Summer Term at Malory Towers by Pamela Cox

A couple of months ago I read and reviewed the first of Pamela Cox’s Malory Towers books, New Term at Malory Towers. I wouldn’t say I loved it, though I thought it was a decent attempt at an Enid Blyton book.

 


The new girls

We meet Lucy first, a pleasant girl who has her own horse and has already palled up with horse-mad Julie. Then we meet Esme. Actually, Felicity and Susan saw her first, before we were introduced to Lucy, but it was just a glimpse of a tall willowy girl with beautifully arranged blonde curls. She was getting out of an American car, so my initial thought was that we have another Zerelda on our hands. Anyway, when the girls meet her properly it turns out she looks a lot like Lucy. So much so they are mistaken for twins, though Lucy is quite boyish while Esme is very feminine. Actually they are cousins, daughters of identical twins. So as well as Zerelda we have a bit of the two Harries there as well.

The identical cousins are very surprised to see each other, and the initially nice Lucy turns quite nasty.

Esme is a bit like Zerelda – without the wish to be an actress. She wears lipstick and mascara until Miss Peters instructs her to wash it all off. She puts in curlers before bed and is determined not to ever mess up her hair or get red-faced by doing any sort of exertion. She’s not actually American, she’s just lived there for the past four years. Despite spending her first nine or so years in England with a British mother (and an American father) she is just like Berta of Five Have Plenty of Fun in that she says twenny for twenty and wunnerful for wonderful.

Then there is a newer girl, Eleanor of the fifth form, who joined the school the previous term. She is disliked by most of the lower forms as she is cold and bossy. Eleanor pops  up now and again to antagonise the third formers, mostly June who she really doesn’t like, and she plays an important role in solving the mystery of who is stealing from Bill and Clarissa’s stables.

There is so much of the new girls that Felicity is barely mentioned in the first few chapters, beyond her arriving at the school, and she only pops up now and again through the rest of the book with a wise comment or order as head girl.


The main storylines

The storyline that features on the blurb of the book is that someone is stealing from Bill and Clarissa’s stables (Five Oaks) and doing other bits of mischief.

A cash box is stolen, and Merrylegs is let out. A fire is set (as a distraction) and Julie’s pony is stolen. Bill’s reins are cut so that she falls from Thunder and breaks her arm. Some of the third formers turn detective and nose around looking for clues, while others go to help out with the mucking out etc.

The detective work is pretty basic – just nosing around and asking obvious questions, but then it is a boarding school book and not a Find-Outers story. There is only one clue found – a blank note – which, once the significance is worked out, reveals more or less everything and it is left to the police.

I worked out who the culprits were from the outset – something I almost never did with the Find-Outers, even the ones I first read as an adult.

Let’s look at the facts (you might want to scroll past the bullet points if you don’t want to know whodunnit).

    • There’s a rival stables right next door.
    • The rival stable owner keeps coming by or sending his grooms by to ‘help’ as he is worried about Bill and Clarissa.
    • The rival stable owner’s niece is stabling her horse at Five Oaks as there is ‘no room’ at her uncle’s stables.
    • The niece is uncharacteristically nice to Julie after her horse goes missing, and speaks to her in a shaking voice.
    • An unnecessary extra clue is that Felicity doesn’t trust the rival as he’s always smiling and therefore seems sinister.

A large part of the book however is dedicated to girls not getting on, arguing, making up, and various deep insights into their plans.

In a very similar vein to last time, Amy and Bonnie are in a bit of a triangle, this time with Esme rather than Veronica. Bonnie likes Esme straight off, but Amy doesn’t. Bonnie encourages Esme to flatter Amy, which she does, and Amy ‘falls’ for it, allowing Esme into their little group. They then spend a lot of time trying to turn her into one of their sort of English school girls. They (Amy mostly) get her to bin all her makeup and brush out her curls (Amy’s motive is unclear here, is she genuinely trying to help her fit in, or is she jealous of her glamorous made-up look?), and try to teach her to pronounce things properly.

The mostly absent Felicity pops up with a wise comment:

‘I think it would be best if Esme didn’t copy anyone at all,’ said Felicity thoughtfully. ‘Her own personality is very pleasant and unique, and it would be a terrible pity if she lost her individuality through trying too hard to be something that she isn’t.’

And Esme must have picked up on it psychically as she does pull away from Amy’s influence a bit. She realises that she actually quite likes sports, and does well at tennis.

