The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I know what you’re going to say: euw. Kimberley, they’re nine and twelve, for God’s sake. Why are you trampling all over this lovely innocent book that brightened my youth and taught me the value of gardening?
I am not advocating anyone getting any ideas about the kids as portrayed in the book (which is arguably my all-time favourite, by the way). But I put it to you that you know that I know that you know that Dickon only needed a couple more years, and perhaps a job standing next to horses in the manor stables, to turn him from happy-go-lucky scamp to serious rustic hottie. And Mary is going to fall for him like a stone into a well just as soon as she grows some hormones.
Dickon is given to us as a magical creature from the get-go. (“‘Mother says he just whispers things out of the ground.’”) He doesn’t enter the book until chapter 10 but the mere mention of him makes Mary sit up and take notice and is part of what brings her back from Class A Bitch to adorable young girl. He is Pan (the first time she sees him he is “playing on a rough wooden pipe” and animals are in suspended animation all around him), St. Francis, and Bacchus all rolled into one. He is impervious to wind and rain. He is admired by every adult in the book. Burnett is also somewhat obsessed with how “clean” he is, the prevailing image of country people at that time apparently being that they were walking around covered in pig poo.
Oh, and then there’s the accent. Accents are always sexy. “‘Don’t tha’ move,’ he said. ‘It’d flight them.’” Now pretend he’s seventeen and just said that to you. See what I’m saying?
The day she finally meets him, “Mary could scarcely bear to leave him. Suddenly it seemed as if he might be a sort of wood fairy who might be gone when she came into the garden again. He seemed too good to be true.” Okay, now tell me you don’t think there’s a whole undertone going on here that should have a lot more fanfics about the future of Mary and Dickon than it does.
If Colin is the Apollonian side of the myth of the Secret Garden: logical, scientific, philosophical, then Dickon is the Dionysian: earthy, physical, instinctive. Who would you rather play in the dirt with? (Also, Colin’s her cousin, so euw euw euw and shame on those fanfics who think it’s still ok to pair them.)
You could call Dickon a Mary Sue, with his phenomenal powers and his inability to do wrong; his mother is even worse. Let’s glide over that. Let’s also take a big bounding leap over the whole Christian Science aspect, the sanitization of rural poverty which reaches breathtaking proportions here (“Martha had to tell about the moorland cottage which held fourteen people who lived in four little rooms and never had quite enough to eat. The children seemed to tumble about and amuse themselves like a litter of rough, good-natured collie puppies.” Oh yes, chronic malnutrition is a real barrel of laughs), and the “amusing” anecdote of the husband who beats his wife because she doesn't know "the right magic." At the end of the day, Dickon’s appearance as a god-like magical creature coming in to rock Mary’s world can only make me think of what’s going to happen once he gets sent “to t’ mines” or told his place by Mr. Craven or micro-aggressed by a jealous Colin who, I promise you, will turn out to be the world’s biggest a-hole no matter how hard Mary works to make him human.
Kimberley Ash is a British ex-pat who has lived in and loved New Jersey for twenty years. When not writing romance, she can usually be found cleaning up after her two big white furry dogs and slightly less furry children. Her first novel, Breathe, is now available from Crimson Romance. Her trilogy, The Van Allen Brothers, was released by Tule Publishing in 2019.