The landscape of story

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In response to the on-going Pilgrimage for Nature (and getting regular updates from Howard on how the Long Walk is progressing), I've been thinking about climate change and the role we fantasists, folklorists, and storytellers might play in the urgent labor of healing our planet -- not only directly in the form of political activism, but also through our work as mythic artists. I was reminded of these words from "The Dreaming of Place" by storyteller Hugh Lupton:

"The ground holds the memory of all that has happened to it. The landscapes we inhabit are rich in story. The lives of our ancestors have contributed to the shape and form of the land we know today -- whether we are treading the cracked cement of a deserted runaway, the boundary defined by a quickthorn hedge, the outline of a Roman road or the grassy hump of a Bronze Age tumulus. The creatures we share the landscape with have made their marks, too: their tracks, nesting places, slides and waterholes. And beyond the human and animal interactions are the huge, slow geological shapings that have given the land its form. Every bump, fold and crease, every hill and hollow is part of a narrative that is both human and prehuman. And as long as men and women have moved over the land these narratives have been spoken and sung.

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"This sense of story being held immanent in landscape is most clearly defined in the belief systems of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. In Native Australian belief everything that is not 'here and now' is described as having gone 'into the dreaming.' The Aborigines believe that the tangled skein of remembered experience, history, legend and myth that constitutes the past -- that is invisible to the objective eye or the camera -- has not gone away. It is, rather, implicit in the place where it happened, a potentiality. It is a living memory that is held between a place and its people. It is always waiting to be woken by a voice.

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"I remember the Irish storyteller Eamon Kelly once telling me that in the parish of County Clare where he grew up, every field had a name, and every field name was associated with a story. To walk from one end of the parish to the other was to walk through a landscape of story. It occurred to me that the same was probably once true for any parish in Britain.

"But today we are forgetting our stories. We have been forgetting them for a long time. Few of us live in the same landscape as our grandparents. The deep knowledge that comes from long familiarity has become a rarity. Places are glimpsed through the windows of cars and trains. Maybe, occasionally, we stride through them.

"What does it mean for a culture to have lost touch with its dreaming? What can we do about it?

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"It seems to me that as writers, artists, environmentalists, parents, teachers and talkers, one of our practices should be to enter the Dreaming, that invisible, parallel world, and salvage our local stories. We need to re-charge the landscape with its forgotten narratives. Only then will it regain the sacred status it once possessed. This might involve research into local history, conversations with elders in the community, exploration of regional folktales, ballads and myths...

"And then an intuitive jump into Imagination."

I agree with Lupton on this. And who better placed than those of us in the folklore and fantasy fields (experienced in using the tools of myth and archetype in our art) to contribute to the important work of re-charging, re-enchanting, and re-storying the land?

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The passage above by British storyteller, folklorist, and novelist Hugh Lupton is from EarthLines magazine (Issue 2, August 2012). The poem in the picture captions is from The Magicians of Scotland by Ron Butlin (Polygon, 2015). All rights reserved by the authors.

Related posts: Wild stories, Where the wild things are, The logos of the land, The unwritten landscape, Telling the holy, The writer's god is Mercury.

Alberto Manguel on The Wind in the Willows

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From "Return to Arcadia" by Alberto Manguel:

Wind in the Willows illustrated by Inga Moore"Several times, during a long life of reading, I’ve been tempted to write an autobiography based solely on the books that have counted for me. Someone once told me that it was customary for a Spanish nobleman to have his coat of arms engraved on his bedhead so that visitors might know who it was who lay in a sleep that might always be his last. Why then not be identified by my bedside favourites, which define and represent me better than any symbolic shield? If I ever indulged in such a vainglorious undertaking, a chapter, an early chapter, would be given over to The Wind in the Willows. I can’t remember when I first read The Wind in the Willows, since it is one of those books that seem to have been with me always, but it must have been very early on, when my room was in a cool, dark basement and the garden I played in boasted four tall palm trees and an old tortoise as their tutelary spirit. The geography of our books blends with the geography of our lives, and so, from the very beginning, Mole’s meadows and Rat’s river bank and Badger’s woods seeped into my private landscapes, imbuing the cities I lived in and the places I visited with the same feelings of delight and comfort and adventure that sprang from those much-turned pages. In this sense, the books we love become our cartography.

