Wednesday, October 23, 2019

RETURNING TO GREEN KNOWE By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
Welcome back to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. Today we’re discussing Lucy M. Boston and her Green Knowe series of books, which feature an entirely different kind of haunted house.

Lucy M. Boston
Born in Southport, Lancashire to a typically affluent middle-class Victorian family, Boston grew up a Wesleyan Methodist, and had a father who had a passion and appreciation of the aesthetic side of life, which awakened Boston’s own passions. Through him, she developed passions for music, art and nature. When her father died, she was sent to school at Westmoreland, and stayed close to her mother’s family home at Arnside, which introduced her to English country life and helped her to develop an awareness of plants and gardens. Boston moved on to Somerville College, Oxford in the first months of 1914 and WWI, and left college in her second term to go to war as a volunteer nurse.

After the war, Lucy married a distant cousin named Harold in Woodstock, near Oxford. Though the union went south in 1935, she had one son, Peter Shakerley Boston. Following the failure of her marriage, Lucy traveled in France, Italy, Austria and Hungary, visiting Europe’s musical capitals and studying painting in Vienna. She returned to England in 1937 and took rooms in Cambridge to be close to her son Peter, who was now 19 and an undergraduate. Hearing that a house was for sale in the nearby village of Hemingford Gray, she remembered a seemingly derelict house she had seen there in 1915 and jumped to the conclusion that this was the house for sale. Upon her arrival and announcement that she wished to buy the house, she found that the owners had only that morning decided to sell, and that the house advertised for sale was a different one. She never did find out which house was the one advertised.
The Manor at Hemingford Grey, Boston's home

After renovating the ancient Norman Manor house, which had been built in 1130, she settled there, continuing the house’s restoration and planting gardens. This house, dubbed the Manor, would be the focus and inspiration for her creativity for the rest of her life, and would eventually be known as Green Knowe. In 1954, at the age of sixty-two, Lucy M. Boston would write The Children Of Green Knowe, the first of six books about an old manor house in the English countryside that is inhabited by the spirits of people who have lived there in past times. Illustrated by her son Peter, the Green Knowe series is fondly remembered, and is still around today to delight and thrill young readers.

In The Children Of Green Knowe, Toseland “Tolly” Oldknow goes on a holiday visit to his grandmother, Linnet Oldknow, at Green Knowe, a manor house dating from the Norman Conquest that has been continually inhabited by Tolly’s ancestors, the d’Aulneaux family, later called Oldknow. During his stay, Tolly dsicovers a painting of three children and some of their personal artifacts, and begins to encounter the spirits of three of his ancestors: Toby (an earlier Toseland), Alexander, and an earlier Linnet who lived in the reign of Charles II.

In the second book in the series, The Treasure Of Green Knowe (1958), Tolly returns for the Easter holidays to find the painting gone to an exhibit, and at risk of being sold to pay for roof repairs to Green Knowe. He also finds Mrs. Oldknow repairing a patchwork quilt, which allows Tolly to come into contact with the spirits of a blind girl named Susan Oldknow and her family, leading them on a search to find her mother Maria Oldknowe’s jewels.

In the third book, The River At Green Knowe (1959), Green Knowe is let for the summer to a dotty archaeologist named Doctor Biggin and her friend Miss Bun. Along for the ride are Biggin’s niece Ida and two “displaced” refugee children, Oskar and Ping. An exploration of an island-strewn river flowing past Green Knowe reveals such things as flying horses, a giant who wishes to join a circus, and a Bronze Age moon ceremony. Through it all, it is made clear that Green Knowe protects its inhabitants, especially those who are children.

The fourth book in the series, A Stranger At Green Knowe (1961), has Ping returning to Green Knowe to stay with Mrs Oldknow and also telling the story of an escaped gorilla named Hanno, with whom Ping develops a bond during a visit to a zoo prior to his visit to the house. Hanno escapes and makes his way to Green Knowe, where Ping befriends him. This book would be awarded the 1961 Carnegie Medal.

Book five, An Enemy At Green Knowe (1964) is darker than its previous brethren. Ping and Tolly hear from Mrs. Oldknow the story of Dr. Vogel, a necromancer and occultist who came to a bad end at Green Knowe centuries before. Soon after, Melanie Powers, a professor and an occultist herself, comes looking for Vogel’s papers, with interests that are not academic, leading to an eventual confrontation between Green Knowe and the forces of evil. The sixth and final book, The Stones Of Green Knowe (1976) would delve deeper into Green Knowe’s past, telling the story of Roger d’Aulneaux, the son of the house’s original builder, who discovers two throne-like stones that allow him to visit the time of the Conquest and the later periods of Linnet, Susan, and Tolly.

Lucy Boston’s Green Knowe series is a wonderful mix of fantasy and scares, with a continuing generational theme. Though Green Knowe is most definitely haunted, Boston sensed that haunted houses could be eerie without being malevolent, and the series has enough creepy events and villains to keep it from being saccharine, making this a perfect literary place to visit for the Halloween season.

Come back soon for the next post in The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, as we continue our Tales Of Unease…

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: The entire Green Knowe series is available for purchase at Amazon.com (click the links for each book), or for lending at your local library.

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