Tolly called out “Granny, look! The snow’s all melting”
It was thawing fast, slipping off the trees in big, slushy drops, and turning to mud on the paths. Tolly could hardly believe that all those powdery drifts could turn wet and nasty and sink away so quickly.
There are three arresting weather-images in The Children of Green Knowe: the flood that opens the book; the snow of the central section of exploration and getting-to-know-you; and the thunder at Christmas of the finale. The transitions – the sudden receding of the flood, and the thaw and frost – are like entr’actes. The floods going down are a revelation of the garden to Tolly, who is “ready for anything.” Between the magic of the snow “like a gloved hand laid against the window” in the middle section and the unsettled weather of the crisis meeting with Green Noah is the thaw is an inevitable scene-changer. Boston writes the sequence well, with the frost making the air sing and presaging the attack of the monstrous tree-man.
Immensely tempted though it is to list and analyse the books where snow features heavily (Moominland Midwinter; The Box of Delights; The Dark is Rising…), this can’t be the place. But I want to acknowledge that not all snow is the same, and if we tend to think of snow as beautiful, well, there is the snow in Piers Torday’s There May be a Castle, and the debilitating snow of 101 Dalmatians in Pongo and Missis’ flight from Hell Hall. Francois Villon’s Ballad of Ladies in Times Past, Ballade des dames du temps jadis is not the plangent thing one might expect: your lover gives you a hard time? Be thankful she isn’t Heloise “Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne/Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys…” or Joan of Arc “Qu’Anglois bruslerent à Rouen.” But there is, in the melting snow in the Children of Green Knowe a wistulness I think it right to acknowledge. The duality of the senselessness and brilliance of the floods is over, the sinless innocence of the snow is past: what’s to come is still unsure.
It is how Lucy Boston portrays Tolly’s disappointment that intrigues me. Conscious, perhaps, of how much frustration she has written into the hide-and-seek of the snow section, she manages very well to write it into the text but does so in her voice, not Tolly’s, and for the inventive and enthusiastic boy it is an occasion to change tack in his relationship with the ghost-children. When Hollindale asks “are the child characters psychologically realistic?” (Signs of Childness, p88), I would judge that yes, here, Boston manages this (rather tricky) portrayal well: she sidesteps his reaction to the receding, magical snow and the looming threatening frost, and it is the irrepressible nature of Tolly’s relisience that carries us all through the tears and frustrations of his relationship with Toby, Alexander and Linnet. Tolly (and the author) find it “messy, lifeless and uninviting” and I’m looking out as a type at the gadren where odd patches themeselves look untidy, and where posters for the snow shop the grandchildren made yesterday (Blue Ice was 50p, in case you want to know) look damp and icky.
Time to tidy up.