We had a trio of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books on the shelf from as early as I can remember – A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Secret Garden. I read all three when I was pretty young, and saw at least two movie adaptations of each one. All three books feature child protagonists who’ve lost at least one parent. In A Little Princess, Sara Crewe is known for her brave forbearance and her devotion to princessly virtues throughout her riches-to-rags story. In Little Lord Fauntleroy, Cedric Erroll remains the sweet-natured, charismatic apple of his mother’s eye as he goes from being a street urchin in Brooklyn to an English aristocrat.
The Secret Garden stands out among Burnett’s works (and classic children’s literature in general) in that ten-year-old Mary Lennox, orphaned while overseas with her parents, is a total bitch. She’s unlikeable, and I love her for it. Mary has the kind of behavioral issues you’d expect from a kid raised by neglectful narcissists whose idea of “parenting” is giving the kid whatever it takes to shut her up. Not to mention this child has gone through the trauma of finding her parents’ disease-ravaged bodies and being the only one left alive in her home.
So, when I was asked to review The Misselthwaite Archives, I was pleased to see that #MisselArch’s Mary is traumatized, depressed, and a total bitch. Though, as you can see, she’s not ten.
In this adaptation, 17-year-old Mary is sent to live at her widowed uncle’s home in Misselthwaite, a small, preppy town somewhere in Oregon. Teen angst and Portlandia snark suit this character beautifully.
As does the series’ framing device. Most of Mary’s talking-to-the-camera videos are letters to Dr. F.H. Burnett, the therapist she left behind when she moved to Misselthwaite. Others are study exercises with her perpetually cheerful tutor, Phoebe Sower (Martha Sowerby’s counterpart). Phoebe is the one who first introduces Mary to the legend of The Glade. She also introduces Mary to her little brother, Declan.
Dickon Sowerby was one of my biggest “How is a modern webseries going to handle this character?” characters. With his entourage of enchanted woodland creatures, Book Dickon is pretty much a boy Disney Princess. It’s easy and predictable to take him in a Manic Pixie Dream Guy direction. The 1987 film went full Purity Sue/Too Good For This Sinful Earth, telling us in an epilogue that Dickon died in the first World War. (I like to imagine that version of Dickon actually ran away with Walter Blythe and they lived feyly ever after, but I digress.)
#MisselArch goes the opposite way with Declan Sower. He’s a wildlife sanctuary intern who’s brilliant at ecology and animal care, but shy and awkward with humans. He’s as good-natured as his perky sister, but quiet and thoughtful in a way that connects better with Mary’s withdrawn snarkitude. In fact, Declan connects so well with Mary that every video he appears in is inevitably followed by “I ship it!!!!” comments. I have to agree. I’ve always loved Mary for feeling like a real kid, and for once, Dickon feels as real as she does.
My biggest question, though, was how #MisselArch would handle Colin Craven. I can’t tell you the answer without a ton of SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. Continue reading