© The Estate of L. M. Boston.
The holidays are a good time to reread a favorite book, and if it’s one with a Christmas theme, that’s even better. “The Children of Green Knowe” is one of my absolute favorites, the best of a terrific series, and a remarkable work in many ways. It’s not exactly a Christmas story, but that does figure into it.
As the story opens we follow a young boy, Tolly, as he makes his way alone through England to visit a great-grandmother he doesn’t know in a very old house he’s never seen. He begins on a train splashing through sodden countryside in torrential rain that has everything flooded. Dropped off at a small station, the worried boy is met by a taxi hired to take him to the house, but the taxi can only go so far because of the flooding. All looks bleak until a boat appears rowed by Boggis, the groundskeeper, who brings the boy safely to the front door of the ancient stone house, where his great-grandmother is waiting with a comforting dinner and warm greeting. Mrs. Oldknow is not much larger than Tolly, and they get on famously. She shows him around the manor, which is full of wonders for a young boy, with a music room that looks like a knight’s dining hall and a bedroom for him under the roof eaves full of ancient family toys. It certainly seems like a place where interesting things can happen, and when Tolly asks his grandmother if they ever do, she replies, “Oh, yes.”
As Tolly will soon find out, the house, which has been in his family for hundreds of years, has other inhabitants. Children that lived there long ago and died of the plague, but whose spirits remain to fill the house and garden with their mischievous presence, their animal pets, and their teasing laughter. These are not ghosts to be afraid of for Tolly, they are playmates he wants desperately to meet and know better. And as Mrs. Oldknow can see them as well, she tells Tolly stories about the children in their own time, while Tolly gradually sees more and more of them in the present.
It’s just before Christmas, and throughout the book preparations are being made. Then there’s Boggis, the groundskeeper, who has more stories for Tolly, and the many secret features and treasures of the house and garden to explore. But there’s a shadow lying over the place, a spell cast by a gypsy ages ago that centers on a huge yew tree once trimmed into the shape of a Green Noah, now shunned and shaggy, but somehow very dangerous, as Tolly will find out.
L.M. Boston’s writing is superb, magical itself, as she conjures up one evocative moment after another in this fine book, illustrated by her son Peter Boston. What makes it even more special to me is that the house and garden are real, you can visit them, and Ellen and I did that on our last trip to England in 2001. You can see it HERE. and read more about it on the family’s website. It’s an amazing experience to walk through the scenes and settings of the Green Knowe books, and the house itself is every bit as historic and haunted as the stories. It’s a visit I’ll never forget, and a book I can’t recommend enough. If you like fantasy with a historical flavor, give it a try. The rest of the Green Knowe series is almost as good, which is to say superb by any measure.