The Esme/Lucy thing gets a lot of pages too. There’s a whole long backstory why their families fell out. In short, their fathers bought a business, but were both strong-willed and couldn’t agree how to run it and they fell out. The mothers and daughters took their husbands’/fathers’ sides and thus they all fell out, and Esme’s lot moved to America. Esme’s telling of it goes on for four pages alone. Then the other girls talk about it. Lucy talks about it. The girls talk about how to get Lucy and Esme to make up. Lucy and Esme work out a way to get their respective parents to make up. That part is actually reasonably interesting, as it involves a fake drowning.

June forms the last plot element. She has a whole bit to herself as she goes off in the night as part of the plan to expose the stable culprit, and she learns the value of teamwork through solving the mystery (and spraining her ankle). She actually has a big attitude adjustment near the end of the book when she decides not to play in a tennis competition. She knew she wasn’t fit enough for it after spraining her ankle, but wanted to play anyway. Then she realised she was being selfish and it would have been better for another girl to play on behalf of the school. All very noble but she comes across rather pious almost, I think I prefer the don’t-care June better! I wonder if she will retain this persona in the rest of the books, or if she will struggle and misbehave a bit still. Maybe she will do an Amelia Jane and promise to be better and go back on it each time.

‘So, you see, June, we both played a part. It was teamwork!’ [said Bonnie].

‘So it was!’ said June, looking brighter.‘Well, I’m beginning to think that there’s rather a lot to be said for teamwork!’


Tricks and jokes

It wouldn’t be a Malory Towers book without some tricks. As usual June leads the trick planning, though she goes a bit overboard this time.

Reminiscent of the invisible chalk of Second Form at Malory Towers, June has got some, well, invisible chalk. Only this chalk is visible at first, then becomes invisible, whereas the previous stuff was invisible then became visible later. They use it to great effect on Mam’zelle Dupont, who takes it so well when Miss Potts rumbles the trick, that there is no telling off let alone a punishment.

The chalk is then seems to turn into invisible ink which is placed in someone’s bag as a trick, but it becomes important later when a ‘blank’ note is found at Five Oaks. (This ink can be read in the dark by torchlight… of course).

June (along with Freddie) also put insects in Bonnie’s pencil case, replaces Amy’s expensive talc with itching powder, spoil Susan and Felicity’s tennis practice with a trick ball, and put a frog in Esme’s bed. It’s not like June to pull a load of thoughtless tricks though. She might pull a prank on someone who has really annoyed her but this seems like indiscriminate nonsense.

She also jumps in the pool fully clothed on the first day, as a sort of dare. I’m not sure June’s daft enough to do that.

The silliest one is when she ties Eleanor’s shoe laces to the tennis court fence. Eleanor is so distracted by Freddie pointing at nothing that she doesn’t notice both sets of laces getting tied. She is also too stupid to slide her feet out of her shoes so she can go round the other side of the fence to untie them, instead of trying to do it through the tiny gaps. Amanda then has a go at her for distracting June’s tennis practice, and she storms off without even punishing them.


So what’s my issue?

I really want to like these books. I don’t dislike them, and they’re not awful. They just don’t live up to Blyton’s writing.

This one suffers from far too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’. Several times we don’t see key action (like Bill’s fall from Thunder for example) as it is either described to us in conversation, or as an afterthought in the narrative, when again, it is quickly described. As another example, we know that Julie loves horses. Why? Because Pamela Cox describes her as horse-mad and her school friends talk about how much she loves her horse and talks about him all the time. We don’t see her acting horse mad very often, nor does she speak about her horse apart from once of twice.

There is also still an awful lot of internal thoughts of the various girls filling up the pages as well.

Some authors probably lean on the telling side more than others, I just find it’s more interesting to ‘see’ something happen rather than be told it happened. Blyton was skilled at showing us, often in fast, punchy narratives that sped us through a lot of action, so these new books struggle to compete.


Some random thoughts

As always when reading I pick up on lots of little things that don’t really fit into any neat headings.

It took several pages for me to confirm the girls are still in the third form, this is the end of the school year we were reading about in the previous book.

The girls’ ability to leave Malory Towers remains important, as it means they can go to the stables. It is revealed that the lower school must go out in twos or larger groups, though. We also find out that the girls have a summer uniform of orange and white checked sun dresses with white collars.

Five Oaks is said to be ‘only a few minutes away’, and there is another stables bordering their land. A third stables is also mentioned nearby. Malory Towers own stables are overflowing with school girls’ horses, which is why so many end up at Five Oaks. There didn’t seem to be that many horses in the original books.

