Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday 11 January 2014

Secret Places

It has taken a very long time, but finally I have read Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's book, The Secret Garden. And what a lovely story!

Although the book was first released in 1910, themes of separation, loneliness and the search for acceptance are all too familiar in this day and age. Mary, Colin and Dickon are a delightful mix of complex children and I was thrilled with the happy ending.

But it wasn't the themes or the characters that initially begged me to read the book. It is simply that the title includes the word 'secret'; and this cover shows a girl turning the key in an enormous lock attached to a door almost completely obscured by vines.

This evoked images of Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lucy in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Hugo in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and of course Harry Potter. All of these characters have a secret place that is accessed by a hidden door. And this literary premise has been around for an incredibly long time.

Lewis Carroll wrote his novel in 1865; Frances Burnett wrote hers in 1910. C S Lewis wrote his novel in 1950, J K Rowling's first Harry Potter novel was published in 2001 and Brian Selznick's graphic novel was published in 2007. The time period between the first and last of these impressive publications is a staggering 142 years.

So what is it that has always, and still fascinates readers about secret places, and keeps authors writing about them?

Do we all secretly harbour a desire to escape from our everyday lives and disappear for a while? Do other worlds, vastly different to our own, sound appealing? Is natural curiosity something we just never grow out of? Perhaps we need to read these types of stories to reinvigorate our own imaginations...

Or, maybe we just like a darn good read.

Penny Garnsworthy.

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