Mole by Ernest Shepard"In 1888, John Ruskin gave a name to the casual conjunction between physical nature and strong human emotions. ‘All violent feelings’, he wrote, ‘produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the “Pathetic Fallacy”.’ Kenneth Grahame magnificently ignored the warning. The landscape of Cookham Dene on the Thames (where he lived and which he translated into the world of Mole and Rat, Badger and Toad) is, emotionally, the source and not the result of a view of the world that cannot be distinguished from the world itself. There may have been a time when the bucolic English landscape lay ignored and untouched by words, but since the earliest English poets the reality of it lies to a far greater extent in the ways in which it has been described than in its mere material existence. No reader of The Wind in the Willows can ever see Cookham Dene for the first time. After the last page, we are all old inhabitants for whom every nook and cranny is as familiar as the stains and cracks on our bedroom ceiling. There is nothing false in these impressions.

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Wind in the Willows illustrated by Inga Moore

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"...The Wind in the Willows begins with a departure, and with a search and a discovery, but it soon achieves an overwhelming sense of peace and happy satisfaction, of untroubled familiarity. We are at home in Grahame’s book. But Grahame’s universe is not one of retirement or seclusion, of withdrawal from the world. On the contrary, it is one of time and space shared, of mirrored experience.

Wind in the Willows illustrated by Inga Moore"From the very first pages, the reader discovers that The Wind in the Willows is a book about friendship, one of those English friendships that Borges once described by saying that they ‘begin by precluding confidences and end by forgoing dialogue’. The theme of friendship runs through all our literatures. Like Achilles and Patroclus, David and Jonathan, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Ishmael and Queequeg, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, Rat and Mole reflect for each other discovered identities and contrasting views of the world. Each one asserts for the other the better, livelier part of his character; each encourages the other to be his finer, brighter self. Mole may be lost without Rat’s guidance but, without Mole’s adventurous spirit, Rat would remain withdrawn and far too removed from the world. Together they build Arcadia out of their common surroundings; pace Ruskin, their friendship defines the place that has defined them. 

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Riverbank Picnic by Arthur Rackham

If The Wind in the Willows was a sounding-board for the places I lived in, it became, during my adolescence, also one for my relationships, and I remember wanting to live in a world with absolute friends like Rat and Mole. Not all friendships, I discovered, are of the same kind. While Rat and Mole’s bonds are unimpeachably solid, their relationship equally balanced and unquestioned (and I was fortunate enough to have a couple of friendships of that particular kind), their relationship with Badger is more formal, more distanced – since we are in England, land of castes and classes, and Badger holds a social position that requires a respectful deference from others. (Of the Badger sort, too, I found friends whom I loved dearly but with whom I always had to tread carefully, not wanting to be considered overbearing or unworthy.)

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The Wind in the Willows illustrated by Chris Dunn"With Toad, the relationship is more troubling. Rat and Mole love Toad and care for him, and assist him almost beyond the obligations of affection, in spite of the justified exasperation he provokes in them. He, on the other hand, is far less generous and obliging, calling on them only when in need or merely to show off. (Friends like Toad I also had, and these were the most difficult to please, the hardest to keep on loving, the ones that, over and over again, made me want to break up the relationship; but then they’d ask for help once more and once more I’d forgive them.)

"Toad is the reckless adventurer, the loner, the eternal adolescent. Mole and Rat begin the book in an adolescent spirit but grow in wisdom as they grow in experience; for Toad every outing is a never-ending return to the same whimsical deeds and the same irresponsible exploits. If we, the readers, love Toad (though I don’t) we love him as spectators; we love his clownish performance on a stage of his own devising and follow his misadventures as we follow those of a charming rogue.

