Green Knowe

Last night I read L.M. Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe.  It is a perfect thing of its kind, which is the same kind as Elizabeth Goudge’s Linnets and Valerians, Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, and E. Nesbit’s Harding’s Luck.  These books all have the same feel and similar plots and characters.  They are a family.

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12 thoughts on “Green Knowe

  1. Well, as you know, it’s my favorite genre — kids packed off somewhere or otherwise temporarily, happily, without parents. William Mayne and Alan Garner are good for this as well, to say nothing of Noel Streatfeild.

  2. No, not Narnia, or Svalbard/Cittagazze either. I observe an important difference between children on their own having adventures (even scary ones, like Garner’s — or Knowe, for that matter) and children on their own saving the world (Lewis, Cooper, Pullman).

    I have the rest of the Knowe books in my office if you want to read them. *Children* remains the best of the lot, though.

  3. Very good. I can work with that distinction. Now, what about grown-ups saving the world? As in LOTR and Earthsea? Or do you see these grown-ups as stand-ins for children? But I’m guessing that you dislike all grand salvation stories, and prefer the smaller scale. This makes sense to me, but I’m curious about your reasons.

    It’s also possible to distinguish between books based on the kind of figures the child encounters in the parent-free world. In Linnets and Valerians, Carrie’s War, and Green Knowe — in all three — there is an old lady who lives in a big old stone house in the English countryside and is in touch with a sort of spirit world and also with nature. And also there’s a male figure, perhaps a gardener, similar to the old woman. These are pagan-ish types, or are presented that way, but they’re different from the wizardly types in Narnia and His Dark Materials.

  4. I enjoy the salvation stories, but I don’t have particular respect for them. Tolkien has a lot to answer for, you know… He’s the first person (at least after Spenser, and that’s arguable) who turns saving the world into pure entertainment. What do you get when you cross an Anglo-Saxonist with an antisemite? LOTR.

    Re wise old ladies and wise gardeners (hello, *The Dark Is Rising*!), have you read any Ruth Arthur? You really need to.

  5. Alarming experience on the way over here! Got lost at http://oona.wordpress.com Am very worried about other Oona. Is she okay? What happened to her? Is she another Oona in a parallel world and the crossover point is wordpress? I think not, but it was very disorienting.

    Anyway love lovely Green Knowe books. Did you see the BBC version? Think it was on CBC yonks ago.

  6. Kyla, I’m terrified to check out the other Oo; thanks for the heads up! Splendid you’re also a Green Knowe fan: we ought to have a club or something. You know I almost called the post “O my golden eagle, my wise horse, my powerful otter,” but the words were too powerful to use. They’re okay hidden down here in the comments. Will check local library for the BBC version; am in Canada after all.

    Meg, you have me all at sixes and sevens because I’m sure I ought to agree with you, but I adore *The Dark Is Rising* — read it a million times as a kid and sent Cooper a fan letter, receiving a very nice response — and also LOTR, which is cartoony but such a deep comfort when I’m sick, and even when I’m not, regularly every four years.

    A halfhearted attempt at an argument: why shouldn’t saving the world be pure entertainment? Since it’s obvious that it’s the people who really take it seriously who are the real danger.

    Never read Ruth Arthur. Tell me where to start and I’ll have at.

    And tell me, please about Tolkien’s antisemitism. You are working from the novels, or from the life?

  7. I love *The Dark Is Rising* too, don’t get me wrong. *LOTR* is a decent read; Narnia blows. That’s where I stand on the readability issue, which is a different thing entirely.

    Saving the world as entertainment strikes me as misguided because it encourages children and other human beings to see ordinary life as a dichotomy of Good and Evil. When this sort of black-and-white thinking is taken to its logical extreme — which it is all too often — you get Rush Limbaugh and his left-wing counterparts, none of whom are famous enough to be known by name.

    Ruth Arthur isn’t a series — start anywhere. *After Candlemas* is good, but so are the others.

    Tolkien: He uses all the standard medieval descriptions of Jews for all the bad guys in the Middle Earth books, and there’s plenty of antisemitism in his other writings. This is much discussed in the scholarship.

  8. Much discussed in the scholarship, no doubt! But that’s not enough for me — nor for you either. I suppose I’ll have to look up the articles and weigh the evidence myself. As to evidence arising from LOTR, I don’t see it. The bad guys in Middle Earth are, I guess, Sauron, Saruman, and the orcs. None of these strikes me as particularly Jewish. The first two are sort of standardly Satanic; they’re Lucifer figures. The orcs may be seen as closer to the stereotype, but aren’t really very close. So they’re small and dirty and somewhat greedy. Those are all characteristics of medieval stereotypes of Jews, but there’s no reason they have to accrue to Jews in particular: greed and dirt are naturally villainous and, as to small, the hobbits are small too. And there are key parts of the stereotype — in fact, the main identifying marks — that are missing. (1) The orcs are not cunning; they have no low cleverness, and are too stupid to twist the truth or be masters of deceit. (2) There is no suggestion that they are what was left of a race that once gave birth to the new children of God but has become decadent, nor anything else to connect them to “the law” or to any other old book whose teachings have been superceded. (3) They are not particularly lustful (in any sense). (4) They do not inspire the paranoia properly associated with hidden conspirators (fighting too much with one another for that). And finally (5) they do not use the blood of their enemies’ children for ritual food.

    If LOTR were only the evidence of Tolkien’s antisemitism, I’d say that we had a hysterical critic on our hands, or at any rate, someone who was willing to clutch at straws to make a name for herself. But of course I have not looked at the rest of the evidence.

    I expect you’re right, that saving the world for entertainment shades into thinking one can save it for real. And yet those of us who know that the world-saving transformational story is dangerous — us, I mean — can still draw great pleasure from some of these stories. In some way, we must be finding it satisfying — to get what we know we can’t have. Isn’t that right?

    Will order Arthur.

  9. Tolkien: I’m pawning you off to the scholarship because I have 10 trillion things to do in the next two days, several of which involve the police if I don’t do them (car registration, tax extension, since I’ll be gone for two months…) — not because I’m lazy. But it’s true that I don’t remember all the details.

    (BTW, the blood libel, like so many “medieval” things, is more a Renaissance myth than a medieval one.)

    Arthur: I think she’s out of print. Hit the local liberries.

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