- Age Range: 8 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 5 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 900L (What's this?)
- Series: Green Knowe
- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Sandpiper; 1 edition (April 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 015202607X
- ISBN-13: 978-0152026073
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The River at Green Knowe Paperback – April 1, 2002
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"Fantasy and reality in exotic blend."--Kirkus Reviews
"Outstanding and imaginative."--School Library Journal
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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.
Thus "The River at Green Knowe" is definitely moving in a different direction from the previous books, and continues with Boston's decision to set most of the scenes upon the river, as Ida, Oskar and Ping explore the flooded areas and the islands around the ancient house, often meeting strangers who are just as Displaced as they are. The adventures that they experience are dreamy and mysterious within the shrouded waters and woodlands, and one is never quite sure whether they are dreams or reality save that all three of them experience them.
These exertions are also different from Tolly's adventures in that they are more magical experiences rather than ghostly, and therefore need readers to suspend disbelief a little further. The fact that the children's experiences are all quite separated from each other and episodic also makes them a tad uneven. Some are based more on naturalistic themes, such as an overgrown river-side house, witnessing a pagan-festival in a time-travelling moment and meeting a busman who wandered into the woods and decided to remain there always, whilst others are of the extraordinary type: an island of winged horses, a giant who doesn't know what laughter is but eventually joins the circus, and one of the children shrinking down to mouse-size. Needless to say, Boston's style is suited best to the more natural occurences that just border on the supernatural. To me at least, the others come across as a little *too* odd.
However, there is a theme that hasn't been addressed before that pushes through: that of adult disbelief in Green Knowe's magic. Beforehand, all strange events were simply taken in their stride by Tolly and Grandmother Oldknow, whilst here Boston explores the idea of grown-ups not being able to see what the children can. Green Knowe is contrasted against the reality of adult ignorance, whether it be through a frightened, confused message in a bottle, or through Boston's first two comic figures Maud Biggin and Sybilla Bun, who cannot see the truth in front of them even when they've been searching for it.
It all goes hand in hand with Oskar's comments on thoughts being real, and Terak telling the children he is so big that no one sees him. Boston weaves these ideas through her narrative with ease, and as always her poetic language is utterly beautiful. I don't think Oskar or Ida were quite as well defined as Tolly or as Ping becomes in later books, which is a shame as they had the potential to be fascinating - and they don't appear in any later books. However, keep a look out for a dark figure examining the the house that *does*.
The children, completely unsupervised and expected to make themselves scarce, spend their summer on the river, exploring all of the small tributaries and having magical, fantastic adventures.
The writing is, as always, a bit dense at times and the sentences wander like the river itself. But the heart of the story is timeless and magical and worth reading.
For the first time, the grownups in the book don't believe in magic and that may also come as a bit of a shock after the first two installments.