Category Archives: Classics

The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis, 1956

This one also posted only on my old self-hosted site. I had to include it here to complete the set!

the last battleI’m always a little sad when I reach the end of a great series, no matter how many times I read it. Narnia is no exception. And The Last Battle certainly wraps up the series. It is the end of Narnia, the destruction of Narnia, the end of time.

I’ve read this so many time, yet I completely missed the parallels to Revelation. You’ve probably heard of the Anitchrist and his false prophet. Well, they’re in there in the form of an evil monkey and a fake Aslan. There’s a mixing of gods, and all religions are considered the same. I don’t know how I never saw it before. The Narnians have to choose up sides. Are the with the king and with Aslan? Or do they fear the false Aslan too much to join the small loyal band? Or have they stopped believing altogether? After all, Aslan hasn’t been heard from in person for a thousand years. Who can tell if the old stories are really true? This one is all about faith and End Time prophecy.

I have heard some complaints that this series is nothing but Christian propaganda. It is certainly true that it contains biblical parallels, sometimes even outright statements. For instance, Lucy says during a conversation about the magical interior of a stable, “In our world, too, a Stable once contained something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” So if you aren’t of the Christian faith, I can understand the complaint. (I feel the same way about The Golden Compass and its atheistic propaganda.) Yet Narnia contains so many adventures, so much magic, so much wonder that it is widely regarded as a classic. It’s just plain good story-telling.

The Last Battle is not my favorite book in the series. I hate that Narnia ends (though in a sense it lives on—you’ll have to read it). I don’t enjoy the hopeless, faithless tone. I’d prefer, like Lucy, a perfect Narnia that went on and on unendingly. It also has some weirdness in it very much like Revelation that is hard to wrap my mind around. Yet I enjoy how the children come out of the past to help the final king in his struggle. I like the deep friendship between the king and Jewel the unicorn. And I like how we meet all the friends of Narnia from our world one final time. It’s the back cover, the last bookend, the satisfactory ending to a phenomenal series. And like the entire series, it’s highly recommended.

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis, 1954

the horse and his boyOnce again I’ve been delighted by my journey through Narnia with my son. Like all the others, we finished The Horse and His Boy in a week because neither of us wanted to put it down. (Though not moving on to math had something to do with it, too, I’m sure.)

Though late in the series, this book jumps back in time and takes place during the rein of the four Pevensie children. Lewis begins his story far south of Narnia, in the savage land of Calormen where a young orphan boy (Shasta) who is about to be sold into slavery meets a talking horse (Bree) and together they decide to make an escape to freedom in Narnia via its friendly neighbor, Archenland. They meet up with a young Calormene girl (Aravis), who is fleeing a forced marriage, and her talking horse (Hwin). During the course of their escape, they mix in with the Narnian court’s unpleasant visit to Calormen and discover a Calormene plot to overthrow Archenland. These elements give the plot a boost, but it’s the mix of characters that makes this one fun.

Shasta is actually a white-skinned child, which marks him as a northerner and not a Calormene native at all. But Shasta has grown up poor and ignorant and does not realize this. Bree, however, a noble war horse who’d been kidnapped out of the north as a foal and seen much of the southern world, does know it. Where Shasta is quiet, meek, and unassuming, Bree is an excellent leader. Their escape across the dessert is successful in large part because of his strength and courage. He does tend to be prideful, however. So does Aravis, who is giving up a good deal of wealth. It’s particularly tough on her when she has to sneak through the great city of Tashbaan, knowing full well she should be carried in on the backs of slaves. Hwin, the mare, is also quiet and meek, but wise.

Though Hwin and Bree were born in Narnia, none of them the four knows quite what to expect upon reaching their destination. And their first meeting with Aslan proves life-changing. It is these deep moments with the great cat, the Narnian diety, that are always the best. My favorite scene in this book is when Shasta crosses the pass between Narnia and Archenland in fog and darkness with something padding along beside him. When Shasta finally finds the courage to speak, he mourns that he’s the unluckiest boy ever. When asked, he then recites a list of all the terrible things that had befallen him on his adventure. The Lion, still unseen by Shasta, replies with quite a different perspective:

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

All this time, unknown to Shasta, Aslan had been guarding his footsteps. It reminds me a bit of the poem, Footprints in the Sand. And when Shasta recrosses the pass in daylight the next day and sees the narrow path and steep drop-offs he navigated in the night, he realized that even as he and Aslan spoke, the lion had been protecting him from danger. *Shivers!*

The Horse and His Boy is another fabulous adventure with strong undertones of faith and love. It’s one of my favorites. I highly, highly recommend the entire series.

