Tuesday, August 9, 2011

destroying childhood, one book at a time

My favorite book in the whole wide world is “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  This book is one of my stronger compulsions – when I see it, I simply must get a copy.  Logically I know I have copies at home.  From the dog-chewed copy that is missing a few pages that was my first-ever “big” book to the pristine paperback with the artistic cover (read once, because in addition to having the book, I must read it within a few days of purchase) to the newest find… an illustrated copy picked up for $1 at Wal-Mart.

I didn’t read the cover closely when I plucked this latest volume from the display.  I saw “The Secret Garden” and that was enough.  This morning, as I tried to fall asleep, I decided to read this newest copy.  Noting that the cover had a tiny notation “Fully illustrated and adapted,” I curled up under my cozy blanket and eagerly opened the text.

The editors thoughtfully include a foreword:

A note to the reader—

A classic story rests in your hands.  The characters are famous.  The tale is timeless.

This Junior Classic edition of The Secret Garden has been carefully condensed and adapted from the original version (which you really must read when you’re ready for every detail).  We kept the well-known phrases for you. We kept Frances Hodgson Burnett’s style.  And we kept the important imagery and the heart of the tale.

Literature is terrific fun! It encourages you to think.  It helps you dream.  It is full of heroes and villains, suspense and humor, adventure and wonder, and new ideas.  It introduces you to writers who reach out across time to say: “Do you want to hear a story I wrote?”

Curl up and enjoy.


And two minutes later I forced my eyebrows down from the raised position to which they’d slowly crept and muttered viciously enough to startle the sleeping Chihuahua at my side, “What the HELL is this?”

Whatever this book is, it is NOT “The Secret Garden.”  Oh, the characters have the same names.  The young girl was born in India.  Her parents and her Ayah died of cholera and she was sent to live with her uncle.  She found her cousin and befriended a village boy and a robin and a gardener.  They all end up inside the garden.  The boy recovers from his pseudo-illness.  The rich kids get over being spoilt little brats.  The bare bones of the story, I suppose, are given at least lip-service.

But, in shaving off those 90 pages (yes, ONLY 90 pages, from a whopping long read of 276 pages in original form), the entire book is lost.  No more does Mary grind her teeth and mutter about calling her Ayah “Pig. Pig. Daughter of Pigs!”  No more are her mothers’ gowns described as “full of lace” – no, now they are “lacy” – only saving a measly six characters while changing the entire meaning of the phrase.  Mary is no longer making a pretend garden, she is simply “playing on the veranda” when her tendency to create little imaginary gardens is one of the major themes of the entire work!

Come on!  The book is called “The Secret Garden” isn’t that enough to make gardening references important enough to keep intact?  Even the scene where the nursery rhyme “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary” is introduced has been chopped into meaninglessness.  No longer is Mary cast as the isolation-loving villainess who spurned the ideas of the other children who were trying to be civil.  Instead she is just “playing at making a garden” when one of the children decides, apparently out of the blue, to taunt her with the namesake verses.

All of the life has been unceremoniously sucked from this edition.  If this is being “carefully condensed and adapted” and in keeping with the authors “style… important imagery and the heart of the tale” then the editors must think the heart of this tale is a shriveled peach pit.

I love this book.  Mainly because it was the first book I ever encountered that made me see how much depth could be found within a text.  To this day, when I re-read a copy (or read a new copy) I am struck by the layers upon layers that can be unraveled.  I like to think that there are young people out there today who are as ready to receive good Literature, as hungry for it as I was back then, who would eagerly devour “The Secret Garden” and learn to cherish it layer by layer.

Unfortunately, many of them will instead encounter this tepid, lifeless husk and wonder, just as I did, “What the HELL is this?”

And don’t even get me started on how they completely eliminated any reference to the servants being “Natives” of India.

I need to go to a bookstore.


obsessive compulsive dawn said...

Was this abomination a shiny hardcover about the size of a trade paperback? If so, yes, those are the devil. My Mema unknowingly bought me a couple from our Wal-Mart (waaay before a supercenter was thought of in our town) when I was little. We both facepalmed. I think those should be banned. I mean, really is it so unthinkable that a child would read a whole book? aarrrgrh!

Brodie said...

Anna this is a complete joy to read! I was reading this in class and you totally made my day! "What the HELL is this?" Simply a great read from an amazing author! Thanks for making me smile!