In one sense, I was really well-read as a child. I spent virtually all my time reading — had to be forced into the playground — and I roamed my library at my own sweet will. In some other ways, though, I wasn’t very well-read at all, because I had a tendency to read the same books over and over and over again. I must have read Elizabeth Enright’s books about the Melendy family easily fifty or sixty times during my childhood, for instance, and I don’t even want to think about how many times I read the Narnia books. Doing this meant that I didn’t have time — for dull pursuits like homework, of course, but also for other books I might have branched out to read. And somehow, I managed to miss some real childhood classics. I never read any of the Betsy-Tacy books, for example, and I still haven’t read any of the Indian in the Cupboard books or Sarah, Plain and Tall. And high on that list — I never read L.M. Boston’s wonderful, mysterious Green Knowe series.
The Children of Green Knowe begins with little Toseland Oldknow arriving on the train, in the dark, in the middle of floodwaters, to live with his unknown great-grandmother Oldknow at the family house, Green Noah. As soon as Tolly arrives, it is clear that there is nothing here for him to fear: he belongs at Green Noah with Granny, the gardener Boggis, the hundreds of birds in the garden… and the mysterious laughing voices he sometimes hears as he’s falling asleep at night.
As the floodwaters recede, Tolly is able to explore the house and garden, and to ask Granny to tell him more stories about his ancestors, the children who lived in the house centuries ago: Toby, who rode the magnificent horse Feste; Alexander, who played the flute; and little mischievous Linnet, their sister. As Tolly roams the grounds, encountering yew-animals and tame deer and minor mysteries, it becomes increasingly clear that the children are still at Green Knowe, and ready to welcome Tolly. Other mystical beings — the great statue of St. Christopher, and the menacing Green Noah himself — also find their place in the story.
I more than half-expected this book to be frightening. A haunted house has to be, right? But no. The dead, the living, the animal life and the plants and the house itself are all part of Green Knowe, all part of belonging to the history of the place. The descriptions are beautiful, with every detail satisfying to a child’s heart (or an adult’s, for that matter.) Despite the presence of St. Christopher and the mention of Christmas Midnight Mass, this is not a Christian book: the heart of it comes straight out of a sweet pagan mysticism that sings with a natural happiness. I was completely charmed. I wish I’d read this as a child, but I’m so glad I read it as an adult.
Can anyone tell me if the sequels are any good? I’d like to read more, but I know that sometimes series go downhill, and after such a good start, I’d hate to be disappointed…