The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia), 1955

I published this post on my self-hosted blog last spring. Since the first five Narnia books are on this blog, I wanted to put this one here, too.

the magician's nephewI’m nearly done working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia with my son. This is the sixth and second-to-last book in the series. Oddly enough, it tells of Narnia’s beginnings. Yes, for this one we jump back about two generations before the Pevensie children were born. At this time there lived in London a boy named Digory and his neighbor, Polly. Digory’s mother is deathly ill, so they came to live with his aunt and uncle. Uncle Andrew, unfortunately, was a horrible man—arrogant, selfish, and cruel. He had absolutely no business dabbling in magic.

Digory and Polly soon find themselves in the dying world of Charn, where Digory disturbs a great evil and awakens a sorceress. Later, when the children find themselves in the brand new world of Narnia, during that splendid first morning when Aslan sings the land and creatures awake, they bring the witch with them. It is a Genesis story. An Eden, complete perfection sullied by mankind’s error. But Aslan promises to bear the worst of the cost on himself.

As always, Aslan’s presence is rich and beautiful. He works a protection over all of Narnia that will last for many hundreds of years—accomplished through the hands of man. He is the lordly, noble hero of the series, but not all admire him. He terrifies Uncle Diggory.

“He has made himself unable to hear my voice,” Aslan tells the children. “If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves from all that might do you good!”

Yet for others, for the London cabbie and his wife (and their horse), who entered Narnia accidentally, and for the two children, their lives are forever changed by their encounter with the Lion and his beautiful land. Though Digory and Polly must return to our world (they do appear in other books, but I won’t spoil that surprise), the cabbie and his wife become the first great King and Queen and the ancestors of all humans in Narnia. We’re even treated to the story behind the lamp-post in Lantern Waste.

All in all, The Magician’s Nephew is another great adventure and a necessary precursor to books one through five. Here we find the beginning of the threads that will tie up the entire series in a neat package in the next and final book.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, book three), by C.S. Lewis, 1952

dawn treaderMMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger

Lewis does a great job creating different adventures within the Narnian series. Of all the installments, books one and two are probably the most alike. After that, characters begin to shift, settings change, and the plots vary widely. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, only the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy and Edmund, make it back to the magical land. They reunite with Prince Caspian and bring with them their reluctant (and beastly) cousin, Eustace. And in this adventure, they embark on a voyage to the Very End of the World in the utter East.

Eustace, in my opinion, becomes the central character in this book, because he is the one who undergoes an astounding change. The others have already been proven worthy of their nobility in adventures past, but Eustace comes in a selfish, spoilt brat. When he wanders off from the others on one of the many islands they visit, he stumbles onto a dying dragon and shelters in its lair. Then follows the most symbolic event of the book: “Sleeping in a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” It is only after Aslan cuts him free of his dragon skin that his personality begins to change for the better. It is something he could not accomplish without divine help.

As in the rest of the series, Christian allegory abounds. In fact, when Lucy and Edmund learn they are not to return to Narnia, they mourn that they will never see Aslan again. He assures them they will. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you will know me better there.” One of my favorite things about the series is digging out these hidden meanings. And I love that these beloved characters pass on lessons of faith to my kids.

Yet the voyage is riveting enough to please any kid. Who wouldn’t want to set of on an old-fashioned sailing ship to explore uncharted waters? The children have all sorts of adventures. They’re sold as slaves, meet invisible adversaries, narrowly escape death in a pool that changes everything to gold. They meet former stars (as in heavenly bodies) in human form and solve a seven-year mystery. And at the very end, valiant Reepicheep, my favorite character, sails over the edge of the world just after they catch a glimpse of Aslan’s country beyond.

Interestingly enough, I liked the movie even better than the book. That doesn’t happen often. The writers stayed very true to the spirit of the book, and while the written version lags just a bit in the final chapters, the movie does not. But on the whole, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader holds its own in the  Narnian series. I highly recommend it.

Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, book two), by C.S. Lewis, 1951, Book Review

prince caspian

In this second Narnian installment, the four Pevensie children return to the magical land they once ruled, called back by Queen Susan’s horn. They land at the ruins of Cair Paravel just in time to free the Old Narnians from the evil, usurping King Miraz and put the rightful heir on the throne. For though Prince Caspian is the descendent of the conquering Telmarines, he wishes to make the land safe once more for Narnia’s magical talking natives. It is the beasts remember that “Narnia was never right except when a Son of Adam was king.”

Prince Caspian has a whole new plotline and a whole new set of wonderful characters (like the vastly endearing Reepicheep), but my favorite thing about it is the nostalgia and wonder Prince Caspian exemplifies when he hears the stories of Old Narnia. It’s the same feeling I get when I return with the Pevensies centuries after their rule. For I, as a reader, remember how good Narnia once was, so I can understand even more than Caspian how tragic the Telmarine takeover was. The heroes and heroines have a reader’s complete support as they, with the help of the good and awe-inspiring Aslan, strive to return Narnia to its rightful state.

Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this one also has many Christian parallels. For example, there are those who believe in the old stories and those who have lost their faith. There are those hostile to the old stories who would persecute those who believe and rewrite history to match their own way of thinking. And conversations with Aslan always have a particular depth of meaning. Consider when Lucy first meets Aslan again:

“Aslan,” Lucy said, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

I enjoy rooting out those elements and understanding the author’s hidden meanings. Oddly enough, Lewis also includes “non-Christian” elements in his stories—like Bacchus, other creatures from pagan mythology, and a favorable view of astrology as studied by the centaurs—which I believe give it a greater depth. I, for one, am glad he didn’t feel bound to the limits others may have imposed. This is, after all, magical fiction, not a Bible story.

Unfortunately, the plotline has been thoroughly massacred by the recent movie. In an effort to make it more complex, a good many events are added to the story, Caspian and Peter bicker like little kids, and the kids have to go searching for Aslan, who is taken out until the very end, giving it a bleak, hopeless feel as the children strive to win a war without him. It raises the stakes, I guess, but I much prefer the book. The movie does, however, have some brilliant special effects. I particularly like when the river god rips out the bridge at the Ford of Beruna. The producers also do a very good job giving the Telmarines a distinctively foreign look, sound, and culture. The costuming is also very well done. But I’d recommend the book over the movie any day. It’s a particularly strong second episode in a whole series of good children’s fiction. Highly, highly recommended for ages 9+.

My other reviews:prince caspian wallpaper

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, book one), by C.S. Lewis, 1950

lion witch wardrobe

This spring I’m making my, golly, eighth or ninth journey through Narnia, but this time I’m taking along my son. We’re going to end the homeschool year by reading the entire series. He’s watched the movie before, but he’d never experienced the written version. It was a hit. We finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in five big gulps because neither of us wanted to stick to the allotted time frame. I have to say, there is a depth and a beauty in the prose that the movie just can’t capture.

This classic is so well known I hardly feel a plot summary is necessary, but I’ll write one anyway. The four Pevensie siblings, Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, have been sent to the countryside to avoid the bombing of London during WWII and land in a huge old home owned by a peculiar old professor. There they find within a wardrobe a magical world that is being held captive by an evil witch. The whole land awaits the coming of two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, as spoken in prophecy, and the great lion, Aslan, who will free them from the witch’s rule. But Edward betrays the others, and the Deep Magic written into Narnia at the beginning of time requires a traitor’s blood. Aslan must make the ultimate sacrifice to save him and save Narnia.

As a child, I loved the fairy tale elements of this story: the talking animals, the children who rule as kings and queens, the medieval quality, the mythical creatures, the great lovable lion. But as I grew, I discovered layer upon layer of richness within its pages. Humans are set up as good rulers over animals and nature; evil choices demand a high cost; forgiveness is granted even at great personal expense; good and evil are constantly at war; and my favorite, we are given a beautiful picture of a fierce, just, loving, involved, good, and untame deity—Aslan, son of the Emperor over the Sea. It doesn’t take a genius to see all that these elements have Christian parallels. Lewis’ story really isn’t all that original after all; he tells the same one set forth in the Bible. He was, after all, one of the greatest theologians of modern times. I’m not typically a fan of allegory, but this story is so strong, so beautiful, so engaging that I love it anyway. In this case, perhaps I even love it more because of it.

