The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 23 : Magic | Summary



Dr. Craven examines Colin after his first garden outing and again cautions him to not overexert himself. Colin dismisses his advice and informs the doctor that he will be going out every morning and afternoon possible. When Dr. Craven says he is not sure he can allow that, Colin tells him, "It would not be wise to try to stop me." Mary observes Colin being "a rude little brute" and realizes he is unaware of his rudeness as he has been the king of a "sort of desert island all his life." She, too, had been rude until she discovered it made her unpopular. She decides to help Colin realize this.

Mary stares at Colin until he asks why she is looking at him. She says she feels sorry for the doctor because it has to be horrible to have to be polite to a boy who is so rude. Mary tells Colin he has been allowed to be rude because people thought he was a poor thing who was going to die, so they did whatever he wanted. Colin stubbornly declares that he is not going to die and does not want people thinking of him as a poor thing. He decides to stop being "queer," meaning rude and standoffish, by going to the garden every day. He believes the garden has Magic and will help him change.

Colin, Mary, and Dickon spend the next few months in the garden, as spring turns to summer. They tend the plants, weed, and watch the plants grow as the wild creatures go about their daily activities. As Colin becomes more aware of the Magic in the garden, he decides to conduct scientific experiments about it. He calls Mary, Dickon, and Ben Weatherstaff to be his audience for a speech in which he announces his plan to be a great scientific discover and learn about Magic. He describes how "Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic." He recognizes Magic as the force that allowed him to stand and to know he would "live to be a man." His first experiment is to say the following words as often as possible: "'Magic is in me! Magic is making me well! I am going to be as strong as Dickon, as strong as Dickon!'" He wants Dickon, Mary, and Ben Weatherstaff to do the same. Dickon explains the experiment will work "same as th' seeds do when th' sun shines on 'em."

The group sits in a circle under the canopy of a tree and holds a ceremony in which they try to invoke Magic. Colin repeatedly chants statements about nature and Magic, including "The Magic is in me ... It's in every one of us. It's in Ben Weatherstaff's back. Magic! Magic! Come and help!" Mary is entranced and Weatherstaff is lulled into a soothing dreamlike state. Even the animals and bees seem to be affected by Colin's chanting, and they fall into a drowsy state.

After chanting, Colin announces he is going to walk around the garden. He gives Ben Weatherstaff permission to leave, but Weatherstaff says he'd like to stay and watch him as he walks. Everyone forms a procession, with Colin at the head and Mary and Dickon at his side. Weatherstaff and the animals follow. The procession "move[s] slowly but with dignity." Colin calls out that the Magic is in him and is making him strong. He pronounces the experiment a success: his ability to walk around the garden proves that Magic works. The group agrees to keep Colin's walking a secret, the "biggest secret of all." Colin plans to reveal his secret to his father, Mr. Craven, once he can "walk and run like any other boy." He also plans to be a boy athlete before he makes more scientific discoveries.


The chapter is a primer on the power of positive thinking. Colin defines positive thinking and its benefits, and outlines how to make it a part of one's daily life. Colin attributes positive thinking to Magic, and in many ways considers Magic and positive thinking the same thing. But while Magic comes from external forces, he realizes a person has to believe in Magic in order to make it work. Thus, positive thinking is the impetus, or spark, to activate Magic. Colin defines Magic as the ultimate life force: "Being alive is the Magic."

Burnett is also a firm believer in the power of the imagination. Like positive thinking, it is transformative and healing. It gives a person a goal to work toward and leads to self-actualization. Colin imagine what his father, Mr. Craven, will say and do when he learns his son can walk, and this motivates him to become a strong walker, and someday, an athlete. The words Colin intends to say daily are affirmations, or life-affirming statements, that express his desire and his belief that he will fulfill it. This is similar to the contemporary adage "If you believe it, you can achieve it." Verbalizing a desire is similar to visualization, or imagining something and expressing it over and over again to make it first a part of oneself and then a reality.

Mary and Dickon both help guide Colin in his "experiment." Dickon is no stranger to positive thinking. He realizes that for anything to grow and flourish, it needs certain elements. Humans need positive thinking just as seeds need the sun. He also is aware of the effect of negative thinking, even when unintentional. When Colin says he is tired, Dickon advises him to avoid making a negative comment as it "might spoil th' Magic." Consistent with the concept of positive thinking is self-discovery. Mary helps Colin see for himself how rude he is and why this works against him. She starts her discussion about his rudeness with a comment about the doctor rather than outright telling Colin he is rude. In this way, he can see it for himself. Their discussion sparks a desire within Colin to change his behavior.

Ben Weatherstaff is portrayed as someone without an affinity to traditional religious practices. He is against prayer meetings and most likely falls asleep during sermons when he does attend church. Nor is he convinced Magic exists. Despite this attitude, he agrees to participate in the spiritual activity under the tree's canopy and is moved by the experience. His relationship with Colin is changing. He is becoming more a benevolent paternal figure than a distant gardener or dutiful servant. Never particularly deferential, he refuses to be dismissed by Colin because he wants to see Colin walk around the garden. He has developed a personal interest in the young boy and wants to see him achieve this goal and also be available to him if he needs assistance. He keeps a "sharp lookout" on Colin during his walk, but does not intervene. He is willing to help Colin if needed but wants to encourage his independence and self-confidence. He supports Colin and gives him positive feedback when he says something clever and makes reassuring comments about how "straight-legged" he is.

Despite Colin's burgeoning awareness of his own rude behavior, he still behaves a bit like the Rajah Mary described earlier. He gives orders to Ben Weatherstaff and other servants but also to Dickon and Mary as well. This autocratic behavior demonstrates Colin's increasing sense of selfhood and physical strength, but it also complicates Burnett's subversion of the aristocracy by reinforcing Colin's autocratic tendencies.

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