Well, what do you know. I actually made it to my classics challenge this year! I know that I wouldn’t be able to read another Austen before 2011 ends, nor even try to read another long classic (Little Women, I’m looking at you) with all the other books I want to read, so I settled for an author that I have known and trusted since I was a kid: Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Kindle edition, 164 pages
Young Cedric Errol lives in poverty in New York with his mother. On the death of his English father — disinherited for marrying an American — Cedric is summoned to the family castle by his grandfather. There the crotchety Earl plans to transform the boy into a docile, traditional lordling.
But Little Lord Fauntleroy does the converting. Through his goodness and innocence, he wins the hearts of his English relatives, who welcome his mother warmly.
Would you believe that I have never heard of Little Lord Fauntleroy until this year? When I was a kid, I only knew of little Cedric “Ceddie” Errol through this morning cartoon that I watch during summer vacation, same as where I first found out who Sara Crewe was. Ceddie is a little boy who lives with his mom and dad in New York. His dad passed away, and shortly after, they found out that Ceddie was actually the next in line as the Earl of Dorincourt in England, and so he and his mom goes to England. Despite this good fortune, Ceddie’s grandfather, the current Earl, is angry at the Ceddie’s mother because he thought of her as a commoner and he forbade her to see Ceddie, hoping the little boy will forget his mom. The Earl had a bad reputation because of his attitude, but Ceddie wins him over and eventually makes him accept his mother as a part of the family.
The cartoon I remember was pretty accurate to the book, except maybe that the Earl was more obstinate and harder to like in the cartoon. I also thought the cartoon Ceddie looked a little bit too feminine, and there was that entire flute playing thing that was definitely not in the book. However, as I was reading the book, I realized that the Ceddie in the book was more adorable than the one in the cartoon. Perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since I last watched it, but I thought the Little Lord Fauntleroy in the book was more charming than the one I remember. The little boy is the kind that I think everyone dreams of meeting — you know, that perfect little kid who has a heart of gold, one who can melt even the hardest of hearts.
Reading Little Lord Fauntleroy was a treat because of the main character. In a way, it reminded me a lot of A Little Princess because of the the similarities between the two of them, even if I still think Sara had it harder than Ceddie. Even if it seems almost entirely impossible to know someone who could be as nice and as good-hearted as Ceddie was, somehow, this book made me wish that there are still good hearts like that out there, someone whose kindness knows no bound and is determined to see the good in everything and everyone.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Kindle edition, 330 pages
What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too.
But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.
Here’s another book that I also watched as a cartoon when I was younger, although I think I read this one first before I watched it. However, for the life of me, I cannot remember the details of this book anymore. I just know there was Mary, and there was Dickon the outdoor boy, and Colin, the invalid cousin. I cannot remember the tiny details even if I know I have watched the movie several times (the image of Mary’s hand extending out of the ivy curtain from the door of the secret garden beckoning someone to come in is still clear in my mind). If in A Little Princess and in Little Lord Fauntleroy, the author’s main characters were easy to love characters, The Secret Garden takes a different turn by introducing Mary Lennox also known as “Mistress Mary quite contrary”. Mary is a spoiled and neglected kid from India who grew up with her mom’s servants answering every beck and call. A cholera outbreak left the little girl orphaned, and she was adopted by an equally distant uncle to live in Misselthwaite Manor, instructed to keep out of locked rooms and not be a bother. But when Mary discovers a secret garden locked for the past decade within the manor grounds and decided to take care of it, she finds herself changing from the spoiled kid to someone more likeable. As Mary was going through the changes, she discovers her sickly cousin Colin who believes that he will die soon of some kind of disease. Mary shares her secret with Colin — but will the garden’s magic have an effect on someone who’s so convinced that he will no longer see tomorrow?
The Secret Garden was refreshing from all the Frances Hodgson Burnett books I’ve read because Mary Lennox wasn’t an easy character to like. She was spoiled, stubborn and was used to having her own way. I remember the cartoon showing Mary was a pretty nice girl but the people in the Manor — particularly Mrs. Medlock — were too strict, but reading the book told me otherwise. There really wasn’t anything likeable about her, up until she changes because of the garden and even then, she still had those little quirks that could be annoying.
But the interesting thing here was when Mary found herself meeting a boy who was even more spoiled than she was, and one who suffers a very bleak mindset. It was interesting to see how Mary challenges the way Colin thinks by just being her spoiled, stubborn self. The scene where Mary dealt with Colin’s tantrums was one of my favorites, because Mary stayed true to her character up until the end — I find myself thinking like one of the servants in the Manor thinking “How brave of her to do something like that!” Colin was really a piece of work, and I found myself taking even a longer time to warm up to him even if I knew he gets to be a better person in the end. On the other side of the spectrum is Dickon, the boy from the moor and the animal charmer. I remember his playful character in the cartoon, but I think the book version was less mischievous but equally charming, especially with all the animals he brings around. Dickon provides a good balance between Mary and Colin, and I had to admit I was very excited for his first appearance in the book as I was reading it!
While the two other Frances Hodgson Burnett novels I’ve read dealt with how a kind heart can weather any storm or soften any heart, The Secret Garden was kind of the reverse. This book showed how beauty and nature can revive a tired and hopeless spirit, how the “Magic” in everyday things can change even the sourest and saddest people into living. It’s easy to see why this book became so timeless: at some point, we’ve all hoped to find an old key that leads to a secret garden where we can find solace, to watch beauty unfurl and to be a part of magic of nature.
Of all her novels I’ve read, I find The Secret Garden as the most realistic but also the most whimsical. While my favorite is still A Little Princess, I think The Secret Garden is the type of book that would be a good companion for anyone who’s recovering from any kind of heartache or sadness. After all, we can all use a little bit of Magic in our lives. :)
Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.
“Where, you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.” (p. 289)
Little Lord Fauntleroy –
The Secret Garden –
taking a break – The Secret Garden