The weather plays a central role in Lucy M. Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe, the plot turning on a new twist in the winter conditions, from floods to snow, ice to thunder storms. The story begins with the hero, seven-year-old Tolly, taking a train through a flooded English landscape, delivering him to the aptly named Penny Soakey. It’s then on by car and eventually boat to his Great Grandmother’s home, just in time for Christmas.
The family seat is a castle named Green Noah, on account of its ark like position above a flood plain. But it’s also a derivation of the ancient Green Knowe, a name with a terrible curse attached. It’s the perfect set up for that most comforting of traditions, the Christmas ghost story.
Green Noah is inhabited by a the spirits of three children who died in the plague several hundred years before. Toby, Alexander and Linnet are Tolly’s ancestors, and almost as soon as he arrives they make their presence known. Tolly is not afraid, all he wants to do is play. Their tantalising presence fills him with joy and a physical connection to the past. As they tease him with their ghostly games of hide and seek Tolly becomes increasingly desperate to be in their company.
On the other side of things is his mischievous Great Grandmother who is old enough not to qualify as a boring adult. She breaks up the present day events with candlelit tales from the past. It’s her complicity and encouragement that help drive the story to its dramatic conclusion.
The Children of Green Knowe is a book filled with adventure but one which is ultimately about loss. It’s not until halfway through, after the snow has settled that the children make themselves fully visible to Tolly, and only then does it dawn on him that they are in fact dead.
‘He must have known somehow that the children could not have lived for so many centuries without growing old, but he had never thought about it. To him they were so real, so near, they were his own family that he needed more than anything on earth. He felt the world had come to an end.’
As Christmas morning dawns, Tolly finally accepts the children for what they are and he begins to reconnect to the present. It’s sensitively handled, and even though Tolly is moving on, the reader will always be left with a little of the Children of Green Knowe.