Tuesday, September 29, 2009

For the Love of Green Knowe

I just finished reading the sixth book in L.M. Boston's Green Knowe series last night. She started writing the books in 1955 (at the age of 62) and the final one came out in 1976. I read them all in just under three months and was fascinated by this series where nothing remains the same except the sturdy old stones of Green Knowe.

The first book, The Children of Green Knowe, introduces us to the stone house which dates from Norman times. Though it has had many names over the years, it has always come back to being called Green Knowe. The book starts with a young boy named Toseland who is coming to live with his Great-Grandmother Oldknow. He has lost his mother and his father has remarried and moved to the East so he is feeling a bit alone. But although there are only two living people in the home, it is alive with the spirits of those who have come before. The "ghosts" that Tolly befriends are three children -- Toby, Alexander and Linnet -- from the 1800s who have left behind some of their treasures in the home. They are shy at first but eventually become Tolly's playmates as he learns to accept them.

This was a delightful book that I would have loved as a child. There was nothing I would have wanted more than to live in an old house with friendly ghosts and hidden treasures. And I loved that the children from the past were actually Tolly's ancestors so that there was even a sort of love between them all. Mrs. Oldknow was also a lovely character -- the kind of grandmother who wants you to go exploring but then always has a warm drink and a snack ready right when you come back. Her connection with Green Knowe and with the family history are based in love and it's obvious that she wants Tolly to continue the tradition.

The second book also featured Tolly and was a look back into another period in Green Knowe's history. The Treasure of Green Knowe introduces Tolly to Susan, a young blind girl who lived about 150 years before the other three children. Her father was a sea captain and he brought a young freed slave back with him to help his daughter out from under the suffocating care of her mother and grandmother. In this story, Tolly actually travels back in time when he must help someone in need. The past and the future become one and Tolly learns even more about the home and finds a hidden treasure that helps Mrs. Oldknow remain in the home. Though I didn't love this book as much as the first, it was still a very good read and a good continuation of the story.

The next two stories, The River at Green Knowe and A Stranger at Green Knowe, happen at times when Tolly is away from the house. In the first of these, Mrs. Oldknow has let the house to an archaeologist/historian named Sybilla Bun. She invites her niece Ida to the house for the summer and also two refugee children, Oskar and Hsu, whom they call Ping. The kids are basically left on their own to explore and they spend the summer getting to know the area around the house and down the river. This was the most boring of all the books as there wasn't much of a plot -- just the summer meanderings of some children. They had small adventures and experienced the magic of Green Knowe but there just wasn't the same sweetness that the stories with Tolly have.

The other story is set in the following summer when Mrs. Oldknow is back in the house. Oskar had been adopted and Ida is busy with her family but she feels badly for Ping who is still in the orphans' camp so she writes to Mrs. Oldknow to ask if Ping can visit. Since Tolly is away in the East for a visit with his father, Mrs. Oldknow agrees and invites Ping for the summer. Right before Ping heads to the country, he goes on a field trip to the zoo and is fascinated by the gorilla, Hanno. Coincidentally, Hanno escapes and ends up in Green Knowe where Ping keeps him a secret. This of course was a silly set-up but the story was sweet as Ping's status as a refugee is compared to the story of Hanno's capture in the wild. I thought this one was okay and Ping was a good character but most of what I enjoyed were the chapters about Hanno's family in the wild. I'm surprised that Boston had such a well-informed picture of the gorilla family structure and behaviors a full ten years before Dian Fossey first published her research in National Geographic and gained visibility for these gentle giants.

The fifth book, An Enemy at Green Knowe has Tolly back at Green Knowe but also Ping as Mrs. Oldknow adopted him at the end of the previous summer. They are starting to enjoy getting to know each other when a strange "researcher", Melanie Powers, moves in next door and asks if she can search the house for some possible manuscripts left by the alchemist Dr. Vogel who lived in the house as a tutor hundreds of years earlier. It is obvious from the start that Ms. Powers is not who she claims to be and that she is also up to no good. Tolly, Ping and Mrs. Oldknow do everything in their power to thwart her and eventually come up against some pretty evil stuff. This story was a bit of a shocker with all of its Satanic and witchcraft references and plagues and such. This would never make it past the hyper-vigilant parents of today. Ms. Powers makes Voldemort seem a bit milque-toast!

The final book was one of my favorites in the series, The Stones of Green Knowe. This is the story of Roger, the child who lived when Green Knowe was being built in around 1050 A.D. He unearths some ancient and magical stone chairs hidden in the trees on a hill and finds that they give him the power to travel through time for brief periods. His greatest concern is that Green Knowe survives and so he travels forward in time to see if the house is still standing. He manages to find almost all of the children we have met before -- Alexander, Linnet and Toby, Susan and Jacob and finally, Tolly. This story had a satisfying sense of closure and was sweet in the way it brought all of the children together.

This was a strange "series" with each book having an entirely different focus and tempo. From exploration and ghosts to witches and time travel, this series has something for almost every child. I didn't feel that anything was too dated in the stories because they are really about emotions and relationships and imagination. This was a fantastic find and I thank those bloggers who brought this series to my attention.

Dreaming of ancient stones that feel like home,
K


Support our site and buy The Children of Green Knowe, Treasure of Green Knowe, The River at Green Knowe, A Stranger at Green Knowe, An Enemy at Green Knowe and The Stones of Green Knowe on Amazon or find them at your local library.

5 comments:

  1. Sounds like something I'd love. I'll be giving them a read.

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  2. Yay! What a great review of the series! Isn't Ms. Powers evil?!?! ZOMG when she sends the cats to eat up the songbirds. :/

    It didn't come as a *huge* shock to me, since the creepy hedge gypsy guy in The Children of Green Knowe was terrifying as well! lol That one will always be my fave, with Treasures a second. :D

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  3. Eva - Seriously. Ms. Powers was terrifying me -- creeping around the house and everything. I was surprised by how really evil that book went.

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  4. Sounds like an interesting series. I'll have to check it out when I have time to read.

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