Green Knowe, and the house it was based on

The “Green Knowe” books were among my favorite books when I was a child, along with John Bellairs’ “Lewis Barnavelt” books and Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” series. It always struck me, in the Green Knowe books, that the house itself was indeed the real central character; the people were only mayflies providing the action. I was delighted to discover as an adult that the house in Boston’s books was, in fact her own very real house, The Manor, at Hemmingford Grey. I can only bemoan the fact that I didn’t know the house could be visited when I was last in England; I would so have loved to see the real house upon which my childhood dreams were based!

The books themselves have been discussed elsewhere, at greater length and detail than I could so all I’ll add is a brief synopsis:
     The Green Knowe books are a series of six books1, written over a span of 20 years which delve into the history of a fictitious house, Green Knowe, built originally in Norman times. The first two books center on a little boy, Toseland, and his great-grandmother, Linnet Oldknowe, as they develop a relationship with one another and Toseland learns more about Green Knowe and its ghostly inhabitants2. The first book deals with visitations from the ghosts of Toby, Alexander and Linnet, children who lived in the house during the reign of Charles II and died during the outbreak of bubonic plague in London in 1665-1666, while the second covers the house and its inhabitants during the Georgian era, specifically the two children living there at the time: blind Susan, the daughter of the household, and her black page, guide and friend, Jacob. The exact nature of Susan and Jacob is a bit more nebulous—they survived childhood and lived to a ripe old age, so they’re not ghosts in the sense that Toby, Alexander and Linnet are—it’s not clear whether he’s travelling back in time to 1799 to interact with the children and other residents of the house or whether the two times are part of the same river of the house’s history. The house is a central part of the third, fourth and fifth books, although its history and past residents aren’t an integral part of the story lines; the third book, not surprisingly given its title, is about the river flowing near the house and the supernatural, historical and flesh-and-blood inhabitants therein, the fourth (no supernatural elements whatsoever) concerns an escaped gorilla and the fifth concerns threats to the house–a witch in the book as opposed to the simple passage of time and modernisation of the countryside which threatened the real Manor House.

1Children of Green Knowe, Treasure of Green Knowe (originally published as Chimneys of Green Knowe in the U.K.) River of Green Knowe, A Stranger at Green Knowe, An Enemy at Green Knowe and Stones of Green Knowe
2skeptics may claim that it’s only the overactive imagination of a lonely little boy and the memory of an elderly lady….but fans know the ghosts are very real.


4 thoughts on “Green Knowe, and the house it was based on

  1. Thank you for reminding me of some of my favourite books. I have the Cooper in a boxed set, but the Green Knowe books were from the library, and I really should catch up on the Bellairs — what I’ve read of his, I remember liking.

    • Both the Green Knowe books and (some of) Bellairs’ books were reissued recently so they may be available on Amazon or [insert local brick and mortar bookstore here]. There’s always the library/interlibrary loan, although I know that’s not always convenient for everyone. Besides, libraries tend to want them back eventually.

      • That is the one great problem with libraries — they want their books back. Drat them and their book-grubbing little ways. Having access to an academic library with semester-long loan periods for over a decade spoils one for public libraries …

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