The Wind in the Willows illustrated by Chris Dunn

"But Mole and Rat, and even Badger, we love as our fellow creatures, equal to us in joy and in suffering. Badger is everyone’s older brother; Rat and Mole, the friends who walk together and mature together in their friendship. They are our contemporaries, reborn with every new generation. We feel for their misfortunes and rejoice in their triumphs as we feel and rejoice for our nearest and dearest. During my late childhood and adolescence, their companionship was for me the model relationship, and I longed to share their déjeuners sur l’herbe, and to be part of their easy complicité as other readers long for the love of Mathilde or the adventurous travels of Sinbad.

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"The Wind in the Willows cannot be classed as a work of pure fantasy. Grahame succeeds in making his creatures utterly believable to us. The menageries of Aesop or La Fontaine, Günter Grass or Colette, Orwell or Kipling, have at least one paw in a symbolic (or worse, allegorical) world; Grahame’s beasts are of flesh, fur and blood, and their human qualities mysteriously do not diminish, but enhance, their animal natures. As I’ve already said, with every rereading The Wind in the Willows lends texture and meaning to my experience of life; with each familiar unfolding of its story, I experience a new happiness. This is because The Wind in the Willows is a magical book. Something in its pages re-enchants the world, makes it once again wonderfully mysterious."

The Wind in the Willows illustrated by Inga Moore

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Words: The passage quoted above is from "Return to Arcadia" by Alberto Manguel, published in Slightly Foxed (Issue 34, Summer 2012), a quarterly journal I love and highly recommend. The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry (July/August 2009). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: The art above (from top to bottom) is "Ratty and Mole" by Inga Moore, "Mole" by Ernest Shepard, "Ratty and Mole on the River" and "The Picnic Basket" by Inga Moore, "The Riverside Picnic" by Arthur Rackham, "Toad and Mole" by Chris Dunn, "Mole's House" and "Lounging About" by Chris Dunn, and "The Riverbank" by Inga Moore. All rights reserved by the artists. The photograph are of the River Teign where it runs through Chagford on its way from Dartmoor to the sea. 

Alison Lurie on the modern magic of E. Nesbit

E. Nesbit's The Book of Beasts, illustrated by Inga Moore

I'd like to end the week with one more passage from Alison Lurie's writings on children's books, this time from her essay on E. Nesbit (1858-1924), published in Don't Tell the Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature:

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It illustrated by HR Millar"Victorian literary fairy tales tend to have a conservative moral and political bias. Under their charm and invention is usually an improving lesson: adults know best; good, obedient, patient, and self-effacing little boys and girls are rewarded by the fairies, and naughty assertive ones are punished. In the most widely read British authors of the period -- Frances Browne, Mrs. Craik, Mrs. Ewing, Mrs. Molesworth, and even the greatest of them all, George MacDonald -- the usual manner is that of a kind lady or gentleman delivering a delightfully disguised sermon. Only Lewis Carroll's Alice books completely avoid this didactic tone....

In the final years of Victoria's reign, however, an author appeared who was to challenge this pattern so energetically and with such success that it is possible now to speak of juvenile literature as before and after E. Nesbit. Although there are foreshadowings of her characteristic manner in Charles Dicken's "Holiday Romance" and Kenneth Grahaeme's The Golden Age, Nesbit was the first to write at length for children as intellectual equals and in their own language. Her books were startlingly innovative in other ways: they took place in contemporary England and recommended socialist solutions to its problems; they presented a modern view of childhood; and they used magic both as a comic device and as a serious metaphor for the power of the imagination. Every writer of children's fantasy of since Nesbit's time in indebted to her -- and so are some authors of adult fiction."

