Goodreads: The Secret Garden: The Graphic Novel
Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.
Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family—whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumors of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night.
As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions—a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals—she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil.
The Secret Garden: The Graphic Novel is a cute retelling of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original novel. After excising Mary’s time in India (alluded to only vaguely in flashbacks), the book presents a straightforward, if streamlined account of the events of the novel. Fans of the original will likely enjoy this adaptation for its sweet illustrations and clear love for the story, while readers new to the tale might just find themselves also falling for the story, as generations of readers have done before.
Adaptations of beloved works can be tricky. How can one stay true to the spirit of the source material, while also creating something new? The most obvious way in which this adaptation strays from its source material is the decision to exclude Mary’s time in India. The end notes explain that this is because the book does not have the space to deal with the complexities of British colonial rule. While this makes sense, it may also leave some readers disappointed. Deciding to essentially ignore the colonial aspects of the original book means readers lose out on an opportunity to put Burnett’s story in context. Simply deleting Mary’s time in India is probably the easiest way to deal with material readers now find offensive. But it may not be the most meaningful way to grapple with that material and its effects. The Secret Garden continues to be well-read and well-loved, and this is a missed opportunity to challenge readers to see beyond the perspective Burnett provides.
Though this is clearly a secondary issue, starting the story with Mary’s arrival at the manor also somewhat damages the narrative structure of the story. It leaves out much of the sadness of her simultaneously spoiled and neglected childhood, making her disagreeable nature less prevalent and her character arc less defined. Indeed, had Mary not told readers outright that people do not like her, they would probably never know it. She seems pretty much like any child would who arrived at a new place–slightly confused, but eager to explore. She does not put up much of a fuss about learning to do things for herself or having to go outside and get messy and entertain herself. Instead, the illustrations depict her often secretly smiling to herself. Honestly, the Mary of this book is quite nice, and only a few vague flashbacks alluding to her parents’ deaths even threaten to cast a shadow over this tale.
The story is relatively streamlined, with Mary almost immediately finding the key and the door to the garden. She befriends Colin with ease, and his struggle to learn to walk and to live forever and ever and ever are is only hastily covered. Actually, no one ever mentions that Colin cannot walk, or that he would like to. He is usually being wheeled about a chair, until, one day, he is not. The sadness of Colin’s life, as well as his and Mary’s struggle to free him from his confinement, are glossed over just like the sadness of Mary’s life. The book is far more interested in showing the magic of the garden to bring family together than it is in exploring the darkness in Burnett’s original story.
I suspect, however, that many readers will not mind the book bringing the happy moments to the forefront. Even without the sadness, the story in the graphic novel adaptation feels rewarding. It is nice to see Mary discover a garden and to want to make things grow. The magic of nature remains. And that, I suppose, may be enough to satisfy many a reader.