The 12 Heroines of Christmas ~ Mary Lennox

10. Mary Lennox

If you’ve never read The Secret Garden, please do so. It is free, a quick read, and has little of the schmaltzy crap that ruined Frances Hodgson Burnett’s other famous book, the awful A Little Princess.

But mostly, read it to meet the most wonderfully horrid little heroine of all: the spoiled, brutal, ugly Mary Lennox

Her sour, self-centered hardness is presented matter-of-factly as the natural consequence of being utterly unwanted by her absentee parents. If this book was written in 2015 instead of 1911, psychologists would diagnose her with reactive attachment disorder.


Orphaned Mary is sent away to the moors of England, to a six hundred year old house with over a hundred locked doors that is owned by her troubled uncle and seemingly dying cousin. But this house also has a mysterious walled garden, covered in ivy and locked away for ten years.The garden is easily a metaphor for herself:

Nobody wants it, nobody cares for it, nobody every goes into it….They’re letting it die, all shut in by itself.


With the nurturing of the garden back to spring time life, “magic” begins and the children change.

Magic“is what Mary and Colin conclude is happening to them and around them. “Magic” is what pushes, makes life out of nothing: the sun shining, flowers growing, breathing in fresh air. Initially they think Magic is spun by the fairy-like Dickon, the strange boy who charms all living creatures. They later realize that Magic is just positive perspective and can be conjured up within oneself, with an incantation or mantra.


Here is Colin’s lecture on the matter:

Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world…but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.

and later

I think that if you keep thinking about it and calling it perhaps it will come. Perhaps that is the first baby way to get it…Every  morning and evening and as often in the daytime as I can remember I am going to say, ‘Magic is in me! Magic is making me well!…You learn things by saying them over and over and thinking about them until they stay in your mind forever and I think it will be the same with Magic. If you keep calling it to come to you and help you, it will get to be a part of you and it will stay and do things.

Maybe “positive thinking” feels overly simplistic but it really warmed me back in 2013 (a lonely and self-pitying research trip abroad during fall/winter). I’ve been profoundly depressed after my son’s diagnosis and found the same comfort after rereading this book. It was Colin’s obsession with his impending demise that struck me the most. Shut up in his room and left only with his fears, weakness, shame, anger, and hatred of others, he just got sicker and more frail. Mary seemed to scream impatiently at both Colin and myself:

Half that ails you is hysterics and temper – just hysterics – hysterics – hysterics!

So for 2016, I will push out thistles and cultivate roses. I will recall their incantation, repeating “the magic is in me” and remember to live instead of working myself up into hysterics, hysterics, hysterics. In sum, my 12 heroines of Christmas say…

12. Sarah from Labyrinth: Draw strength from fantasy

11. Sailor Moon: Draw strength in love

10. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden: Draw forth your own magic and believe you can change


PS. The other weird thing I love about this book is this recurrent and very basic point that you need a baseline of health to really heal. Basically the plot is: sickly, angry, emotionally stunted kids get some fresh air and exercise and voila!

I am still signed up to run the Tinkerbell 10k. I will keep this quote close to me as I resume running in January:



 “If she did not go out she would have to stay in and do nothing – and so she went out. She did not know that this was the best thing she could have done, and she did not know that, when she began to walk quickly or even run along the paths and down the avenue, she was stirring her slow blood and making herself stronger by fighting with the wind which swept down from the moor.”



5 thoughts on “The 12 Heroines of Christmas ~ Mary Lennox

  1. Sumire says:

    I love The Secret Garden! I also love A Little Princess but then I am a fan of old children’s stories (never have managed her Little Lord Fauntleroy though so maybe even I have a maximum amount of schmaltz I can handle). Respecting others as Mary learns to do with Martha, the panacea of nature and the thawing of the human heart are all dear themes to me. I don’t think I ever honed in on the power of positive thinking theme before and yet in the quotes you highlighted it is as plain as day. I am a believer in mantras and the ability the mind has to heal the body (coupled with healthy activity like playing outdoors ^_^) so this is a delightful new theme to add to the many reasons I love The Secret Garden.

    P.S. Good luck with the Tinkerbell 10k!


    • cheri says:

      I used to LOVE A Little Princess but now I CANNOT read it at all. It just seems too, like, “perfect angelic girl does all the right things and in the end everything works out.” As a child the only thing I took away from it was liking the fact that she had black hair haha. On the other hand, I reread Secret Garden about every 3 years whenever I’m feeling depressed. I love it.


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