E. Nesbit's The Railway Children illustrated by Inga Moore

A little later in the text, Lurie returns to the subject of magic in Nesbit's work:

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, illustrated by HR Millar"Though we tend to take it for granted, the importance of magic in juvenile literature needs some explanation. Why, in a world that is so wonderful and various and new to them, should children want to read about additional, unreal wonders? The usual explanation is a psychological one: magic provides an escape from reality or expresses fears and wishes. In the classic folktale, according to this theory, fear of starvation becomes a witch or wolf, cannibalism an ogre. Desire shapes itself as a pot that is always full of porridge, a stick that will beat one's enemies on command, a mother who comes back to life as a benevolent animal or bird. Magic in children's literature, too, can make psychological needs and fears concrete; children confront and defeat threatening adults in the shape of giants, or they become supernaturally large and strong; and though they cannot yet drive a car, they travel to other planets.

"Magic can do all this, but it can do more. In the literary folktale, it becomes a metaphor for the imagination. This is particularly true of Nesbit's stories. The Book of Beasts, for instance, can be read as a fable about the power of imaginative art. The magic volume of its title contains colored pictures of exotic creatures, which become real when the book is left open. The little boy who finds it releases first a butterfly, then a bird of paradise, and finally a dragon that threatens to destroy the country. If any book is vivid enough, this story says, what is in it will become real to us and invade our world for good or evil.

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, illustrated by HR Millar"It is imagination, disguised as magic, that gives Nesbit's characters (and by extension her readers) the power to journey through space and time: to see India or the South Seas, to visit Shakespeare's London, ancient Egypt, or a future Utopia. It will even take them to Atlantis or to a mermaid's castle under the sea. All these places, of course, are the traditional destinations of fantasy voyages, even today. But an imagination that can operate only in conventional fantasy scenery is in constant danger of becoming sentimental and escapist. At worst, it produces the sort of mental condition that manifests itself in plastic unicorns and a Disney World version of foreign countries. True imaginative power like Nesbit's, on the other hand, is strong enough to transform the most prosaic contemporary scene, and comedy is its best ally. Nesbit's magic is as much at home in a basement in Camden Town as on a South Sea island, and it is never merely romantic. Though it grants the desires of her characters, it may also expose those desires as comically misconceived. Five Children and It, for instance, is not only an amusing adventure story but also a tale of the vanity of human -- or at least juvenile -- wishes. The children first want to be 'as beautiful as the day'; later they ask for a sand pit full of gold sovereigns, giant size and strength, and instant adulthood. Each wish leads them into an appropriate comic disaster....

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, illustrated by HR Millar
"It is also possible to see the magic in Nesbit's tales as the metaphor for her own art. In many of her fantasies the children begin by using supernatural power in a casual, materialistic way: to get money and to play tricks on people. Gradually they find better uses for magic: in The Story of the Amulet, to unite the souls of an ancient and modern scholar, and at the end of The Enchanted Castle, to reveal the unity of all created things. Nesbit, similarly, first used her talents to produce hack work and pay the bills; only much later did she come to respect her gift and write the books for which she is still remembered.

"Nesbit's magic can also be read as a metaphor for imaginative literature in general. Those who possess supernatural abilities or literary gifts, like the Psammead of Five Children and It, are not necessarily attractive or good-tempered; they may be ugly, cross, or ridiculous. We do not know who will be moved by even the greatest works of art, nor how long their power will last; and the duration and effect of magic in Nesbit's stories in unpredictable in the same way. E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, illustrated by HR MillarCertain sorts of people remain untouched by it, and it is often suspected of being a dream, a delusion, or a lie. The episode of the Ugly-Wuglies also suggests that things carelessly given life by the imagination may become frightening and dangerous; the writer may be destroyed by his or her second-rate creations -- by the inferior work that survives to debase reputation, or by some casual production that catches the popular imagination and types its creator forever.

"Also, though they were written [over a century ago], Nesbit's books express a common anxiety of writers today: that the contemporary world, with its speed of travel and new methods of communication, will soon have no use for literature. As practical Jimmy puts it in The Enchanted Castle: 'I think magic went out when people began having steam engines...and newspapers, and telephones and wireless telegraphing.

