Anyone who has read about the writing life of C.S. Lewis has, no doubt, come across his references to George MacDonald’s Phantastes. The book inspired Lewis like none other. He writes about how MacDonald’s book opened his mind to the world of imagination, which he eventually came to understand was God-given and incredibly freeing.
Recently—out of curiosity—I ordered and read Phantastes. I was struck at how clearly lines can be drawn between MacDonald’s book and Lewis’s wonderful Narnia series.
It dawned on me that, perhaps, all writers have that one book that first sparks their imagination, that dumps them into the world of writing and imagination—that one book that sets them on a lifelong quest to find just right words in just the right order, in just the right setting, in just the right story.
For me, that one book was—undoubtedly—Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It is not an overstatement to say the book completely captured me…
The unfortunate Mary Lennox, orphaned when a plague in India kills her parents. The tossed aside Mary Lennox, whose beautiful mother didn’t like her—or liked herself more. The disagreeable Mary Lennox shipped off to England to live with her Uncle Archibald Craven, who takes her in out of obligation to his late sister. The dour and disciplined Mrs. Medlock. The happy and upbeat Martha. The wise and observant Ben Weatherstaff. The spoiled and neglected Colin. The kind and gentle Dickon who befriends Mary Lennox.
Set in and around the cavernous and foreboding Misselthwaite Manor, The Secret Garden charmed me absolutely, drew me into a world of imagination, just as Phantastes did Lewis.
Time and again whenever I am asked about my favorite book, I return to the childhood reading of The Secret Garden. And now, as I look back over my own writing, I can see the guywire stretching between the story of Mary Lennox and my own writing—much like the line between Phantastes and Narnia. How greatly I was influenced by Burnett’s writing and storytelling!
So, writers out there: What is THAT book for you? What one story sparked your imagination and set you on the delightfully exciting path of writing?