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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….)

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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