What’s inspired the world’s most famous books/The Secret Garden

A number of years ago I stumbled across a little movie on television called Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story. For a wannabe writer who didn’t believe in herself, that movie was a big hit of inspiration. I have no idea how accurate it is – it’s never been approved or endorsed by the famous author herself – but I assume the main points of her life are true, and they match the information available on Wikipedia.

One of the most interesting things for me was how many times the manuscript for the first book was rejected, as well as the eventual publisher’s famous, completely non-prophetic words to Rowling that ‘no one ever made any money from children’s books’ (my paraphrase). She’s now one of the richest women in the world.

Now that I’ve written my own first novel and am very close to completing the second book in the trilogy, I find stories about how and where other authors have found their inspiration – for the genesis of their book, as well as for different parts of the book – really illuminating.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve surely noticed my fascination with gardens. A great garden holds beauty, mystery, atmosphere, secretive lives (of plants and of the creatures living there), colour, light and shadow…I could go on. And, of course, I’m not alone – many writers have been inspired by gardens and other landscapes.

The story of the places and circumstances that inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett to write her most famous novel, The Secret Garden, published in 1911,are really interesting. The concept of the secretive garden came from a beautiful English estate, Great Maytham Hall in the county of Kent, where she lived for about a decade after she divorced her first husband, Swan Burnett. He’d been a childhood friend, and had an injury that lamed him and left him unable to participate in physical activities – which may have inspired, or at least given the author some authentic details for, the character of Colin at the fictional estate of Misselthwaite in her novel.

Great Maytham Hall had a walled kitchen garden that was so overgrown that the author had trouble finding the door to get in. Apparently, as with the protagonist in the book, a young girl named Mary, she was shown the entrance by a robin sitting on a nearby branch. Burnett spent a lot of time repairing the neglect and adding her own touches to the garden, a journey that also made its way into the novel.

If you’re interested in reading more about Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Secret Garden, check out these fascinating articles, 8 Lovely Facts About The Secret Garden and Secret Gardens in the Paris Review. You’ve most likely seen one of the many movie versions of the book, but you can read the novel itself on the Project Gutenberg website. Guide to the Classics: The Secret Garden and the healing power of nature offers a retrospective about the novel and its various film adaptations.

Writers’ inspirations come from all kinds of different places and circumstances. I hope that their stories, both personal and as writers, go on to inspire you.

If you can find the JK Rowling movie, I thought it was not only incredibly inspiring but also, in many ways, as magical as the world that Rowling created. Here’s to all writers who are trying to bring a little magic into our world.

All photos, unless otherwise specified, are by me and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

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