Reading this book was a strange experience for me, as even though I had never read it before in my life, it evoked a strange sense of familiarity that only the very best books, movies and music are able to achieve. Usually these are reserved for the ones that are experienced in childhood and carried through into adulthood, but every now and then one arrives that touch one on so deep a level that one feels they’ve always known them. The Children of Green Knowe is one such book.
This is the perfect book for anyone who has a love of old homes, and especially for those who have very little chances of exploring them, much less living in them. Since Lucy Boston wrote the Green Knowe series based on her own house and garden that was built nearly nine hundred years ago, the descriptions of the house and grounds are painstakingly created and thus utterly realistic. As her young protagonist explores them, so too does the reader, and her poetic imagery concerning all the marvels that he finds are vivid, mysterious and beautiful all at once.
The story itself is slow and dreamlike; it can hardly be called a story, rather it is better described as the record of a young boy and his semi-magical experiences throughout his winter at Green Knowe. Seven year old Toseland is sent to live with his great-grandmother during the school break whilst his parents are in Burma, and despite some initial fears concerning Mrs Oldknow and her strange existence in the flooded waters of the property, Toseland (or “Tolly” as she calls him) soon finds himself quite at home among the welcoming atmosphere of the house, the variety of friendly animals, and the myriad of interesting relics to be found. Outside, the wintry landscape goes through many changes, from a flooded lake to snow-covered hillocks, all watched over by the statue of St Christopher against the wall.
But there are other components at work that Mrs Oldknow and her manservant Boggis seem reluctant to talk about – the spirits of children that lived in the house over three hundred years ago still seem to be dwelling within the house: Alexander, Toby and Linnet. Tolly is eager to get to know them, especially if it means seeing Toby’s old horse Feste, and through several designs of his own, Tolly just might get his wish. The visitations with the “ghosts” come across as perfectly natural and not at all sinister, through there is just the right amount of mystery about them that keeps the normality of the house just forever verging on the magical.
In fact, for me personally, there was a little bit of a shock in store. The reason I liked this book so much was because it reminded me of my own little hobby (that I’m sure others share) of creating dream-homes to live in, complete with their own names. The name given to my own imaginary house is Joyous Gard (after Lancelot’s castle), and I almost got goosebumps when Mrs Oldknow recounts the story of Alexander exploring the old church and deciding to call it Joyous Gard! How spooky is that?
Throughout the book, Lucy Boston’s Catholicism is made clear, through her use of St Christopher and the descriptions of finely decorated cathedrals as opposed to the less elaborate Protestant churches, and so with Catholic favor comes the barest touch of Paganism that (probably unintentionally) lies behind the animal hedge sculptures that seem to come to life, the ghostly occurrences and the personification of inanimate objects. There is even a touch of the sinister in Green Noah, the evil humped tree that lies as a curse upon the family…
For anyone who likes dreamy, meandering stories but has no idea where to find them, look no further than The Children of Green Knowe. There’s enough charm and mystery for any child or adult who long for such a place to live in, and Mrs Oldknow’s stories-within-the-story, Tolly’s wonderment at his home, and the many strange events that happen make this a hidden gem in children’s literature.