Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe kept popping up on "Must-Read Children's Books!" or "Forgotten Classics!" lists, so I figured I'd give it a shot.


I am perplexed by the volumes of readers who love this book.  Yes, it is quaint.  However, it's also murky, historically confusing (I know it's fantasy, but verisimilitude would be appreciated), and just plain bizarre.  Again, I found myself wondering if I was supposed to be taking some sort of psychotropic drug to figure out what was going on.

An explanation of the plot is nigh on impossible, as there really is no plot.  Toseland leaves his boring school and goes to live with his great-grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow.  His father and stepmother live in Burma, and in true children's book fashion, the stepmother is intolerable to Toseland.  She calls him Toto, and for being angry about that, I cannot blame the boy.  Toto, indeed.

The trip to Green Noah, as his great-grandmother's family estate is known, is fraught with danger because of recent flooding.  Thankfully, in a few days all the water just blows away (biblical Noah reference?) and then it snows.  Toseland doesn't mind much, however, because now he's got his grandmother, a new name, Tolly, and wonderful places to explore.  By "wonderful places" I mean the topiaries and the stable.  Woo.

As soon as he arrives at Green Noah, Tolly is greeted by his great-grandmother as though they'd already met.  Toseland is a family name, and he strongly resembles another Toseland of times past.  There's a portrait of the three children: Toseland, Alexander, and Linnet.  They lived 400 years ago and died of the plague (charming!).  Even the hostler/gardener, Boggis, is just like every other Boggis who ever worked at the castle, including the unfortunate Boggis who brought the plague back from London with him 400 years ago.  That's exceptional service for you!

Generally, the story--and I use the term loosely--involves Tolly exploring the house and gradually encountering the ghosts of the three children and their pets, most of which are birds but we also have a puppy, a nasty peacock, and a hedgehog.  Linnet, in particular, has a serious Snow White complex when it comes to birds.  They are everywhere with her.

The more stories Mrs. Oldknow tells Tolly about the children, the more clearly he can see their ghosts and interact with them.  Oddly, this doesn't bother him one bit.  He feels as if he knows them and that they are friends.  I think the general gist of the story is that the whole family quasi-reincarnates, so Tolly is meeting prior versions of himself, his great-grandmother, and his mother.  Why the intermediate incarnations don't show up, I don't know.

Besides the creepily complacent attitude Tolly has about being stalked by child-ghosts (which are seriously the worst kind--see any horror movie ever), the stories his grandmama tells don't sound as if they actually occurred 400 years ago.  The language isn't archaic enough, and I don't think that the modes of conveyance match up to the reign of Charles II.  I did, however, learn that High Church Anglicans do celebrate midnight mass, so ... that was nice.

The weird bit about the g*psy Petronella and her wicked son was exceedingly uncomfortable to read ("Roma will steal your horses!"), and I know it's a product of the times, but my reaction is a product of my time.  The whole Evil Tree plotline felt hastily shoehorned in there, and was neatly resolved.  And let me tell you that if a statue of Saint Christopher started walking around my backyard, I wouldn't think it was holy.  I'd be more "Don't blink!"


So, The Children of Green Knowe is for the slightly morbid, ghost-loving, anachronism-ignoring, slightly-obscure book-lover in you ... but not me.

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