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British Children Have More Fun
by Georges T. Dodds

With the critical acclaim for Susanna Clarke's tale of 19th century magicians in London (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel), the popularity of Worst Witch, a TV series set in a British private girl's school for witches, and the Harry Potter series, it is clear that British wizards and magicians are seeing a wave of popularity not experienced since the days of John Dee, and that this magic is particularly popular when placed in the hands of pre-teen wielders. However, it is a different sort of magic -- that of the outdoors, of Nature, of imagination, of play and of learning and social dynamics it brings to children -- that interests Georges.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other British Children Have More Fun columns.

The Green Knowe Chronicles
Lucy M. Boston
(London, 1954-1964)

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

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 the 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 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


Harcourt Children's Books
The house that inspired it all

Series Titles
The Children of Green Knowe (1954)
The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958), a.k.a The Treasure of Green Knowe
The River at Green Knowe (1959)
A Stranger at Green Knowe (1961)
An Enemy at Green Knowe (1964)
The Stones of Green Knowe (1976)
While the people, places and objects in The Green Knowe Chronicles 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, but not too intrusive adult is 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 Chronicles is about different children living such an experience or adventure. While many of the tales in the series occur in and around the ancient home of Green Knowe, the explorations of the surrounding gardens, river-ways and woods, while clearly not derived from Richard Jefferies or Arthur Ransome's tales, do tie-in these stories with their predecessors.


In The Children of Green Knowe, and The Treasure of Green Knowe (published in Britain as The Chimneys of Green Knowe) the 7 and then 8 year-old boy Tolly comes to Green Knowe. In the former, through a painting and personal effects he discovers in the ancient house, and by his great-grandmother cryptic remarks, he begins to detect and even interact through time (or perhaps his imagination) with Toby, Linnet and Alexander, three young plague victims from the 17th century. In the latter book, it is a quilt made up of patches of material from the clothes of other long disappeared children that serves as catalyst. While these do have only small elements of outdoor adventure and interaction with Nature, they do certainly highlight the powers of a child's imagination.

However, The River at Green Knowe could well be a Swallows and Amazons adventure. When a flighty anthropologist invites her grand-niece Ida, and two refugee children Oskar and Ping to Green Knowe, they discover a canoe and explore the highways and byways of the river which flows by Green Knowe, discovering or imagining people, events which occurred on now overgrown islands. The story drifts very much into the childrens' imagination, with the children sight flying horses, a giant wishing to join a circus, and a stone age religious ceremony, amongst other things. Again, the children are not fettered in their thoughts or actions by the adults. 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. Still, while their imagination takes a different direction than the Walkers and the Blacketts of Arthur Ransome stories, these are again children basking in Nature and their imaginations. In A Stranger at Green Knowe (a Carnegie Medal winner), Ping befriends Hanno, a gorilla escaped the zoo, who has come to hide out in the forested area across the river from Green Knowe, again a mixture of real adventure, imagination and a child's interaction with nature. The latter two books in the series, An Enemy at Green Knowe, and The Stones of Green Knowe are not really relevant to this discussion.

Copyright © 2005 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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