Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Secret Garden the book vs the films vs. the musical

In June 2010 I  attended a very good community theater production of The Secret Garden musical at 2nd Star Productions in Bowie, Maryland. I have seen the two theatrical movies one from the 1940's with Margaret O'Brien as Mary and Dean Stockwell (yes, Al from Quantum Leap) as Colin and the 1990's film with it's gorgeous cinematography. I've also seen the Hallmark Hall of Fame 1987 production with Derek Jacobi as Archibald and Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock and in a cameo, Colin Firth as a grown-up Colin!.

It had been many years since I had read the novel and over a brief vacation I re-read it. In particular I was looking at various treatments of the story. In most of the films Mrs. Medlock is the misguided villian of the piece, in the musical it is Dr. Collins, Archibald's brother, who stands to inherit the estate if Colin dies.

To my surprise, I discovered that the novel...has no villians in the story. And part of that is in the background of the author. Frances Hodgson Burnett was a committed Christian Scientist. And her tale of natural healing, through fresh air, exercise and gardening reflects that. In the novel, no one tries to keep Mary and Colin apart. In the novel, the servants are relieved that Colin allows Mary to come into the room and take him outside in his wheelchair.
Basically Colin is a spoilt brat. And, so is Mary.

Mary is portrayed as mean and cruel. She beats her Ayah and there is a lot of stereotyping of the native Indian servants.

Major differences in the story - It is Mary's father who is Colin's mother's brother, not, as in the musical the mothers who are siblings. The parents are never named only called Captain Lennox and Mrs Lennox. They are real cipher characters only existing as the coldhearted parents, particularly the mother, who cares only for her looks and her parties. The authorities are genuinely surprised to discover that Mary exists. She really has never been seen.

Dr. Collins is a cousin not a brother of Archibald. And he never drugs Colin or puts him through barbaric "treatments" (as some of the films have shown Mrs. Medlock doing). It is mentioned that he will inherit the estate, but he is genuinely thrilled that Colin is getting healthier.

The most positive characters are the servants, Martha, Dickon and their mother. It is Dickon's mother who sends Mary the skipping rope, and fresh milk to drink--even though she is raising 12 children in her little cottage.

Archibald barely appears in the novel. He comes in about 100 pages in to meet Mary and grant her request that she have her own garden. And it is Dickon's mother who writes to him and convinces him to come home where the first thing he sees is Colin running.

A tale of natural healing, where almost every adult cooperates in the healing of two damaged children, it is a very gentle book, indeed.

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