The Joy Maker

My daughter and I just finished reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’d read this book in elementary school. However, as a child, I missed the message of healing in this classic children’s novel. As did my ten-year-old daughter.

She loved the magical characters. Dickon the animal charmer. Mrs. Medlock the stern housekeeper. Martha the always bright and cheerful maid. My daughter’s favorite part was when the red-breasted robin lead Mary to a key buried in the ground that opened the door to the secret garden. But my girl seemed curious when I teared up reading about each flower and bush coming alive with Mary, Dickon, and Colin’s laughter. Especially how one mass of blue forget-me-nots took hold on Mr. Craven’s heart and opened a small space for good to breathe life into him again after feeling only darkness for 10 years since the death of his wife.

The forget-me-not is Alaska’s state flower. The blue background on the Alaska state flag represents the blue flower and the northern sky. There are many folktales about the forget-me-not, but it’s always used as a symbol of remembrance of hopes, dreams, and lost loves.

Mary and Colin were forgotten children. Mary was unwanted even before she was orphaned. She never had a friend or even a kind thought. Colin was left by a lovely mother to a father who resented his presence. Their physical ailments, a thin body and sour face, were a result of their crippled spirits.

The Secret Garden is not overtly religious. But what Frances Hodgson Burnett calls “magic”, I call the Light of Christ. What he calls the “Joy Maker”, I call God.

The secret garden gave Mary and Colin something to believe in. They believed it could be brought back to life. Among the gray and brown and dry branches, new green shoots were “wick”—alive. By cutting out the dead branches, the new shoots could soak up nutrients from the ground and reach the sunshine.

Mary was eager to go around the garden and find the wick branches. Some branches that looked dead still had a bit of green when cut back. Mary would cry out in joy each time she was surprised with such a discovery. She cleared the dead grass away to give the snowdrops, narcissuses, and daffadowndillies room to breathe. Even before he could walk, Colin lay on the ground and turned the soil over with his trowel. He dug a hole big enough to plant his first rose bush.

The children tended the secret garden in the spring and through the summer. “While the secret garden was coming alive, two children were coming alive with it.” Mary gained strength and Colin learned to walk. Both learned to smile. But this story is less about physical healing and more about spiritual healing.

“Where, you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow.” The rose represents one’s spirit. It must be cared for with faith, hope, and charity. Sadness and despair cannot enter one’s heart while good is present. “When tha’ stops bein’ afraid tha’lt stand on ‘em,” Dickon said with renewed cheer. “An’ tha’lt stop bein’ afraid in a bit.”

Emilism: Healing is contagious.

Not only were Mary and Colin healed, but also their circle of company: Mr. Crave, Mrs. Medlock, Ben Weatherstaff, the housekeepers, even the animals Dickon brought around. Misselthwaite Manor was filled with new hope when Colin walked up the steps on his own two legs. And joy because everyone on the moor had a smile on their face that day.