It seems I find something new every time I read it. This time I noticed that when the Professor argues logic to determine if Lucy is telling the truth, he uses almost word for word the arguments Lewis uses about Christ: “There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

But whether you’re a Christian or not, this tale is magical and timeless, as are all the stories of Narnia. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I’m so excited to be making the trip yet again—and taking one of my favorite people with me. Watch for my reviews.

  • Prince Caspian
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Horse and his Boy
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Last Battle


Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, 1862, Book Review

les-miserablesThis is not a book for the faint of heart. It took me scores of hours to read it, and that was with a good deal of skimming. Mr. Hugo has the old-fashioned habit of rabbit-trailing—often for five or six chapters at a time. As soon as he left the storyline, I started clicking my Kindle with the briefest scan of a page. He does a lot of name dropping, a good deal of drifting into politics and histories (particularly French history that I’m not well-versed in), and his commentary on related subjects stretches long. For example, when Jean Valjean must hide in a convent, we get several chapters on the pros, cons, and extensive history of convents. Skip, skip, skip.

The delivery of the main storyline is scattershot, as well. Jean Valjean is our main character, a convict. We don’t meet him, however, until we complete an entire volume written about the priest who serves to change the course of Jean’s life. As a changed man, albeit one hiding from the law under an assumed name, Jean takes up an honest trade, becomes quite wealthy, does good to the poor, and comes in contact with Fantine. Another entire volume is written about this particular woman, who represents the suffering of all women under an unjust and uncaring society. She is a discarded prostitute forced to leave her daughter under the care a cruel family and eventually dies of wretchedness. Jean learns of the woman’s misery and sets out to save the daughter. The remainder of the story revolves around his selfless acts on the daughter’s behalf, despite evil forces that seek to destroy them, and the love that springs up between them (interspersed, of course, among two more volumes about other characters that seem unrelated until they cross paths with Jean). Jean is a good man, a self-sacrificing man, a martyr, a Christ figure.

However long, sidewinding, piecemeal, and—did I say long?—the story may be, the meat of it has been enduring. It makes a number of social statements, foremost, that an unjust and uncaring society causes suffering. Who are “Les Miserables?” All mankind. “Misery has been the garment of the human race,” the author explains in an afterward. The state of women and children (represented by Fantine and by various Parisan street urchins), the protection or lack of protection given to them, is the indicator of a civilization. And society comes up short. Poverty, starvation, and the neglect of children… Monarchies that are oppressive and self-indulgent at the expense of the populace… There is a great deal said about the need for social reforms, such as free and compulsory education which we now take for granted. But the book also draws hope from the promise of heaven, when all will be corrected. Victor Hugo relates some very strong Christian convictions. God, he says at one point, is the main character in his book. Man is the second. Grace and forgiveness are upheld against the strict rule of law.

The storyline of Les Miserables, when you can uncover it, is very powerful. The book gives a unique look at the strengths and weaknesses of nineteen century society. It also takes a hard look at the evil and nobility of mankind. It is well worth reading, and I am very curious to see a modern adaption (movie or stage performance). But I think, for modern readers, an abridged version of the novel might be much easier to digest. I’d give this one a high school age recommendation.

The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald, 1883, Book Review

MMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger. (Finally! A meme that fits perfectly with my content!)

princess and curdie

If you have never read The Princess and the Goblin, I’d recommend starting with my review of that book. This is the sequel, and nearly as good as the first.

George MacDonald wrote in the Victorian era, when books created specifically for children were a new phenomenon. Most sought to dictate morality to children. Lewis Carroll, however, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a friend and contemporary of MacDonald, is credited with writing for pure entertainment. MacDonald beautifully combines fun and morality, rather like C.S. Lewis does in Narnia. (In fact, Lewis cites MacDonald as a powerful influence.) The result is rich storytelling complete with moral fiber, a combination I love.

