Green Knowe is a medieval castle in the English countryside, and it is full of enchantment and ghosts. L.M. Boston’s chronicles about the manor house are full of child-like delight.
And yet, describing the series as a whole is challenging. They all, but one, involved magic of some kind. They all, but one, focus on a mid-twentieth century child or children having adventures. They all, but one, focus on Green Knowe itself as the center of action. Half of them focus on a mysterious connection with the past. All of them have some delightful characters, but one does have a disturbing, wicked character.
As a series, then, the novels do not always feel to be connected to one another. All the same, I enjoyed the visits to the mysterious manor house, and I knew that adventures of some kind were waiting. While I enjoyed some stories more than others (and one I would never recommend to a child), I think most children will enjoy the stories of a time when children could play freely by themselves, all summer long, in an old castle and the grounds surrounding it.
The six children’s stories are as follows:
- The Children of Green Knowe, 1954
- Treasure of Green Knowe (called The Chimneys of Green Knowe in the U.K.), 1958
- The River at Green Knowe, 1959
- A Stranger at Green Knowe , 1961
- An Enemy at Green Knowe , 1964
- The Stones at Green Knowe , 1976
The Children of Green Knowe is a compact and fun story. It follows young Tolly as he spends his Christmas holiday with his great-grandmother Mrs. Oldknow. Green Knowe comes alive with the history as Mrs. Oldknow tells the family stories, particularly when they are visited by three young children (Toby, Alexander, and Linnet) who died in the castle of the great plague. Yet, while this book is a ghost story, it is a delightful one, and Tolly cannot wait until the next visit from his ancient friends. I thought this was a perfect children’s story: it was mysterious and haunted, and yet not too scary.
In Treasure of Green Knowe, Tolly finds himself straddling time again as he visits with Susan and her family and friends in the late 1790s. The castle is again a character, and Tolly is brought into history again. While Susan was an interesting character, I didn’t feel the characters overall were as engaging in this story. As a first-time reader of this series, I was also disappointed that there was no continuance from the previous book, other than the two characters of Tolly and Mrs. Oldknow. (The three children who had haunted Green Knowe so delightfully no longer appeared.)
The River at Green Knowe has a different feel from the first two books for two reasons. First, it has completely new characters. Second, it deals with fantastical elements along the river, not at Green Knowe itself. Dr. Biggin and her friend Miss Bun have rented Green Knowe for the summer, inviting her niece Ida and two “displaced” orphan children, Oskar and Ping, to join her. The children spend the summer finding adventure on the river, from flying horses to giants. It’s a fun story of childhood and shows the dichotomy between realistic (and boring) adults and children who are willing to see the unusual.
A Stranger at Green Knowe is also strikingly different from the first two books of the series, and I found it to be my absolute favorite, although children probably won’t agree with me. This book begins in the jungles of Africa, when a baby gorilla is taken from his family. Ten years later, Ping meets the gorilla, named Hanno, in the London Zoo; Ping feels a bond, for just as Ping had been “displaced” from his family and home, Hanno has been displaced from his home and feels lonely in his cement, impersonal zoo world. As Ping travels to Green Knowe to spend the summer with Mrs. Oldknow, he discovers that Hanno has escaped from the zoo. In the coming days, Ping secretly helps the wild gorilla enjoy his sought-after freedom. I loved this book because I felt that Ping was superbly developed and real as neither he nor any of the other characters had been in any other book. A Stranger at Green Knowe won the 1961 Carnegie Medal, I believe it probably was well deserved. However, children that loved the first three books may be disappointed with the practical personality study and find themselves wishing for more fantastic elements, as the other three books had. In some respects, it’s a different type of book and feels out of place as a “Green Knowe” story; I still loved it.
An Enemy at Green Knowe also has a different feel from the other, innocent stories in the series. Because it deals with a witch who practices black magic and literally worships the devil, I also would hesitate to recommend it for children. I found it quite disturbing; any sensible person would request a police restraining order on the woman who so manipulated and threatened, not to mention invaded the privacy of, the residents of Green Knowe. There is magic in this book – but much of that magic felt satanic to me, while in the other books it felt playful. Now, I’m sure someone out there is rolling their eyes at the thought of me taking this book so seriously, but I honestly felt this book had less innocence and playfulness than the others had; so much less that this book was disturbing to me while the others had not been.
I am so glad that L.M. Boston came back twelve years later to finish the series with The Stones at Green Knowe. This again has the playful, magical feel that the first three books had, and I loved how it brought all the series together. It takes place in the years just after the Norman conquest, as young Roger d’Aulneaux watches his father building a grand manor house, to be called Green Knowe. He wonders about the children who will live in it after him. When he discovers a set of stones that take him backwards and forwards in time, he is able to meet Toby, Alexander, and Linnet; Susan; and Tolly and Mrs. Oldknow. This was again light-hearted and I loved how it made various points in history come alive. (I couldn’t help observing that Roger could not have possibly communicated with the other children, since the language English wasn’t recognizable as such until the 1500s or 1600s; but that is beside the point.)
I listened to all the books (except Treasure) via audiobook. The narrator, Simon Vance, was wonderful, and it has been a very enjoyable experience for the past month and a half to listen to Green Knowe Chronicles as I ran my errands.
In the end, I enjoyed a trip back to an age where children age 9 and 10 could canoe down a river by themselves, a world where magic stones could transport you 850 years in the future, and where home is an ancient castle inhabited by friendly ghosts of children long past. The series was delightful (with one exception) and I’d mostly recommend it for children looking for fantastic adventure.