The Secret Garden
“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it’s like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.”
I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a long time. I think it was one of the first ones on there, to be honest – I grabbed it off of Project Gutenberg, I believe, back when I first got my Kindle.1 I’ve just never gotten around to reading it.
This past Sunday, I’d just finished reading through the Queers Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine.2 Now, if you don’t know, Lightspeed is a periodical collection of science fiction stories, usually fairly short. The review, when it goes up, is pretty substantial – I wrote a short review of each of those short stories. Which meant that, every few minutes or so, I was putting down my Kindle and doing a bit of typing on my laptop.
It was during one of those times that I got a Breaking News email from Time. “50 people killed in Orlando nightclub shooting,” read the subject line. I opened the email, and it felt like a punch to the stomach. In the middle of Pride Month, while I was halfway through a collection of queer-focused science fiction in the larger process of reading through everything I’d picked up in the Pride Month Humble Bundle, I read this:
At least 50 people were killed and another 53 wounded after a gunman opened fire in an Orlando gay nightclub early Sunday morning, officials said. The death count makes the attack the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The rest of the day, I kept reading. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.3 Lightspeed was a mix of sad and happy stories; the happy ones felt like throwing teacups of water on a blazing inferno, the sad like being pulled further underwater. My “writing” breaks got longer and longer as I took time to check on the news, Twitter, Facebook – anywhere that I could find out more about what had happened. I kept hoping something would change for the better, but it wouldn’t.4 The tragedy had already happened; all that was left was cleaning up afterwards.
It was heartbreaking. It still is – I’m being thankful I took the time to learn to touch-type, because if I had to do the whole ‘hunt-and-peck’ thing, writing this would take me ages. It’s hard to hunt for a specific key when your eyes are full of tears.
At the end of the day, I started flipping through my Kindle, trying to find something new to read. The last couple of books from the Humble Bundle had lost their allure, as had the stack of science fiction. I wanted something different than what I’d spent the day doing. Clearly, the queer-focused science fiction hadn’t worked to take my mind off the tragedy.
Sitting at the very end of the list, just above the dictionary folder5 was The Secret Garden. It’s certainly different, I thought. And it is: a book written more than 100 years ago probably couldn’t be more diametrically opposite a bunch of queer science fiction if it tried.
And while I’m not normally one for believing in fate or god or any such higher power, this is the kind of thing that if someone had conspired to write it into the way things should be, that would be some beautiful predestination. This book was exactly what I needed right now.
Because, sure, the dated phrasing is a bit strange at times,6 and the painstakingly-written-out accents are rather hard to read at first. But beyond that, the story is something pure and innocent.
The first almost-half of the book isn’t that way; it’s the story of a terrible little girl, the result of the sort of horrible parenting where you can call it “terrible parenting” even after the tragic death of her parents.7 She’s always gotten what she wanted, and she’s used to getting it from servants who wouldn’t dare talk back to her. She is, basically, the worst-case scenario for a ten-year-old. After the death of her parents – something that barely affects her, as she rarely if ever saw them – she’s sent from India8 to Yorkshire, in the ‘care’ of her uncle.9
Once there, though, she begins to explore. She’s told of a ‘forbidden garden,’ hidden away from the world after her uncle’s beloved wife was injured there, eventually leading to her death. Being the little brat that she is, she goes to find it.
And there, the Magic starts to happen.
Throughout the book, you see her become a better person – so slowly that she’s not aware of it, and the reader only notices because the narrator makes the occasional effort to point it out.
And it’s not just her – a few other characters are introduced, and her growth as a person helps to kick-start the same process for several others.
Now, I’ll insert a warning here: spoilers ahead. Normally I refuse to write about anything past, oh, the halfway point of the book or so. If you want to go read this from a fresh standpoint, you can pick it up for free on Amazon or free at Project Gutenberg.
Again: spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know how it ends, stop reading.
Alright, I’ll go on.
As I got to the end of the book, I was starting to get suspicious – nothing can be this happy, this perfect and pure, can it? Everything is going too well. Good things just don’t happen.
But sometimes they do.
Sometimes you get the perfect happy ending, where everything goes just right. Nobody has to die, and everyone can be happy and healthy and alive.
And I think that’s the sort of thing we need to remember, in the wake of a tragedy like Orlando. Even if it sometimes seems like nothing good ever happens, that nothing gold can stay, that’s just not true. There are so many good people in the world. So many good things.
It’s important to keep that in mind. So if you, like me, need something good and pure and happy to remind you of that, then I absolutely recommend this book. Like I said above, you can pick it up for free on Amazon or Project Gutenberg.
Go do something joyful. Remember that there’s good in the world.
- When I got my first Kindle, in fact. It’s been sitting in my “list of things to read” for a long time. ↩
- The review of that one will be posted in a couple weeks; I’m bumping this one ahead of schedule for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. ↩
- It’s the first time this summer that I’ve felt truly homesick – I’m 2,000 miles from home, and while most of the time I’ve been fine, this is the sort of situation where you want to be surrounded by loved ones. ↩
The worst of it, which I feel a morbid need to share, is a Facebook post that made the rounds (in screenshot form), originally posted by someone named Andy Carvin:
> RE: the Orlando shooting, CNN just described something I’ve never thought of – as investigators are inside the nightclub, where many of the bodies are still where they fell, they have to tune out the nightmarish sound of all of the deceased phones’ ringing constantly as loved ones try to reach them. #shudder ↩
- It lives at the end of the list; hard-coded. ↩
- My original ‘social media post’ title for this was “The Secret Garden,” or, “you know there are objectives other than ‘queer,’ right?”, but once I’d gotten into the swing of writing it didn’t seem quite right. ↩
- Normally dying in a sad way can erase some of that blame, but “you, servant-woman, make sure I never see this child” is a whole new level of awful parenting. ↩
- As John Oliver called it, ‘the country formerly known as “Great Britain’s spice rack.”’ ↩
- He makes two appearances throughout the book; I’m forced to assume that part of being wealthy in Britain is having the portion of your brain that knows how to deal with children be forcibly removed. ↩