After his adventures rescuing Princess Irene from the goblins and gaining the trust of the king in book one, Curdie returns to being a silver miner with his father. But after a year or two, his parents notice he is less and less the son they hoped for. “As he grew…he was getting rather stupid…he believed less and less in things he had never seen.” Not long after, he has his own encounter with Irene’s Great-Great-Grandmother, a magical, fairy godmother-type figure representative of God. She assigns him the task of overthrowing the evil plot to dethrone the good king. To do so, he is given the magical ability to discern a man’s true nature. Curdie comes away from the encounter a changed man and displays great strength of character as he carries out his duties.

This book draws very clear distinctions between good and evil, selfishness and selflessness, right and wrong, truth and lies. It celebrates honor, friendship, loyalty, and the fortitude to do what’s right despite what others may say. It also explores trust, judgment, rewards, and true beauty. It never becomes preachy, as so many Victorian stories are, but there are elements of faith beneath the surface of the plot, much like in Narnia.

I did like The Princess and the Goblin a bit better. That story better disguises the moral points MacDonald is trying to impart. The first half of this book deals primarily with Curdie and his development. It doesn’t drag, really, but I was eager to see the princess again. She doesn’t enter the story until the second half, when Curdie’s quest gets rolling. But I really liked the new character of Lina. And I always enjoy MacDonald’s ability to paint settings and personalities so clearly. It has the same fairy tale feel of book one that young children can relate to so well. Though it is somewhat antiquated, the language is still easy enough for them to understand. I would recommend it as a read-aloud, however. A free Kindle version is available on Amazon.

Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1818, Book Review

I’m not a fan of horror, but the first time I read Frankenstein, it left me, well, horrified, but in pleasant sort of way. It was such a tragedy. I felt such sympathy and revulsion for both Victor and his monster. I was astonished at the monster’s feelings. Who would ever consider his point of view? Yet the way the book played out was just so sad.

Frankenstein is considered classic literature, one of the very first works of science fiction. I believe it’s also the oldest book I’ve ever attempted to review. It’s been recreated so often (and probably read so little) in the past century that an original plot summary may be in order, which I’ll provide momentarily. Since I reread it in conjunction with Kenneth Oppel’s The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein new YA series, I’ll also discuss the two works in relation to each other.

Victor Frankenstein was a lively teen from a well-to-do family in Geneva, Switzerland. He was self-taught in the sciences with books from old alchemists, which he devoured with a passion. When he left for the university in Ingolstadt, however, he began to understand the superiority of modern science and he applied himself fully. He had a talent for it and soon discovered a way to bring life to non-living matter. So he created a being from bits and pieces of dead people and brought it to life—and was immediately horrified by what he’d done. As a result of his horror, he fell into a months-long madness/illness.

Victor finally returned to his family two years later, after word reached him that his youngest brother had been murdered. On wandering the scene of the crime, he caught a glimpse of the monster and knew it was guilty. So he felt enormous responsibility for the murder and for the resulting hanging of the innocent friend accused of the crime.

The monster approached Victor sometime later with its tale of woe. It was a lengthy tale, detailing its gradual, unguided learning of its own senses, its own needs, of its learning language, of a yearning for companionship and compassion, and of the horrible mistreatment at the hands of humans. It then gave Victor an ultimatum: make a female companion for it or it would do its utmost to make Victor miserable. In the end, Victor refused, and the monster began killing off Victor’s loved ones.

I thought I’d also include the origin of the story, as I found it very interesting. This comes from the author in the preface of the novel: “I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination unbidden, possessed and guided me. I saw with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, – the pale student of unhallowed arts standing before the thing he had put together, I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion… frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror stricken…. He (the artist) sleeps but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”

Frankenstein is written in an antiquated style. It’s quite wordy, for one thing. Sentence structure is long and complicated. The tale of the monster’s suffering is a monologue consisting of six entire chapters! The style is also very sentimental, with a good deal of over-dramatic emotion. It also contains more than a little commentary by the author, such as, “How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge.” It required some skimming on my part. But the story is original, and I had a good handle on several main characters. It’s also appropriate to its time period, cautioning man against going too far with his rapid rise of knowledge during the Industrial Revolution. In fact, it’s a little like stepping back in time, to a Victorian culture and the early days of modern scientific discovery. Most importantly, however, is the way the story resonates in the reader, the way it lingers. I truly couldn’t get over this one the first time I read it.

