Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (1954)

This is another book that I really loved as a young reader.  I don't remember reading it very often though.  I know I never actually owned it; I probably stumbled across it at the public library every once in a while, checked it out, and re-read it.  Actually, it may have been part of my elementary school library, which would explain why I never read it as much as some other books (off the top of my head:  Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, the Oz books, Trixie Belden, the Little House series, Encounter Near Venus were all books that were in the public library; I discovered Narnia at my school library).  I've written previously about "stealing" The Secret Garden from the classroom of Mrs. Stoppel, the fifth grade teacher (and spilling pizza on it).  I may have checked this book out from her classroom (once I admitted to stealing the book to read, spilling the pizza on it, and then being able to check out the books instead of stealing them).

The magic in The Children of Green Knowe is the quiet build up.  It's this quietness that could also be described by some lesser readers as "boring."  Admittedly, the action is slow; Boston layers and colors the novel with description and hints.  The lines between imagination and reality are blurred; a child reader would take everything happening to Tolly and his grandmother Mrs. Oldknowe at face value; the adult reader wonders if the two are sharing a game (or perhaps even mental illness; I hate to even write this, because it makes me feel like a deconstructing adult asshat).

The book definitely has a gothic flavor - Wikipedia describes gothic literature as a combination of fiction, horror and Romanticism, and that really does describe The Children of Green Knowe.  It's a ghost story for sure.  The curse of the gypsy woman and Green Noah certainly add a delicious sense of horror at the end.  The book is infected with Romanticism as well - laden with emotion, the intertwining and importance of nature (the woodland creatures, the rain).  These features are what I enjoyed as an adult; Boston made you want to be there by the fire with the grandmother, or exploring the snow, or trying to catch up with the elusive ghost children.  I imagine this was the attraction as a child.  I'm still a romantic at heart I think (Miniver Cheevy...).

Slow is not boring.  A book doesn't need to smack you in the head with action all the time to be good and grand.

I was wondering if the book could be described as magical realism - "magical or unreal elements as a natural part in an otherwise realistic or mundane environment" ?  I would guess there are elements of this throughout the book, and while I wouldn't necessarily call Green Knowe mundane, the place exists in a mundane world (albeit separated by water).  Perhaps gothic literature and magical realism sometimes hold hands and walk down the path together?

I wonder what I thought of the end as a young reader?  As a grown up, I was sad.  The mundane world suddenly invade Green Knowe, and it wasn't nearly as romantic or interesting.  It was a similar feeling to when Mary Lennox finds the key and opens the garden - it's just a garden at the end.  Tolly just becomes a regular boy.

I've never read any other books in this "series" (I'm not sure they called them series back in the fifties, but that is what it is).

The Children of Green KnoweThe Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read for me of a beloved childhood classic.  I don't know if this is pure gothic literature or not (is it magical realism?), but it definitely has gothic flavor.  Boston is a writer of romanticism; Green Knoweis laden with emotion and the intertwining of nature,  has more than a touch of nostalgia, and ends with a delicious sense of horror. It's a slow, dreamy book; Boston uses quiet description and color to build up to an exciting climax.  The wonder of a lonely child, welcomed into a world of the past, ghosts, and magic.  She leaves you wanting more of this ghost world; I know there are others in this "series" but I get the impression they aren't as gothicly inclined?


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