This was a question I asked my nine year old sister as we sat at the dining room table, discussing books. She is not at a reading level where she could read The Secret Garden on her own, but due to the wonderful invention of audio books, she has been able to step into an entirely new world of stories.
A moment later, the significance of how I had worded my question struck me.
Have you met Dickon yet?
I spoke of Dickon as if he were a real person, an old and dear friend, one whom I couldn't wait to discuss and elaborate on.
But then it made sense, that is exactly what Dickon is. Dickon is an old friend of mine, one that I met years ago and have held fondly in my heart ever since. When I look at nature with a wondering eye, or see a picture of a fox, I think of Dickon.
Dickon taught me what the word "wick" means. When something is alive and green, it is wick. Wick is a simply delicious word.
Mary Lennox. She and I did not connect as quickly, the only thing I had in common with her in the beginning was our shared pastime of creating pretend gardens out of heaps of earth and weeds.
Yes, I softened towards her a tiny bit when she stopped wearing black. She did get more approachable whenever Martha was around. But I doubted that Mary Lennox and I would ever become fast friends.
But then, it happened. We, Mary and I, we discovered a secret garden. A magical, mystical-feeling garden with a tragic history. It had been shut up after the death of a beloved soul, left to be forgotten and overtaken by darkness. If only we could get inside this place! Luckily, we had made friends with a delightful little bird we dubbed Robin Redbreast. He seemed to know our deepest hearts' desire, it was almost as if he had waited for us to come along so that he could share this great secret with us.
Oh the wonder! Robin Redbreast gave us the key, and we opened the door to the secret garden. Our secret garden.
And then, a very magical thing happened. Mary Lennox and I became friends. Our shared love of beautiful and secret places drew us together. Our desire to bring life and beauty back to what once was dead strengthened our bond.
We met Dickon and decided that he was a perfectly wonderful boy. We began to practice our own broad Yorkshire. We got a little set of gardening tools and began to bring life back to our secret garden.
Oh! How our hearts leapt for joy when Dickon proclaimed the rose vines to be wick. The image of the stone walls of our garden covered with tangled rose vines and beautiful blooms brought a lump into our throats.
One night, a strange cry sent us searching about the various halls and chambers of Misselthwaite Manor. And what should we find, but, dear heavens! A boy!
It turned out that he was cousin Collin. His mother, the former occupant of our secret garden had died, and his father had abandoned him to travel Europe, hoping somehow to travel away from his grief.
Collin was a fascinating individual, just another piece of this mysterious and secretive place. But he was rather self-centered. And foolish. What was wrong with him anyway? He was convinced that he was a hunchback and going to die. Well, we weren't going to put up with a single moment of that nonsense! How ridiculous!
The next several hours of my life I spent with my new friends. Mary, Dickon, and Collin. Together, we got stronger physically, as well as strengthened our friendship. We ate secret meals of potatoes baked over an open fire in the woods. We showed those stupid doctors a thing or two about health. And just to prove everyone wrong, we helped teach Collin how to walk, just like we knew he could.
And above all, our garden prospered. In the end, even Collin's father, Mr. Craven, was not immune to our efforts. By the end of our time together, we had brought life and love back to the entire Misselthwaite Manor. The secret garden was a secret no longer, the time for secrets and hidden darkness was over, a new era of love and life had begun.
Francis Hodgson Burnett wrote The Secret Garden over a century ago. To some people, a book about a lonely little girl on an English moor written by a woman over a hundred years ago would some irrelevant.
Those who would believe such a lie do not know the value of a good story, or of true characters. Mary, Dickon, and Collin are very real people in a sense. I feel their emotions, I earnestly desire them to strive for the best. I cheer when they do well, and I weep when they are hurting.
That is what the magic of a good story, a good character does. It takes us to places afar, and allows us to befriend and feel the emotions of someone whose entire physical existence consists of paper and ink.
But a good character is more than that. When you meet a good character from a very good, old story, you become a member of a long line people suspended in time. See, Dickon has been making friends since he first appeared in 1911. He probably knew some of my ancestors. He knows my mother and younger sisters.
And he was still there, nearly a hundred years after his birth, ready and waiting to befriend me with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his rosy face. Dickon is like Peter Pan, only better, for Dickon will never abandon me as Peter Pan would Wendy. I will never grow to old for Dickon, and neither will he for me, we will always be friends.
Common friends have a way of drawing people together. I would venture to say I could make friends with people of all ages who are also friends of Dickon.
That is the magic of a good character. Good characters bring people together, across decades, centuries, ethnicities, and differences of opinion. Good characters remind us of ourselves, or teach us something new about someone else. Good characters, once befriended, are friends for life. Good characters never grow old, or become irrelevant, or cease to affect us. Good characters add to who we are as individuals, and as a group.
Have you met Dickon yet? Or Jo March? How about Puddlglum? Do you know Frank and Joe Hardy? We really must get together soon with the Fellowship....
....the magic of good characters...