Witchcraft and Maggots: An Enemy at Green Knowe

All old houses, over time, gather some sort of magic, and none more so than Green Knowe, that old house, founded in Norman times, that turned into a refuge for ghosts, time travelers and gorillas alike.

This naturally makes it of great interest to those with an interest in magic—even if they might not be the sorts to use magic properly. Or honestly. Especially since Green Knowe has sheltered an evil magician before this, something that attracts the attention of An Enemy at Green Knowe.

The evil magician in question is one Dr. Vogel, who stayed at Green Knowe in the year 1630 or so, not, truthfully, so much to do evil spells as to tutor the Roger Oldlaw of that era, a sickly child unable to attend school. This goes badly, since Dr. Vogel is kinda creepy and also more interested in his own studies than in tutoring anyone. Eventually, Dr. Vogel disappears after burning all of his books—but not everyone believes that the books were really burned.

Ping and Tolly, enjoying their last few days of vacation at Green Knowe before returning to school, find themselves fascinated by the story—as is one Dr. Melanie Powers, convinced that the old house is still harboring Dr. Vogel’s books. Her academic title, I fear, is somewhat suspect, so I think I shall follow the book’s lead, and instead call her Miss Powers.

And that’s not the only suspect thing about her.

Indeed, Melanie Powers might as well be wearing a sign saying Hi, I am Evil around her neck—Darth Vader is more subtle. But unfortunately, Tolly, Ping and Mrs. Oldlaw are too polite to tell her to scram. The most Mrs. Oldlaw does, is tell Miss Powers, quite firmly, that Dr. Vogel’s books are not available (mostly because as far as Mrs. Oldlaw knows, they really aren’t). Nor is the guest bedroom. Nor is general access to the house.

Miss Powers has an unusual reaction to this—she enchants Mrs. Oldlaw. Or, if you are a bit more, shall we say, rooted in reality, hypnotizes the older woman, leading to a disturbing episode where Mrs. Oldlaw temporarily forgets herself, speaking almost as if she has another person—or a demon—inside of her.

Things get still worse when Miss Powers attempts to buy Green Knowe through magic—invoking the names of Gog and Magog on the bill of sale, no less. Fortunately, Mrs. Oldlaw is able to use her disadvantages to her advantage—noting that she is too old to read what she is signing properly, and insisting on reading the text out loud to the boys, ensuring that they know exactly what’s going on.

Meanwhile, the boys do some searching through the house, finding a couple of interesting things indeed: a rather horrible bat book, and The Ten Powers of Moses, an old book translated from Hebrew to Latin, said to have Latin spells, which they hand over to their resident scholar (actually resident; he ends up in the guest bedroom) Mr. Pope.

They don’t have a lot of time to focus on their discoveries, however. Having failed to get the house or the book through dishonest means, Melanie Powers then turns to evil insects and maggots, setting them against Mrs. Oldlaw’s beloved garden. Given Lucy M. Boston’s love for gardens, this may well be worse than mass murder. The text certainly seems to lean that way. Let’s at least go with evil. Fortunately, as I noted earlier, Green Knowe has powers of its own, and the ability to summon birds.

(For the record, trying to summon birds and bats to get rid of insects is not quite as easy in Florida gardens, but then again, as far as I know, this house has never played host to ghosts or time travelers before, so arguably its bird and bat summoning powers are a bit weak.)

Miss Powers, in turn, raises the stakes yet again, summoning cats—evil cats, before cat lovers get hopeful. Ping, in turn, summons a gorilla ghost, which leads Melanie to summon snakes, which leads—you get the picture. It’s an excellent illustration of how retaliation and even defense can worsen tensions, rather than diffusing them. An eclipse happening in the middle of all this only increases the tension, and if you had any doubts about Melanie even after the insects and the maggots, a minor character just hops along to assure you that really, nobody likes Melanie, to quash any doubts.

And yet—despite Melanie being Evil, Evil, Evil, Boston’s prose manages the miracle of eking out a tiny, tiny bit of sympathy for her at the end.

You may recall that I had originally planned not to read this book, since the one library copy was available in audiobook only, and I had not had a lot of luck with the other Green Knowe audiobook, but various people urged me to reconsider, saying that this was one of the best of the Green Knowe books. I’m not sure I agree with that—I would say that The Treasures of Green Knowe and A Stranger at Green Knowe are better books—but this is definitely one of the most tightly plotted of the Green Knowe books, and one of the most suspenseful. The language, too, remains beautiful—the description of the birds arriving to save Green Knowe from the maggots is particularly marvelous—and I liked the unexpected cameo from another character from previous books. So if I can’t quite rate this as one of the best, I can agree that Green Knowe completists should certainly seek it out.


Mari Ness lives in central Florida.

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