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#1944club – A Guest Post about a book I love

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(As is becoming a regular thing, OH (or Mr. Kaggsy, if you prefer) has offered up a guest post for the #1944club, and this time he’s writing about a book from a series beloved of us both – The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton! Both OH and I read Enid Blyton rabidly in our youth (albeit at different times and in slightly different eras owing to the fact he’s a bit older than me….) and the ‘Adventure’ series is the one I’m most often drawn back to. ‘Island’ came out in 1944 so here from OH are his thoughts and memories about one of Blyton’s finest!)

“The Island of Adventure” was published in 1944, roughly in the middle of a four decade output from Enid Blyton. The tale of intrepid youngsters introduced the “Adventure” octad, never going out of print. The “Island” hardback from Macmillan – renamed “Mystery Island” in the United States – retained the original dust wrapper and front board design until 1966. The book featured some forty, animated pen and ink illustrations by Stuart Tresilian, making it a captivating mixture of story and comic. This was a major part of why I enjoyed having the book read to me as a child, interrupting the bedtime reader’s flow with demands to show me each accompanying picture.

In the “Island” story, friends and siblings Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Jack (and his talking parrot Kiki – with other pets and small wild animals along the way) are spending their summer holiday at Craggy-Tops, an old clifftop mansion on the coast. Waves crash below the part-ruined house, while mist obscures the view out to sea. Situated at a desolate spot, the abode has no power, relies on a well for water and oil lamps during darkness. Mysterious lights are seen across the water on the nearby Isle of Gloom and when later the children are taught to sail, they are able to reach the outcrop in a small boat. Soon an abandoned copper mine and connected undersea tunnels are being investigated by the foursome.

Various distinctive adult characters and villains help forge a spirited tale of riddles, risky encounters, being trapped underground, plus the required daring rescues. Old maps, tight spots, narrow escapes and explosions precede the foiling of some criminals and the receiving of a reward by the children for helping with a police operation.

“Island” was among more than 750 other Blyton publications, the author having been born in 1897 and departing in 1968. As one of the most successful children’s storytellers of the last century, her books have continued posthumously in print, amounting to well over half a billion copies. Following the first outing of the kids in the “Adventure” series, I acquired more of the titles, all boasting colourful dust jackets, luring young readers to savour exploring alongside the juvenile protagonists. I would at high points in the story plead for one more chapter to be read by my mother, or hers, only to be cruelly reminded that I had school the next day and needed to go to sleep.

At the time of the opening “Adventure” series novel, World War II was drawing to a close and the population of the planet was half what it is today. The next five were “Castle” (1946), “Valley (1947), “Sea (1948), “Mountain” (1949) and “Ship” (1950). However, the popularity of the books led to the addition of two more, in the form of “Circus (1952) and finally “River” (1955), written by Blyton in just few days. The first editions have become sought after and expensive, while her works have reportedly been banned from more public libraries than those of any other author.

The following seven “Adventure” series first edition colourful hardbacks dust wrappers

I enjoyed Blyton’s other “Secret Seven” and “Famous Five” stories, along with the “Faraway Tree” fantasies, which were read to us in junior school. The author’s works were also highly popular with all ages of young readers, especially her “Noddy” tales and “Sunny Stories” periodicals. The Enid Blyton Society maintains a detailed online treasury of the author’s novels, poems and collections, reflecting the growth of the writer’s literary empire, involving producing many new books in each year, along with numerous magazine and newspaper contributions.

There has been criticism of the author’s writing, deeming it not challenging enough, or presenting unsuitable themes. Indeed, the language has in recent years been updated, names changed and characters made more politically correct, less ‘racist’ even. That said, my own offspring enjoyed the hilarity of having Fanny and Dick in the “Faraway” stories, accompanied by other unwitting double entendres.

My look at the opening “Adventure” story is meant more as a remembrance than a review. This reader, or listener, at a time when his age was still in single figures, experienced the fun and excitement which Blyton had intended, immersing her readers in the escapades of her fictional but relatable players, from almost 75 years ago.

I look at my cherished hardback from the past, unable to recapture the thrill it once gave me, although knowing that long ago it did. As the character Philip concludes at the end of the book: “That’s the best part of an adventure – when it’s all happening. I think it’s a great pity that it’s all over.” Amen to that.

(Thanks to OH for pitching in with his thoughts on a #1944club book! Thinking back on the ‘Adventure’ series, I reckon my favourite was ‘Valley’ which had a weird post-War plot. Maybe I’ll have to dig it out at some point soon….)