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, illustrated by HR Millar"New as Nesbit's stories are in comparison with most children's books of her period, in some ways they also look back to the oldest sort of juvenile literature, the traditional folktale. They recall the simplicity and directness of diction, and the physical humor, of the folktale rather than the poetic language, intellectual wit, and didactic intention of the typical Victorian fairy tale. Socially, too, Nesbit's stories have affinities with folklore. Her adventurous little girls and athletic princesses recall the many traditional tales in which the heroines have wit, courage, and strength....There is no way of knowing whether E. Nesbit went back to these traditional modes consciously, or whether it was her own attitude toward the world that made her break so conclusively with the past. Whatever the explanation, she managed not only to create some of the best children's books ever written, but to quietly popularize ideas about childhood that were, in her time, extremely subversive. Today, when the words of writers like Mrs. Ewing and Mrs. Molesworth and Mrs. Craik are gathering dust on the shelves of second hand bookshops, her stories are still being read and loved by children, and imitated by adults."

E. Nesbit's The Railway Children illustrated by Inga Moore 3

For more about Edith Nesbit herself, who lived a radical and fascinating life, I recommend The Lives and Loves of E. Nesbit by Eleanor Fitzsimons. It is, hands down, the best of the Nesbit biographies. Also, A.S. Byatt's splendid novel The Children's Book owes more than a little to Nesbit, her complicated marriage, and her social circle.

The art today: color illustrations for Nesbit's The Book of Beasts and The Railway Children by Inga Moore; and pen-and-ink drawings by H.R. Millar (1869-1942) from the first edition of Five Children and It (1902).

E. Nesbit's The Railway Children, illustrated by Inga Moore

The passage about is quoted from "Modern Magic" by Alison Lurie, published in Don't Tell the Grown-ups (Little, Brown & Co., 1990). All rights reserved by the Alison Lurie estate. All rights to the color art above reserved by Inga Moore. The H.R. Millar drawings are in Public Domain.

Alison Lurie on ''The Oddness of Oz''

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Here's another passage from Alison Lurie, this time on the The Wizard of Oz and its sequels by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). It's from her in-depth essay on Baum, "The Oddness of Oz," originally published in The New York Review of Books and reprinted in Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter:

Dorothy and Toto by Lisbeth Zwerger"Though the Oz books have always been read by children of both sexes, they have been especially popular with girls, and it's not hard to see why. Oz is a world in which women and girls rule; in which they don't have to stay home and do housework, but can go exploring and have adventures. It is also, as Joel Chaston has pointed out, a world in which none of the major characters have a traditional family. Instead, most of them live alone or with friends of the same sex. The Scarecrow stays with the Tin Woodman in his castle for months at a time, while Ozma, Dorothy, Betsy, and Trot all have rooms in the palace of the Emerald City, and Glinda lives in a castle with 'a hundred of the most beautiful girls of the Fairyland of Oz.'

"The appeal of Oz seems even clearer if it is contrasted to that of contemporary books for girls. In the early years of the 20th century, the heroes of most adventure stories were boys; girls stayed home and learned to get on better with their families. If they were rejected children like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or orphans like Anne of Green Gables and Judy in Daddy-Long-legs, they found or established new families. At the end of all these stories, or their sequels, the heroine grew up, fell in love, and got married.

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger 12*

"There was of course already another famous little girl protagonist who had adventures in a magical world: Lewis Carroll's Alice. But from the point of view of most child readers (including me) her experiences were less attractive. Unlike Dorothy and Ozma, who collect loving friends and companions on their journeys, Alice travels alone, and the strange creatures she meets are usually indifferent, self-absorbed, hostile, or hectoring. Rather than helping her, as Dorothy's companions do, they make unreasonable demands: she is to hold a screaming baby, do impossible math problems, and act as a ladies' maid. One or two of the characters seem to wish her well in a helpless way, like the White Knight, whom many readers have seen as a stand-in for Carroll himself. Moreover Wonderland, unlike Oz, turns out to be only a dream.