The new YA series by Mr. Oppel, on the other hand, is written in a modern, fast-paced, streamlined style. The way he develops the three main characters and breaths such life into them makes the original all the more tragic. I quickly found the origins for Mr. Oppel’s prequel story ideas. In chapter two of Mary Shelley’s novel, three of the young Victor’s interests are briefly mentioned. These include alchemy, which is the basis for book one; the “raising of ghosts or devils,” mentioned only in that phrase yet comprising the entirety of book two; and electricity, which I predict will be the basis for book three. It’s often how adapted works bring the monster to life, though the original novel is vague on Victor’s means. Mr Oppel’s series, however, in contrast to Shelley’s novel, lacks the originality and deep emotion, the shock and sadness, that makes the original so memorable.

I think the new series compliments the original very well, though my individual reviews do caution parents and readers on a few elements, especially book two. But I, like always, also think the original is worth reading. Probably more so. Because of the nature of the book and the challenges arising from its antiquity, I’d say this is a high school read. 14+.

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein:
Book one: This Dark Endeavor
Book two: Such Wicked Intent

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911, Book Review

This is an oldie but goodie. Within, young Mary Lennox has been raised in India, but her socialite parents had little to do with her. When they die in a cholera epidemic, she’s sent to live with her uncle in England. Unfortunately, Mary has become a sickly, ugly, and a nasty little tyrant. And misfortune upon misfortune, her uncle—a man with his own heart-wrenching troubles—also wants nothing to do with her.

So she comes to live in Misselthwaite Manor, “a home with a hundred rooms, nearly all shut up and with their doors locked…a house at the edge of a moor.” It’s an intriguing setting. At first it seems dark and forbidding, with always rain and gloom. But as spring returns to the moor and Mary ventures outdoors, she discovers unexpected beauty. She also meets some wonderfully kindhearted Yorkshire people—the maid, Martha, and her younger brother, Dickon—who influence her for the better. Slowly, she becomes less horrible.

The two discoveries, however, that most influence her change of heart are a secret garden that hasn’t been opened since the mistress of the manor died ten years before and the baby whose birth killed her, now ten years old, unwell, and even more tyrannical than Mary. Colin Craven has been told he was crooked and ill from earliest childhood and grown to believe it. He’s been ignored by his father who couldn’t bear the pain of looking at him, and he’s been obeyed unquestioningly by the servants. But in Mary, he meets his match. Their childish tantrum are quite hilarious, even though you’d like to smack them both.

But it is the secret garden, the mysterious, locked garden, that becomes the most influential character in the book. The wonders of blue sky, crisp air, and shoots of green hold magic for a child always sickly and languid in the tropics and another who never before left his stone-walled room. The transformations it causes, both physically and emotionally, are remarkable and complete.

It is the setting and characters which drive this book. The classic old, dark British manor house is mysterious and stereotypical, but it’s also full of wonder. And even though Mary is a beastly little thing, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for her. “Other children seemed to belong to their father and mother, but she had never seemed to really be anyone’s little girl.” I felt equal pity for Colin. And it helps that both children have the fortitude and willingness to change. Dickon, the Yorkshire country boy, is quite unrealistic. He’s always smiling, agreeable, gentle, and surrounded by wild things that trust him, but the book rather needed a cheery chap to counteract the two tyrants.

The plot is just a bit dull by today’s standards. Not much happens outside the discovery of the garden, the working of the garden, and the transformation of the children, which also strikes the modern reader as a bit unrealistic. Back in that day, when there were no malls, no internet, no video games or movies, watching and helping a garden bloom might have held more wonder and entertainment. Today it seems a bit unexciting. However, gardening does still hold an allure for some kids. My son, since he was three, has been helping me plant and harvest in my own backyard patch. Two of my kids love to grow pumpkins to sell every year. And each spring, lessons about seeds, flowers, plants, etc. blossom in schools across the country. This book is still relevant. The adventure is simply gentler, and the writing older, sweeter, and more quaint. But it is extremely readable, and the interaction between characters is entertaining.

I’d recommend The Secret Garden for seven- to eleven-year-olds—particularly in the spring—but kids beneath a fourth or fifth grade reading level might need some assistance. It would make a very nice read aloud.  It’s also free in the Kindle store.