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The Green Knowe Series
L.M. Boston
Harcourt

Lucy M. Boston
Lucy Maria Wood Boston was born December 18, 1892 in Southport, Lancashire, England. Her wealthy family expected her to join and marry into in their circle of society friends, but instead she became a Volunteer Nurse in France, present at the aftermath of the events at the Western front. There she met and married the man who fathered her only child, Peter, later illustrator of the Green Knowe books. Her marriage was soon dissolved, for reasons she never divulged. After a stay in Italy, L.M. Boston returned to Huntingdonshire, England, where in 1939 she purchased a run-down 12th century Norman manor at Hemingford Grey. She spent the next two years restoring the old home, which evolved into a lifelong passion for preservation and and restoration. In her 60s, she began writing the six books of the Green Knowe series, set in and around her beloved manor. These are: The Children of Green Knowe, The Treasure of Green Knowe (a.k.a. The Chimneys of Green Knowe), The River at Green Knowe, A Stranger at Green Knowe, An Enemy at Green Knowe, and the somewhat later The Stones of Green Knowe, not reprinted in these editions. She also penned two autobiographical works: Perverse and Foolish: A Memoir of Childhood and Youth, and Memory In a House, as well as other novels for both children and adults: Persephone a Gothic tale of love and madness; The Guardians of the House; Yew Hall, a novel of murder, adultery and suicide in a possibly accursed house; and The Fossil Snake and The Sea Egg, both children's stories. She wrote prolifically until her death in 1990, at the age of 98.

Official Green Knowe Site

ESSAY ON SERIES:

Bibliography
Bio-bibliography
Harcourt Children's Books
The house that inspired it all
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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The Green Knowe Series
The Children of Green Knowe, 192 pp.
The Treasure of Green Knowe, 224 pp.
The River at Green Knowe, 176 pp.
A Stranger at Green Knowe, 208 pp.
An Enemy at Green Knowe, 192 pp.

The Children of Green Knowe
The Treasure of Green Knowe
The River at Green Knowe
A Stranger at Green Knowe
An Enemy at Green Knowe
Some of us are fortunate enough to have had that grandmother or aunt with a house full of fascinating things to discover as well as all sorts of family stories to tell. In my pre-teenage years, my grandmother had a country house full of Edwardian board games (some with brightly painted lead horses!), authentic WWI cavalry swords, a working WWII-era Coke cooler, buckets and buckets of more or less rusted thing-a-magigs behind a counter that shielded me from prying adult eyes, 1930s dentistry equipment, complemented, in the yard, by the wreck of a 1940s Packard and an even earlier International Harvester flatbed truck... not to mention the woods and the creek, the feral cats under the porch, and the wild strawberries in the fields -- and besides, my grandmother had endless stories about her ancestors, one a Royalist gun-runner who escaped the French Revolution and ended up in Louisiana, southern California, and eventually Quebec. While the people, places and objects in the Green Knowe Series are different and the history spans close to nine centuries, these books capture the essence of such a time in a child's life when an unfettered imagination, a locale which invites exploration, and an older adult present to pass on the historical continuity of the family and locale, combine in a life-affirming and altering experience.

In a general sense, the Green Knowe Series is about different children living such an experience. Certainly, neither tales of young boys discovering outdoor adventures in rural England [Richard Jefferies' Wood Magic. A Fable (1881) and Bevis. The Story of a Boy (1882) being amongst the earliest that come to mind], nor tales of children discovering imaginary or ghostly friends in rambling old British homes [Algernon Blackwood's The Fruit Stoners (1935)] are anything new. However, L.M. Boston is able to bring out the sense of wonder inherent in children, without resorting to saccharine sentimentality. While the Green Knowe Series shares the element of magic with a wave of recent popular children's literature, the magic in the Green Knowe Series, except for An Enemy at Green Knowe, is predominantly and simply that of imagination. Boston does an excellent job of creating this magic, but has the sense to leave many things unsaid, many questions unanswered and open to interpretation. Great-grandmother Oldknow, who appears in all but The River at Green Knowe, seems to be more than just a pleasant old grandmother, her almost eye-witnesses accounts of centuries-old events brand her more a catalyst for adventures and alter-ego of the stately old home that is Green Knowe -- very much what L.M. Boston was to her beloved Hemingford Grey.

