Linda Newbery's Lucy and the Green Man
Book review by Monica Friedman
A Little Girl, her Grandfather’s Garden, and the Green Spirit
Lob (formally known as Lob Lie-by-the-Fire) is a traditional spirit, native to the North Country of England. Similar to a brownie or a house elf, Lob will cheerfully accomplish small but meaningful tasks around the house or farmstead, asking for no greater reward than a bowl of cream and permission to lie by the fire after the family has gone to bed.
In this modern story, Lob’s identity is bound up with that of the Green Man, a forest spirit whose depiction can be found carved on church walls all over Europe, an homage to the region’s Pagan roots.
Review - Lucy and the Green Man
Lucy’s grandfather, Will, is an avid gardener, and, to Lucy, the way he makes dried beans sprout and fresh vegetables grow is magic enough. But Grandpa Will does not do it alone: he loves to tell Lucy about his helper.
…he was helped by Lob in all sorts of ways. When Lob wasn’t skittering around the woods or sleeping in the hedge, he found jobs to do. He collected logs, swept up piles of leaves, cleaned the tools, weeded the beds, and picked off slugs and snails.
Lob only did it when no one was looking, Grandpa said. And only when he wanted.
Most people can’t see Lob at all, but special folks can, out of the corner of their eyes. When Lucy makes her first solo foray in the garden, at long last she sees, “a flicker of movement. A tremor of greeny-brown. The flash of an eye, a bright green eye. It looked at her and seemed amused by what it saw; then blinked and was gone.”
So Lucy can see that Lob is real, and Grandpa agrees, but Lucy’s parents and Grandmother keep correcting her—“You know Lob’s not real, don’t you”—until Lucy learns not to talk about it.
Then, Grandpa passes away (“the way he’d have wanted…with his boots on, pulling up a good crop of leeks”) and Granny Annie sells the property to developers who plan to tear down the cottage and tear up the garden. What will become of Lob?
From her grandfather’s stories, Lucy knows that Lob will go walking until he finds another special person to help. Lucy wants to be that special person.
Working against Lucy’s favor is the fact that she lives in London and hasn’t got a garden, but she leaves Lob a note under a bench, inviting him to come anyway, suggesting that he could stay in Leaside Park.
The narrative is punctuated by descriptions of the seasons written in a large font; eventually, the reader understands that these passages are Lob’s perception.
Until Lucy leaves the cottage behind for good, there is some doubt as to whether or not Lob is a creature of the imagination. But Lob is real, and interspersed with the story of Lucy mourning her grandfather’s death is the equally sad (and occasionally violent) story of Lob’s journey from the North Country into London and their eventual, joyous reunion.
A gentle and lovely twenty-first century fairy tale, Lucy and the Green Man is a story that lovingly mixes fantasy and reality. What is the place of magic in a bustling city, and how can wonder co-exist with busy streets and subway lines? There is an underlying horror to modern life, as seen through Lob’s eyes, but there are redeeming moments and perfect places, too, places where magic is still welcome to exist.
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