"Most children, though they may enjoy Alice's adventures, don't want to visit Wonderland, which is full of disappearing scenery and dangerous eccentrics, some of them clearly quite insane. They prefer Oz, where life is all play and no work, and all adventures end happily.

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

"To some extent Baum's endorsement of escapism was hidden -- disguised as a light-hearted fantasy, with a series of sweet, pretty-little-girl protagonists, the most famous of whom at first declares that all she really wants is to go home to flat, gray Kansas and see her dull, deeply depressed Uncle Henry and Aunt Em again. But, as anyone knows who has read even a few of Baum's later Oz books, Dorothy may return to Kansas after her adventures, but she doesn't stay there very long -- somehow, a natural disaster (shipwreck, earthquake, whirling highways) always appears to carry her
back to Oz and the magical countries that surround it. She spends more and more time there, and has more adventures.

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger"Finally, in the fifth volume of the series, Dorothy not only moved to Oz permanently, but arranges for Uncle Henry and Aunt Em (whose failing farm is about to be repossessed by the bank) to join her there. Yes, you can escape from your dreary domestic life into fairyland, Baum's books say: you can have exciting but safe adventures, make new friends, live in a castle, never have to do housework or homework, and -- most important of all -- never grow up.

"This subversive message may be one of the reasons that the Oz books took so long to be accepted as classics. For more than half a century after L. frank Baum discovered it in 1900, the Land of Oz had a curious reputation. American children by the thousands went there happily, but authorities in the field of juvenile literature, like suspicious and conservative travel agents, refused to recommend it or even handle the tickets. Librarians would not buy the Oz books, schoolteachers would not let you write reports on them, and the best-known histories of children's books made no reference to their existence. In the 1930s and 1940s they were actually removed from many schools and libraries.

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger"As a child I had to save my allowance to buy the Oz books, because the local library refused to carry them. This censorship was justified at the time by pointing out that the books were not beautifully written and that the characters were two-dimensional. This is arguable, but it has not prevented many other less stylistically perfect children's books of the period from being admired and recommended. It seems more likely that in the dark years between the first and second waves of American feminism, critics recognized the subversive power of Baum's creation. Not until recently did the Oz books enter the canon."

For me, this passage captures the flavor of Lurie's writings on children's literature perfectly: I constantly find myself arguing with her essays (for example, with her sweeping and America-centric statement that most children prefer the Land of Oz to Wonderland), and yet I constantly learn from her too. She is exasperating and brilliant in equal measure, and I treasure her books despite the number of times I have wanted to chuck them across the room.  Thus I highly recommend Boys and Girls Forever, and Lurie's earlier collection of children's literature essays, Don't Tell the Grown-ups. I may not always agree with Lurie's conclusions, but the range of her knowledge is impressive and her prose is delightful.

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

The charming imagery today is from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Austrian book artist Lisbeth Zwerger (North-South Books, 1996).

The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

The passage about is quoted from "The Oddness of Oz" by Alison Lurie, published in Boys and Girls Forever (Vintage, 2004). All rights to the art and text in this post are reserved by Lisbeth Zwerger and the Alison Lurie estate.

Alison Lurie on The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore

Another writer I've been re-reading recently is novelist and academic Alison Lurie (1926-2020), whose essays on children's literature I sometimes love and sometimes argue with, but always find interesting. Here, for example, is a passage from "Enchanted Forests and Secret Gardens: Nature in Children's Literature," published in Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classic from Cinderella to Harry Potter:

Fox by Imga Moore"When I was seven years old, my family moved to the country, and my perception of the world entirely altered. I had been used to regular, ordered spaces: labeled city and suburban streets and apartment buildings and parks with flat rectangular lawns and beds of bright 'Do Not Touch' flowers behind wire fencing. Suddenly I found myself in a landscape of thrilling disorder, variety, and surprise.