The 1938 Club : Some earlier reviews

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The list of possible reads for 1938 turned out to be a long and fascinating one, and some of the books I’ve already written about on the blog. So rather than re-read or re-post, I though I’d share a few links here to previous reviews.

The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham

The original Puffin cover

The original Puffin cover

I read this one as part of All Virago/All August, which includes Persephone, and found it great fun, as well as a real eye-opener about the hard work involved in day-to-day living back in 1938.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

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One of my favourite Persephones – a real feel-good read, that had me with a grin on my face all the way through – just thinking about it makes me want to read it again!

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

heart

My first read of Bowen, and what a wonderful one it was too. Her prose is quite something – beautiful and complex, sometimes difficult but always rewarding. I really do need to read more Bowen!

The Secret Island by Enid Blyton

secret islandA bit of a blast from the past here – I grew up reading Blyton and these stories were some of my favourites. I couldn’t resist a revisit and was happy to read an original version, not one which had been sanitised and updated.

A Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun

child

This was a wonderful read – my second Keun, and capturing the sense of dislocation and insecurity in Europe in the 1930s. Also a very successful child narrator. Which reminds me that I need to get on to the other Keuns I have on the TBR!

So that’s a few 1938 books I’ve already covered here. I’m really becoming convinced this was a golden year for literature of all sorts, despite (or in some cases because of) the rumblings going on in Europe. One more book to go! 🙂

Recent Reads: The Secret Island by Enid Blyton

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Yes, back to Blyton again! As I didn’t recall Malory Towers that clearly, I wanted to re-read a book I remembered better – one that was a great favourite and that I *have* returned to over the years – “The Secret Island”. This is the first in another of Blyton’s series, featuring four children – Mike, Peggy, Nora and Jack. Mike and Nora are twins; Peggy is the older sister and Jack is a boy they are friends with who lives semi-wild with his grandfather. The three children live with a cruel aunt and uncle, as their parents have gone missing in a plane crash, and they’re basically being used as child labour, slapped if their work is not up to scratch. This gets too much for them all, and when Jack says he may run away as his grandfather is going to move, the children beg to go with him. Because Jack knows of a secret island where he thinks they can hide from the world…

secret island

This is a lost landscape, one that we wouldn’t see nowadays, when there were deserted parts of the country, overgrown lake edges, little islands stuck away that no-one paid any attention to. In our modern age of overdevelopment it would be hard to get lost for any time at all. But back in 1938 all was possible… The children do indeed run away, taking what they can with them (including hens and a cow!) and set up camp on the island. They’re incredibly resourceful, learning to fend for themselves, cook and grow things, build shelter, mend their clothes, take care of their animals – like young castaways! But the outside world will not stay away for ever – will they be caught and brought back to civilisation?

This is a Blyton I obviously read and loved over and over again, because I remembered it so well and still loved it! From the escape from their relatives to the bringing of the cow to the island, to the wonderful ending, all was still fresh in my mind. In many ways this book exemplified Blyton for me – full of excitement, children being allowed to be resourceful, peril from the outside world, setbacks and triumphs and a happy ending – what more could you want?

Well, you wouldn’t want the modern version, that’s for sure. At the start of my version (Armada, 1970s sometime) Nora has been slapped six times by Aunt Harriet for not doing the washing properly, which is a pretty strong incentive to run away. In the modern version, Nora’s hands are simply red from washing – no slapping, no threat, so even if you were having to do lots of chores, why go to the extreme of running away? Enid gave her children pretty good reasons for doing what they do – it’s lost in the modernised versions. I will never, never, NEVER read a new version of an Enid Blyton book – it’s old ones for me every time.

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“The Secret Island” was a great read – I can see why I loved it so much as a child, and I still love it now. If you’re going to read Enid Blyton, do yourself a favour – seek out the old editions with the REAL stories. They’re most definitely a better book and a better read!

Recent Reads: First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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It’s really got to me, this editing of Enid Blyton thing – so much so, that I’ve made the point of picking up some early copies of her works so I can read the original publications. The Malory Towers books are a case in point – I would have read old 1960s/1970s paperbacks which were *probably* ok, but in any event I found a couple of early hardback versions – and since they have a lovely map and diagram on the endpapers, they were irresistible!

first-term-at-malory-towers

Alas, my volume is not quite so lovely as this one…

Though I’ve revisited other Blytons, I don’t think I’ve re-read the Malory Towers books for years. So “First Term at Malory Towers” seemed in many ways like a new read! I remembered the heroine, Darrell and her best friend Sally – and the foolish French mistress! – but not a lot else. Of course it’s possible I didn’t have the complete set – after all these years, it’s impossible to tell.

