The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett — what a wonder! I revisited this lovely story recently and was struck once gain by its soul-satisfying structure. First published in 1911, in the past 100 years, it has never been out of print. Scan any list of the best 100 books for children, and you’ll always find The Secret Garden.
Why has this book endured and entranced generations of readers? Is it the vivid and original characters? Yes. Its appealing and magical setting on the moors? Yes. Its strong, propulsive plot? Yes. Its universal themes of love, loss, and redemption? Yes. All these
strengths contribute to its success. But another invaluable asset is its supremely satisfying structure. A master storyteller, the author employed a classic three-act format to tell her tale. In a nutshell, here’s how it unfolds in 300+ pages:
Act 1 (the first 100 pages): We meet Mary, the spoiled main character who encounters a series of mysteries: What has turned her guardian into a recluse? Where is the secret garden? Who does she hear crying in a distant corridor of the vast mansion she lives in?
Act 2 (the second 100 pages): Through artful reveals, we discover, along with Mary, the answers to each of these overlapping mysteries. We learn of her guardian’s tragic loss, we find and enter the secret garden, and we meet the abandoned son of Mary’s guardian. We are also invited to witness the awakening of the lovely secret garden.
Act 3 (the final 300+ pages): Here, all the story strands are woven together. The secret garden and the world outside spill over into each other and each is transformed by the other. The garden exerts a healing power, but only because it has been revived by the children entranced with it. All the characters share a unity of purpose.
What a beautifully structured book this is! Analyzing how its story unfolds has been immensely helpful to me in my own writing. Is there a book you love that you might want to revisit so you can puzzle out the way it works its magic on you? Why not do it? Write on!