I pick it up. A large, beautiful, Folio edition, green bound and illustrated. Caress it, remember it, wondering where is the copy I read as a child?
Maybe a daughter has it on her shelves – or more likely in her boxes hidden in our attic cupboards. So I lift the unread copy from my shelf, and begin to read, in readiness for the first gathering of we who have decided to read children’s books for fun.
The heroine: Mary Lennox. A sickly, wan, sticky sort of girl, one who stamps her feet and shouts. I remember disliking her intensely. And feeling she did not deserve to be rescued.
Then there was Dickon. Almost too perfect, knowing so much at the tender age of 12. Free to roam the moors. An animal charmer. Lover of fresh air and gardening.
And Colin. Scary Colin in that scary house. A secret, hidden down long corridors. He, it, frightened me. Deliciously. Tapestries and rich hangings, four poster beds and heaps of cushions. Chamber maids and house maids, cooks and gardeners. Way out of my experience.
I liked the robin best. He knew where the key was hidden. And Martha. Not that I could understand much of what she said, but I learnt, along with Mary.
And like Mary, too, I learnt about the Magic.
To the child who was me it seemed quite natural and almost romantic: positive thoughts pushing up along with the crocuses and daffodils, making everything all right again – Colin and his not-so-twisted back, Mr Craven and his despairing, traumatised sadness, Mary and her loneliness.
In the secrets of the garden, everything comes alive, nature and people alike, and spiritual and physical healing is experienced as the beloved roses begin to bloom again.
And they all lived happily ever after. Or so I assumed.
So now, I begin to read it all again. And this time there is sadness and sympathy for those poor lost ill-tempered children.
Admiration for Martha’s mother.
Amazement that the staff stick around.
And compassion and empathy, oh, so much empathy, for bereaved, crazed Mr Craven, travelling to escape, travelling to forget.
I race through the book, devouring pages, staying up late to read. After sixteen months of not remembering much of anything read, I find I am captivated and able to recall so much of what was read as a child. A child of ten, maybe eleven. Primary School, certainly.
I knew little of what I now see.
The emotional bruising and scarring of adults and children alike in this Craven/Lennox family. A fallen world.
Madness and loneliness and death and bereavement, all mixed up and changing those affected. Like me.
The ‘earth-mother-ish-ness’ and healing ways of Mrs Sowerby, Dickon and Martha’s mother. Is she a Mary figure?
Dickon as a young St Francis, with animals his constant companions.
And the garden itself, the archytypal paradise of the Garden of Eden, bringing healing to those who find it.
But now, as I read, I wonder about the author and my curiosity searches. And I learn of this young Englishwoman from nineteenth century industrial Manchester, emigrating to rural Tennessee, scribbling to supplement the family income in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
Of her unhappy marriage.
Her own illnesses.
The death of her son from consumption.
Her success as a writer, giving her financial freedom to return to England and rent a large country house – with a walled garden.
And her spiritual journey, her adherence to Theosophy, Christian Science, Mind Healing.
I’m glad I now know more. But I’m glad too that I could read it both as child and adult with the glorious anticipation that all would come right, that there would be healing and joy again.
And so there can be.
We need the Holy Spirit, winged and red-fire, to point the way.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13, NKJV