Colonel McGraw, Colin Firth as the grown-up version of Colin, and Derek Jacobi as Archibald Craven.
    • Dame Maggie Smith plays Mrs. Medlock in the 1993 version.
    • Andrew Knott, who plays Dickon in the 1993 version, showed up a year later as Joe in the 1994 adaptation of Black Beauty.
  • Ill Boy: Colin Craven, especially in the anime series where he almost dies.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: "Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary" is sung by the ghosts several times in the musical.
    • In the 1993 film, this song is used by other children to taunt Mary near the beginning.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Inverted with Kate Maberly's Mary. She wears her hair down completely when she's in her Ice Queen phase. As she defrosts, she is seen with her hair in Girlish Pigtails or tied up with ribbons.
  • Love Hurts: In the anime, and how. Not only did Archibald cross the Despair Event Horizon when his dear Lillias died, but Camilla and Max Hawkins become Star-Crossed Lovers as well.
  • May-December Romance: In the anime series Lillias was much younger than Archibald (she looked no older than 25 while past!Archibald looked almost exactly like his present and older self save for his still not white hair), yet they still clearly adored each other. It would explain a lot about how hard he took her death.
  • Missing Mom: While both Mary's parents are dead, she tends to think of her mother more often than her father.
  • Motifs:
    • The 1987 film particularly likes Flower Motifs.
    • The 1993 film likes playing with these.
  • Names to Know in Anime: The anime series had several very well known seiyuu: Mina Tominaga as Mary, Chika Sakamoto as Martha, Mayumi Tanaka as Dickon, Minami Takayama as Colin, Akio Ohtsuka as the Canon Foreigner Hawkins, and You Inoue as Camilla.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Mary, rather jarringly, has a Texan American accent in the 1987 version. Occasionally she can be heard trying for a British accent, but it just doesn't work. There's also that one scene where she attempts a Yorkshire accent...
    • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In the Broadway Recording, you can tell that the actors tried really hard with their Yorkshire and RP accents, but they're still pretty cringeworthy.
  • Pet the Dog: In the 1993 version, a confrontation between Mary and Mrs. Medlock culminates in Medlock slapping Martha and threatening to fire her for letting Mary wander into Colin's room. This does not sit well with Colin. Not only does he visibly recoil with an expression of shock when Martha is slapped, he flat-out tells Mrs. Medlock that he will have her sent away if she dares dismiss the servant girl.
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away
  • Subtext: The 1993 film plays with this, particularly as it applies to the relationships between the three children in the story.
  • Ship Tease: Subtly so between Mary and Dickon, at least in the 1993 version. At one point they share a Held Gaze, to the point Colin gets jealous and shouts at them to avert their attention.
  • Single-Minded Twins: Dickon and Martha's youngest siblings in the anime series.
  • Symbol Motif Clothing: Mary is often given dresses that have floral patterns, except in the 1993 version where her dresses are all plain.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mary's mother might have survived the cholera outbreak if she hadn't delayed her escape to attend a dinner party.
    • Averted in the 1993 film, where the cause of Mary's parents' deaths was an earthquake rather than a plague.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The 1987 Hallmark adaptation invoked this by killing off Dickon!
    • And Lillias, in the anime series.
  • Woman in White: Mary. As mentioned above, Colin's father finds black too much for a child, and this is the only alternative, since she is in mourning for her mother.
    • And in the 1993 film, Mary's mother in a Dream Sequence.
    • And in the musical, the entire ensemble of Dreamers are this.
    • Averted in the anime: Mary wears black at first, but later she puts on a light blue dress.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: While Maggie Smith's Medlock certainly threatens to box Mary's ears, she never actually strikes her. She slaps Martha, but she's old enough to not be considered a child.