In The Children of Green Knowe, it is the 7 year-old boy Toseland (Tolly for short) who comes to Green Knowe -- named after a sinister topiary Noah in the extensive gardens -- for Christmas holidays, while his parents are away in Burma. Through a painting and personal artefacts which he discovers in the ancient house, as well as his great-grandmother Oldknow's cryptic remarks, he discovers that the house is peopled by the spirits of children and horses long gone to their rest. In particular, he begins to detect and even interact through time (or his imagination?) with Toby, Linnet and Alexander, three young plague victims from the 17th century, of whom Mrs. Oldknow seems to have an extensive knowledge. In the second novel, The Treasure of Green Knowe (published in Britain as The Chimneys of Green Knowe) Tolly returns to Green Knowe for Easter, only to find the painting of Toby, Linnet and Alexander gone to an exhibit, and at risk of having to be sold-off to pay for roof repairs. However, he discovers a quilt made up of patches of material from the clothes of other long disappeared children, and it is this catalyst, along with Mrs. Oldknow which allow Tolly to discover his ancestor, the overly-coddled blind girl, Susan, and her family. Suffice it to say that Green Knowe is saved through inter-generational cooperation

At this point, L.M. Boston could have continued having Tolly show up for holidays and discover generation after generation of other ancestors, and writing as well as she does, might have even pulled it off, but in The River at Green Knowe neither Tolly, nor Mrs. Oldknow -- not even previous generations of Oldknows -- are present. The house is let for the summer by a flighty anthropologist who invites her grand-niece Ida, and two refugee children, the Polish Oskar, and the southeast-Asian Ping. Together they discover a canoe and explore the highways and byways of the river which flows by Green Knowe. Here, the story drifts very much into fantasy, with the children sighting flying horses, a giant wishing to join a circus, and a stone age religious ceremony, amongst other things. One wonderful sequence has Oskar building himself a nest like that of field mice, and shrinking progressively to that size as he completes the task. Again a triumph of the unfettered imagination of children

In A Stranger at Green Knowe, Ping visits the great gorilla Hanno at the zoo with a group of refugee children, where he is allowed to feed him and spends time gazing at him in wonder. Ping becomes once again the guest at Green Knowe, this time in the presence of Mrs. Oldknow. When Hanno escapes the zoo, Ping understand the great ape's motivation, and when he turns up in the forested area across the river from Green Knowe, Ping befriends the supposedly dangerous Hanno -- but the search is on and closing in. While the Ping-Hanno relationship is a powerfully poignant one, it is the first couple of chapters detailing Hanno's life in the wilds of Africa and the events leading up to his capture which would make Jane Goodall proud. The highly accurate and heartfelt account of life in a gorilla family group and how it is irrevocably marred by human intervention is amongst the best Nature writing out there, bar none. It is no big surprise that this novel won the Carnegie Medal.

In An Enemy at Green Knowe, things get very much darker, with a real-life black-magician, Dr. Melanie T. Powers, threatening Mrs. Oldknow and Green Knowe in her quest to obtain a magical book of an erstwhile occupant, the 16th century tutor and alchemist, Dr. Vogel. There is ultimately a fight to the death between Mrs Oldknow, Ping and Tolly and the Satanic powers of Ms. Powers. It is clear that L.M. Boston knows her witchcraft, and this title, where it is presented in a largely "realistic" and non-fantastical context, would certainly be highly objectionable to those parents who found the Harry Potter Series to be a stepping stone into the Dark Arts. However, for those of us who don't see budding Satanists in every 10-year old reader, this remains an intensely creepy and nasty little novel, which might not be the best fare for the nightmare-prone amongst your children.

There also exists one other book in the Green Knowe Series which has not been reprinted here, as it was published some 10 years after the others, by a different publisher (Atheneum Press in the US). The Stones of Green Knowe is centered around Roger, son of the Norman lord who first built Green Knowe. His travels into his future bring him into contact with Tolly, Susan, and some of the other children from the series.

Besides great stories, L.M. Boston, who was trained as an artist, had a wonderful ability to depict her beloved home and its environs, as well as to create an almost unworldly atmosphere. The first novel begins with Tolly's arrival by train. A car takes him through the flooded landscape to near the manor, where he is picked up, in the dark, by a rowboat manned by the ancient gardener Boggis, who rows him to the steps of the completely surrounded manor, elsewhere described as an Ark... tying into its name "Green Noah". Maybe it was the near floodwaters around my home when I read this portion, but the exquisitely portrayed impression of rowing through the dark, up the driveway to the house, immediately predisposed me to suspend disbelief and enjoy both the rest of the book and the rest of the series. Certainly, the wild gorilla family-life segment, mentioned above, ranks among the best Nature segments in childrens literature I've read. Equally, L.M. Boston's Green Knowe Series has excellent creepy moments, and at least some unhappy events and unpleasant characters to save the books from simply being saccharine kiddy-drivel. All of this is anchored by a sense of the continuity of place and family over numerous generations, certainly values that are too frequently lost in today's world.

Copyright © 2002 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.


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