Mary Lennox is an ill-tempered and spoiled child who lives with her parents in India. Following their death from cholera, Mary is sent to live with her uncle Archibald in Yorkshire. Her uncle is a man entrenched in grief following the death of his wife ten years prior. Because of this grief he has shut away his only son, Colin and had his wife’s garden locked away from visitors. As the winter gives way to spring and fresh blooms start to grow, so does Mary’s demeanor as well as the demeanor of the entire house.
The Secret Garden began it’s life differently than Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan or Wizard of Oz. Instead of starting as a story told to youngsters orally, Burnett’s book began the way Charles Dickens’ books did, as newspaper serials. It first appeared in the fall of 1910 in The American Magazine. In 1911, the book was published all together for the first time by Frederick A. Stokes.
Initially, the book was a bit of a failure in part due to it’s mixed marketing to appeal to both adults and juveniles. Both Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess were better received, and in fact it was so eclipsed that very few of Burnett’s obituaries in 1924 even listed the book.
However, the rise of scholarly works on children’s literature brought the story back to the forefront and has now eclipsed the other two books, consistently ranking as one of the best children’s books of all time.
The first film adaptation of the story was in 1919, however the film is thought to be lost.
The first major motion picture was in 1949 by MGM. It featured Margaret O’Brien in her last role as a child star as Mary Lennox, with Dean Stockwell as her cousin, Colin and Herbert Marshall as Archibald. The film is largely filmed in black and white, but the garden scenes are filmed in technicolor, echoing the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. The film was not a financial success and lost the studio almost $900,000, which by today’s standards is almost $9 million dollars.
In 1987, Hallmark Hall of Fame adapted the story for television. Featuring an all-British cast, including Gennie James as Mary and Derek Jacobi as Archibald. A more faithful and engaging version than the 1949 film. This, as a child, was my favorite version of the story. This adaptation features a framing device where an adult Mary returns after World War I and remembers her days there as a girl. She and Colin are not related, and Archibald is merely a family friend.
In 1993, Warner Brothers released a major motion picture adaptation of the book. This adaptation features Kate Maberly as Mary, John Lynch as Archibald and Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock, the determined head of the household. The film is a reasonably faithful adaptation. Instead of cholera killing Mary’s parents, they die in an earthquake and the role of magic in the story was played up. The biggest change character wise, was beefing up the role of Mrs. Medlock…largely because when you have Maggie Smith in a movie you don’t want to waste her.
My personal favorite adaptation is the 1991 Broadway musical adaptation. Written by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman, the original production featured Daisy Eagan as Mary, Mandy Patinkin as Archibald and in supporting roles, Robert Westenberg as Neville Craven, John Cameron Mitchell as Dickon, Rebecca Luker as Lily and Alison Fraser as Martha. This version focuses not only on the garden imagery, but of how the past can haunt us with the ghosts of both Lily (Lilias in the book) and Mary’s Parents weaving through the scenes. A sub-plot was added to the musical involving Neville Craven, Archibald’s doctor and defacto executor of the estate, having also been in love with Lily. The production Tony Awards Best Book and Featured Actress (Eagan) in a season that was up against British juggernaut Miss Saigon.
Other Cross-Stitching Charts
To my knowledge, there are no non HAED charts out there 😦
I first discovered the story through the 1992 movie, and remember at the time saying that I thought it sounded like a great story but that the movie was boring. That’s when Mom found the 1987 version at Blockbuster and I fell in love. As a kid it sort of sat on the shelf and while I liked it and loved the movie it was never at the fore-front of what I was interested in. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood and discovered the musical that I fell in love with the book. The overall feeling of melancholy that it starts with and loses as Mary grows and blossoms (much like the titular garden) is both beautiful and rewarding.