“First Term” introduces us to the series and the girls, when Darrell goes off to boarding school for the first time. Refreshingly, Darrell is no saint – although basically a nice girl, she has a flaming temper and a tendency to laziness, both of which are displayed here. We meet a variety of girls, all with their different characteristics and problems – from Alicia the class prankster through timid Mary Lou to Gwendoline the spoilt brat. Sally obviously has something more serious going on, as she seems emotionally locked away and indifferent. And all these elements are played out and resolved against the lovely background of a boarding school by the sea, with its own sea water bathing pool.

Revisiting Malory Towers was beautiful escapism – I *so* wished I could go to a boarding school when I was young! There are jolly japes in class – a spider meant for Mary Lou in the French lessons causes havoc with Mam’zelle! – but also deeper problems. Darrell receives a real scare over her temper, and the issue with Sally reaches a dramatic climax. And then there is the slapping incident…

I had a look at one of the modern versions of this book in Foyles to see if I could spot any modernisations – and wished I hadn’t. At one point while swimming, nasty Gwendoline ducks Mary Lou and gives her a real scare. Darrell loses her temper spectacularly and gives her such a slapping you can see the handprints on Gwendoline’s leg. This is obviously considered so politically incorrect nowadays that the modern, watered-down, wimpy version has Darrell simply shaking Gwendoline. No, really….

But this removal of Darrell’s action completely undermines the foundation of the book. The girls are seen to have a very strong moral code of behaviour – no sneaking to the teachers, but a justice all of their own. Darrell herself realises instantly what a terrible thing she’s done and apologises, even before the head girl of the year tells her to. When the other pupils think that Darrell is guilty of damaging Mary Lou’s pen, they deal with it themselves – sending her to Coventry until the truth is discovered. This gives them an inward strength and we see them develop their characters. Shaking Gwendoline simply doesn’t work – it’s wimpy, weak and doesn’t demonstrate Darrell’s character trait of an uncontrollable temper at all. I’m sure that the line from one of the teachers about the girls dealing with sneaks by spanking them with a hairbrush has gone too…

000580-ap222I loved renewing my acquaintance with the girls of Malory Towers – partly I suppose because I was rekindling my youth, but also because I was delighted to rediscover what a fun book it was! I shall definitely be returning to more of Blyton’s work – and *always* in the original versions!

The Editing of Enid

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I should say upfront, before I start ranting a bit, that I was brought up on Enid Blyton. Apart from my beloved “Pookie” books, the earliest stories I can remember are Enid. As soon as I had any kind of pocket-money, it would be spent weekly on a new book – a Malory Towers or an Adventure series paperback, usually Armada or Piccolo, for something like 2/6- (that’s two shillings and six pence – about 25p on modern parlance!) I loved them to bits, and I kept my collection of battered copies with me for many years. They were pure escapism – children having exciting adventures, discovering secret places and plots, or attending boarding schools and having fun and jolly japes while learning to be all-round good people. Eventually, I let the books go – my own children weren’t interested in reading them, and I figured there was no longer a place in my life for them.

enidblyton

However, I confess for having had quite a hankering for them recently, and a look at OH’s very old hardback copies had me wallowing in nostalgia. So I *was* rather excited (as I reported here) to be gifted with a lovely set of reprints of the Adventure series at Christmas time. I re-read “The Island of Adventure” and was transported back to childhood. And yet – as I thought about the book afterwards, something seemed not quite right…

I’d been thinking about the Malory Towers books, and I description I read online of some old books for sale stated that this was the original text, no longer available in current editions. Did this mean my Adventure books weren’t the original text too? I decided to investigate. The books themselves said nothing about text changes, but some digging about on the Enid Blyton society forums revealed the truth – the books have been updated and modernised and rewritten many times over the years.

island

Not “original” at all – actually rewritten….

I have to confess I was infuriated. I *can* understand the reason for some of the changes, where there are racial stereotypes. But why on earth modernist? Change shillings for modern pence? Take out the lovely old-fashioned expressions? When I read the Blyton stories in the late 1960s/early 1970s they were already out of date and that was a good part of their charm. Girls I knew didn’t go off to boarding schools, play lacrosse and have midnight feasts – but I didn’t want to read about the things I knew, I wanted something different. And I agree with so many of the comments on the forums – particularly those that point out that we don’t update classic children’s books like “The Railway Children” and “The Secret Garden”, so why on earth should we rewrite Enid Blyton.

the-island-of-adventure

Battered old 1970s edition, but with all the text and pictures!