"As the child of modern, enlightened parents I had been told that many of the most interesting characters in my favorite stories were not real: there were no witches or fairies or dragons or giants. It had been easy for me to believe this; clearly, there was no room for them in a New York City apartment building. But the house we moved to was deep in the country, surrounded by fields and woods, and there were cows in the meadow across the road. Well, I thought, if there were cows, which I'd seen before only in pictures, why shouldn't there be fairies and elves in the woods behind our house? Why shouldn't there be a troll stamping and fuming in the loud, mossy darkness under the bridge that crossed the brook? There might even be one or two small hissing and smoking dragons -- the size of teakettles, as my favorite children's author, E. Nesbit, described them -- in the impenetrable thicket of blackberry briars and skunk cabbage beyond our garden.

"No longer a rationalist, I began to believe in what my storybooks said. Suddenly I saw the landscape as full of mystery and possibility -- as essentially alive. After all, this was not surprising: it was the way most people saw the natural world for thousands of years, and it was the way it was portrayed in the stories I loved best."

Illustrations from The Secret Garden by Inga Moore

One of those stories was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924):

The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore"Consciously or unconsciously, many of the authors of classic children's books are pantheists. For them nature is divine, and full of power to inspire and heal. But while for some nature must be sought in the enchanted forest, for others the magical location is a garden. In their books, to go into a garden is often the equivalent of attending a Sunday service, and gardening itself may become a kind of religious act.

"For Frances Hodgson Burnett, nature was intrinsically healing. She herself was a dedicated gardener, the author of a how-to book about her own garden on Long Island. In her famous children's story The Secret Garden (1911) two extremely neurotic, unattractive, and self-centered children are transformed by a combination of fresh air, do-it-yourself psychology, and, most of all, the discovery and restoration of a long-abandoned rose garden.

"When we meet Mary Lennox in India, she is a sickly, disagreeable child whose selfish, beautiful mother never had any interest in her. No one has ever loved her and and she loves no one. But even then, to amuse herself, she plays at gardening, sticking scarlet hibiscus flowers into the bare earth. Later, after both her parents are dead, she is sent home to England, and then to Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors, which she hates at first sight. Things begin to improve when she is send outdoors to play:

" '...the big breaths of fresh air blown over the heather filled her lungs with something which was good for her whole thin body and whipped some red color into her cheeks and brightened her dull eyes....'

The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore

"Eventually Mary discovers the secret garden of the title. For years, like Mary herself, it has been confined and neglected. Then, as winter turns to spring, she begins to restore it, to weed and water and prune and plant, and in the process is herself restored to happiness and health. Later she is assisted in her task by a local boy, Dickon, and by her cousin Colin, who has spent most of his years indoors. The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga MooreColin's mother died when he was born, and he has been brought up to believe that he is a crippled invalid. Yet he too is transformed and restored to health in the garden.

"Sometimes in children's books the power of nature is embodied in a character, and Dickon in The Secret Garden is the most famous of these characters. Though he is only twelve years old, rough and uneducated, he is a kind of rural Pan, who spends most of his time, winter and summer, out on the moor. He can charm birds and animals by playing on his pipe, and knows all about plants -- his sister says he 'can make a flower grow out of a brick walk...he just whispers things out o' th' ground.' It is Dickon who teaches Mary and Colin how to bring the secret garden back to life and he is the first to declare that nature has spiritual powers; he calls it Magic.

" 'Everything is made out of Magic,' [Colin says] 'leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us.' "

Indeed it is.

The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore

The imagery today is from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Inga Moore (Walker Books, 2007). Go here for a good interview with this wonderful artist.

The Secret Garden illustration by Inga Moore

The passage about is quoted from Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie (Vintage, 2004). All rights to the art and text in this post are reserved by Inga Moore and the Alison Lurie estate.