A friend of mine, the principal of a school where I once taught, used to speak highly of Lucy M. Boston's Green Knowe books. I sometimes looked for them in bookstores, but I had no luck. I could never find them on the web. Every so often, I would see brief references to the series in books on children's literature. They remained elusive to me. But recently, I stumbled across _The River at Green Knowe_ (1959) in the Chattanooga Public Library. I immediately checked it out.
Two maiden women on the upper side of middle aged rent the Green Knowe mansion on an island in an English river. They decide (for reasons not terribly clear) to take in a niece and two displaced boys for the summer. The women have a simple philosophy about raising children. They are like cats: "You only needed to feed them and turn them out" (13). They will take care of themselves. This, of course, makes it possible for Ida, Oskar, and Ping to have all sorts of adventures in a canoe on the river. Here they are early in the morning, before others are astir:
[The world] felt tilted, with the moon in the unexpected part of the sky, because it was setting, and the growing light of dawn was farther east than she had ever seen it before, as if the points of the compass had been displaced. The bullocks were asleep, so were the swans. No smoke came from any cottage chimney, no birds moved. A vivid red fox cantered across the field with a moorhen in his mouth. Only the water was loud. (37)
Later, there is an encounter of a more fantastical nature, with some winged horses on an island:
After this [the horses] accepted all the children. They let themselves be handled. They nibbled themselves under their wings. They had immensely long manes and tails and their ears twitched like mouse whiskers. As the darkness shifted into less than dark, the chilren saw each other's faces and hardly recognized them. Ping stood leaning his head against the leading horse's neck and its black mane fell around his face so that he looked like a witch girl, his teeth showing white as he smiled with great joy. Oskar looked like a lean prophet absolutely believing the impossible. He was nearly crying. Ida's grey eyes were black because they were all pupil. She was curled up between the legs of a winged foal that lay on the ground. (78-79)
A theme running through the novel is that of _displacement_. The children are displaced. But they also encounter other creatures and people on the river who are displaced: a baby cygnet, an owl in an ivy-covered manse, a hermit who has left the city to live in a riverside treehouse, the winged horses, and a family of giants. Time and space are also displaced on the river so that events have an almost dreamlike quality.
Another theme is the gap between a child's-eye view of the world (which is open to magic) and an adult's-eye view of the world (which is locked into the mundane). We are told of Dr. Maud that "if not reading, her attention was on the ground as if expecting that something very interesting might catch her eye there" (1). And even so, she almost misses a great discovery on the ground. Terak the giant tells the children that few people notice him: "I sometimes wonder whether people aren't going blind, or perhaps can't see anything bigger than themselves, like ants. I see them rushing about, but they never seem to look higher than their own shoulders" (116).
There is a conclusion at a circus that ought to be magical. It is, alas, mundane. But the magic on the river that lasts through most of the novel more than makes up for it. _The River at Green Knowe_ is, I believe, the third book in the series. Ordinarily, I would give a quick comparison with other Green Knowe books. But at present, I haven't read any other books in the series. You may be sure that I will be reviewing them as fast as I can find them.