Even more infuriatingly, it seems that the paperback editions I read and used to own are the last ones to use the original text (and in the case of the Adventure books the wonderful original illustrations). Hindsight is a terrible thing – I *so* should have kept them. I haven’t the heart to break it to OH that the editions he got me are not the original Enid; instead, I have decided to quietly re-collect the editions of my favourites, the ones I originally have. Fortunately, worn 1970s paperbacks don’t seem to be that collectible or expensive, so I should be able to get hold of the copies I lost. As for whoever owns the rights to Enid Blyton’s work – you should be ashamed of yourselves…..

A Trip Down Memory Lane with Enid Blyton

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My earliest bookish memories are inextricably linked with Enid Blyton – her books are the first I can actually remember reading, and when I was growing  up any pocket-money I had was spent on buying one of her stories. I had quite a collection of Armada paperbacks, and had several favourite series of hers – Malory Towers, St. Clares, the Five Find-Outers and of course the ‘Adventure’ series. Alas, all my childhood books got lost somewhere along the way, so I was surprisingly excited when OH treated me to a lovely set of the complete Adventure series books in lovely paperbacks with vintage illustrations on the cover – the perfect Christmas present!

Aren't they lovely (apart from the fuzziness of the photo!)

Aren’t they lovely (apart from the fuzziness of the photo!)

And oddly enough, I found myself sunk deep into the first volume, “The Island of Adventure” on Christmas afternoon when most of the rest of the family were having a post-lunch nap! I found myself drawn in after reading the first few paragraphs – I remember them *so* well, despite not having read the books for decades – and astonishingly was just gripped after a few pages.

“Island” was published in 1944, and features four children: Philip and Dinah Mannering, whose mother works to keep them while they attend boarding school and live in the holidays with their uncle and aunt; and Jack and Lucy-Ann Trent, orphans who also live with an aged uncle. Philip, Jack and Lucy-Ann meet at a summer school, where both boys are cramming under an unwilling tutor, Mr. Roy. Come the time for Philip to go back home, the Trents run away rather than stay with Mr. Roy – particularly as the latter has taken a strong dislike to Kiki, Jack’s talking parrot – and go to Philip’s house in the hope that his aunt will take them in for the summer. Fortunately she will, and the four children embark on a series of adventures around the old, crumbling house the Mannerings live in, called Craggy Tops. The befriend a man called Bill Smugs, staying locally, go swimming and picnicking, learn to sail, discover criminals, abandoned mines and secret passages – in fact, the perfect adventure story!

Scarily enough, I found myself as captivated today by the book as I did back in my childhood. The children are allowed to do dangerous things and have real adventures – ‘borrowing’ a boat and sailing it on their own; climbing down quite dangerous shafts and tunnels; encountering aggressive armed men and coming into real peril. There is often the sense that the children are in real physical danger, with threats of beatings from Joe, the crooked handyman, or the men in the mines. The book was actually very gripping and exciting, and although I knew what happened (the stories obviously made a huge impact on me as a child) I couldn’t put it down.

enid-blyton

So is it wrong that a woman of my age (let’s just say – over 50!) can be captivated by a book for children which is nearly 70 years old? I don’t think so at all! I know that Blyton has come under all sorts of criticism for her attitudes – middle class children, stereotypical gender roles etc – but I didn’t see a problem here. The children were surprisingly mature, dealing with issues like the Mannerings’ mother having to work for a living, Aunt Polly’s being overworked and short of money for bills, and they were quite aware that cash would have to be provided in return for the Trents staying with the Mannerings for the summer. Both girls and boys are expected to do chores (although there is some differentiation between the sexes), and although Lucy-Ann is somewhat clingy and dependent, Dinah is described as being “as strong as any boy” (and I’m reminded of course of George in the Famous Five who is equally resistant to stereotyping). All in all, I thought this book was as wonderful as when I first read it – which is no mean feat for a book this old being re-read by an adult.

I don’t actually know a lot about Blyton (although I think I’ve heard that as a person she might have left a bit to be desired), but as an author I think she’s remarkable – and the fact that her books are still available now and loved by new generations of readers must be some kind of tribute to her skill. She’s a national treasure, and I loved being reintroduced to some of my childhood favourites this Christmas – I shall have to ration the rest out over the year!

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