Childhood, in its most natural state of being, is distinguished by a state of mind, which is full of hope, love, and a belief that life holds infinite possibilities for fun, adventure, and happiness just waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, as childhood progresses, the mechanisms of the adult world increasingly intrude to a point where rationality and the limitations of human nature are finally accepted as the only living reality. Acceptance brings with it resignation over the less-than-ideal circumstances of life, bringing in its wake conflict, defeat, unhappiness, stagnation, and unfulfilled human potential. Perhaps this is the reason why children respond spontaneously and intuitively to the genre of children's literature that is characterized by a basic pattern of journey, conflict, return, and reward (Attebery, p. 91). Indeed, according to Bruno Bettelheim, the promise of conflict resolution and happy endings often leads to children being drawn particularly to those stories that have themes with meaning to them at that moment in their lives. These special tales allow the child to experience mastery through fantasized solutions (Almond, p. 107). Labeling of all children's literature as proffering fantasized solutions would, however, be a mistake given the existence of several works such as The Wizard of Oz and The Secret Garden which, in fact, embody the philosophy that the potential for happiness actually lies within every human being. Interestingly, the universal philosophy propounded by both Baum and Burnett is applicable to child and adult alike. It is, therefore, not surprising that both works enjoy a global readership that cuts across age groups. After all, in every adult, there still lives a child who wishes for a world filled with unconditional love, happiness, magic, and delightful mystery just waiting to be discovered and savored. The Wizard of Oz and The Secret Garden bring out that child in the adult by invoking a renewed desire to experience a childhood state of unbridled curiosity, optimism, courage, and capacity for love.
Though most adults usually suppress and conquer the child in them, Baum and Burnett manage to use a technique of "fantastic composition," where elements of daily life are intimately connected with the heart of the magic itself (Attebery, p. 86). The use of this technique allows the child in the adult to revisit a world they once considered as full of marvelous possibilities, including dreams of very different realms.
In fact, one of the biggest draws of The Wizard of Oz to Americans was Baum's ability to create a fairyland, recognizable by its contrast with the well-known American landscape of Kansas. Oz is a "country of marvelous beauty...rich and luscious fruits...gorgeous flowers...birds with rare and brilliant plumage...small brook...murmuring...to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies." (Baum, p. 7) Similarly, much of the charm in The Secret Garden lies in its ability to give life to common enough places (Bloom, cited Inglis, p. 20). Burnett not only imbibes life into familiar places, she invokes memories of a childhood spent in experiencing the wonder and joy of nature. Take, for instance, Mary Lennox's excited description to Colin of the marvel of seeing the secret garden being transformed into a place of beauty. "Things are crowding up out of the earth...flowers uncurling...green veil has covered nearly all the grey...birds hurry about their nests...primroses in the lanes and woods...." (Burnett, p. 248)
Implicit in the preceding narratives is that a world of magic and beauty already exists in the handiwork of Mother Nature, which can be rediscovered at any time providing the adult is willing to free the child in her or him. Besides the use of such techniques, Baum and Burnett also encourage the reader to revisit their childhood state with the help of a plot structure that constantly raises the question of several desirable childhood traits that are lost in the process of growing up.
Though Baum claimed that his sole purpose in writing The Wizard of Oz was to provide pleasure, there are many thought provoking issues concerning human life span development. Dorothy's journey involves resolution of several conflicts typical of the growing up process: "...binary oppositions such as innocence/experience, play/responsibility, death/life...task is to mediate each of these contraries...." (Cole & Gadow, p. 166-168) Left to fend for herself in a strange land, Baum's little girl soon learns to shoulder responsibility, which means facing up to unpleasant tasks or reality. Fortunately, for Dorothy, her encounters with the scarecrow, woodman, and lion, enable her to realize the importance of using her brains, the need for a heart as "brains do not make one happy," (Baum, p. 59) and tapping into her potential for courage. Glinda sums up Dorothy's life lessons in Oz eloquently when she tells her, "Your silver shoes will carry you over the desert. If you had known their power you could have gone back...the very first day." (Baum, p. 230) Significantly, Dorothy's only reward in The Wizard of Oz is her return home with newly acquired experiential wisdom that the potential for happiness exists within the self.
Dorothy's journey down the yellow "brick road of human life" (Cole & Gadow, p. 174) holds a strong attraction for the adult reader as well. For, if Dorothy has to come to terms with the sins of deception and destruction in the adult world (Cole & Gadow, p. 175), the adult is equally forced into facing up to the loss of their own youthful dreams and ideals. Indeed, Baum's combination of a philosophy of life with magical devices, ends up serving as a method for provoking issues revolving around the adult acceptance of living with "the tyranny of the normal," and the loss of magic in their lives (Cole & Gadow, p. 175)
Unlike Baum, Burnett does not resort to the use of any other worldly powers or creatures in The Secret Garden, but nevertheless manages to weave a form of magic quite uniquely her own. If at all she shares any common ground with Baum, it lies in her use of 'the secret garden' to demonstrate that life holds an inherent potential for experiencing "the magic of change." Indeed, Burnett uses the presence of the garden in her story merely as a symbolization of redemptive magic that can infuse the present and the future (Bloom, cited Koppes, p. 20).
Initially, Burnett uses the neglected and locked up garden to mirror the lonely, unloved lives of Mary and Colin: " She wants to see the garden because it has been shut up for ten years, as she herself as been.... The process of discovery and exploration of the garden...metaphor for Mary's resumed growth and development." (Almond, p. 112) That process of growth and development into happy, confident, fulfilled beings is, however, not an easy one. Like Dorothy, Mary and Colin, too, soon discover that the answers to their problems lie within themselves and not in the external world.
Mary's encounters with the independent, blunt Martha and Ben forces a recognition that she must change if she wishes to elicit a more positive response from people around her: "...Mary...had never learnt the truth about herself in her life...actually began to wonder if she was nasty tempered." (Burnett, p. 51) Similarly, Colin, Mary's male counterpart, is helped along the path to self-discovery by his friendship with both Mary and Dickon. Together, the three children discover the secrets of life through their restoration of the secret garden. In turn, the garden wreaks its magic on them, rewarding them with health and life.
The garden is not the only therapeutic influence on Mary and Colin. They are helped first and foremost by their aptitude for curiosity and learning, which is unique to children. In addition, they are fortunate in the support they get from supportive adults such as Susan Sowerby and Martha:…