Inside the secret garden of The Misselthwaite Archives with showrunner Aileen Sheedy

How do you go about transforming a beloved childhood novel into an adult, 21st-century web series? With The Misselthwaite Archives, Pencil Ink Productions in Portland, Oregon has done just that with Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved classic, The Secret Garden. BookTrib sat down with showrunner Aileen Sheedy to find out more.

Aileen Sheedy
Aileen Sheedy

Aileen Sheedy: After the death of her parents, surly teenager Mary Lennox moves to her uncle’s large, lonely estate along Misselthwaite Creek in Oregon. Mary hates her new home, where it rains constantly and strange noises echo from the basement, but she soon takes an interest in finding the hidden forest glade where her aunt passed away several years before.

BT: What inspired you to adapt The Secret Garden?

AS: We were inspired by many of the literary web series, especially The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, and Nothing Much to Do. I wanted to do a similar adaptation of a book that I love and showcase Oregon. I felt like The Secret Garden would be a fun challenge and fit the Pacific Northwest.

BT: How does an early 20th-century British children’s novel translate into today?

AS: The characters are older, and we rearranged the timeline and structure of the plot. Because it’s a children’s book, the source text doesn’t have a lot of conflict, or even a traditional climax in the way modern audiences expect. Since the garden (or glade, in our version) is a secret, it didn’t make sense that Mary would vlog about it publicly, so we needed to find other ways to tell the story. That led us to explore the way people keep secrets in a modern world where everyone shares everything. We made a lot of changes, but hope you think we stayed true to the characters and themes of the book.

Mary & Phoebe
Jack Wells as Phoebe Sower with Sophie Giberson as Mary Lennox

BT: Finally, what about your production do you think will get the audience excited?

AS: We have really interesting, complex characters, beautiful locations, and a fabulous production team. We’re using a mix of episode formatting and cinematography styles more extensively than previous series. Our show will be less vlog and more a collection (or archive) of documents about our characters, like a digital epistolary novel. We will incorporate fan submissions (fan fiction, art, mixes, etc.) into our canon. We hope people will be excited to contribute to our story!

The Misselthwaite Archives starts January 23 and finishes mid-June. Episodes air Wednesdays and Fridays.

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