Miss Grayling must not challenge Esme on her makeup when she comes to her for the new girl talk, though I now think that she obviously didn’t say anything to Zerelda either, as it is their respective form mistresses that give them a dressing down the first day of classes. Similarly Matron clearly twigs that June has not just sprained her ankle in the morning, as she claims (it’s far too bruised and swollen to be a brand new injury) but says nothing.

In a nice nod to the original books Mr Rivers has to wait for Felicity and Susan to get in the car, rather than Felicity and Darrell. Darrell is mentioned as being unable to come to half-term but her mother is going to send her some photos of Felicity’s diving performance.

We also learn something more of Bill’s family. Two of her brothers, Harry and John, have gone into the army and come to help her out.

There is a theory from some fans (and some non-fans) that Bill and Clarissa are in a relationship, but this book has them in separate bedrooms.

Language wise it still retains the old-fashioned flavour. I did notice that your/their/her people is used seven times, several of them in the same chapter which seemed a bit much. I also came across Bonnie interpolating a word here and there. From the context I understood it to mean the same as interjecting but I’m not sure it’s a word I’ve seen before, certainly not in a children’s book. Is it commonly used now?

It might just be my (slightly dodgily obtained) copy of the book but Bluebell Wood is referred to as Blueberry wood on one occasion. I’m not certain that’s a mistake made by the author or publisher as my copy has several formatting errors (quite a lot of missing spaces between punctuation etc).

In another un-June like moment, she makes a big deal about her hurt ankle. What seems to be several days (at least) after spraining it she declares her ankle will never stand a half hour walk to a picnic. I sprained my ankle (and tore ligaments) so badly at 35 weeks pregnant that I ended up with a highly stylish toe to knee boot from A&E. Less than a week later I was walking (in regular walking boots) around St Andrews, and a few days after that 20 minutes to my aqua aerobics class and back! Anyway, it’s probably only so that the girls can make a big deal of surprising her with a ride on Jack to the picnic.

When Julie’s pony is recovered it is said that The police found him stabled at [spoiler removed]. He has been well looked after, and not ill-treated in any way. It’s a children’s book and we don’t want a happy ending marred by a tortured horse but it’s a bit saccharine. The culprit is willing to set fires and endanger people and horses, but looks after a stolen horse perfectly? It would have looked more natural if he was found in a shed, but we are reassured that he did at least have food and water.


So there you have it, a mixed bag. Some interesting stuff, decent ideas, just poor execution?

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Letters to Enid volume 4

Past letters pages can be found under the letters page tag.


Letters page from Volume 1, issue 13. September 2nd-15th 1953

OUR

LETTER PAGE

 1. A letter from Avril Archer, Lisheens, Carrickmines, Co. Dublin.
Dear Enid Blyton;
I have been getting your magazine ever since it came out, and I enjoy it very much. Sometimes I read the stories to my kitten and he sits very still while I read to him. I like best “Five Go Down to the Sea”. I found the flower that tells what the weather is going to be it will be very useful. Now I won’t have to carry an umbrella – I’ll use it for a sunshade!
From your friend,
Avril Archer.

2. A letter from Margaret Bride, 41 Shepherds Bush Green, London.
Dear Enid Blyton,
I am writing for my Brownie pack. At our parade last Sunday we collected a shilling, and we thought we would like to give it to the Sunbeam Club, so here is a postal order from the Brownies.
Yours sincerely,
Margaret.

3. A letter from Vanessa Bennett, 72 Bristol Road, Birmingham.
Dear Enid Blyton,
I have a very peculiar story to tell you. Once my little brother Lincoln was coming home from school on his scooter when a little brown and white dog ran across the road to him. Lincoln didn’t take any notice of him, but this little puppy followed him all the way home. He sat shivering on the door-step, whining to get in, and Mummy let him in. He sat by the fire, still shivering, and we called the vet. He said the puppy had distemper. When he was better the police said we could keep him. We call him Mischief and he is now as lively and happy as a king.
Lots of love, from
Vanessa

4. Extract from a letter from Jilly Peters, P.P. Box 202, Ndola, N. Rhodesia.
Dear Enid Blyton,
Can you work this out? Can you arrange two match sticks so that they make ten? I have tricked you! Put them in Roman figures, like this, X. Isn’t that clever?
Love from Jill.


I wish I knew that the first letter is referring to, there’s a flower that predicts the weather? At first I read it as a flower that could predict the weather AND could be carried as a sun-shade, but I suspect Avril means that she will use her umbrella as a sun-shade instead.

I looked it up and Ndola is now in Zambia. I know very little of the history of the countries that make up Africa and was interested to read a bit about Rhodesia which only existed for fourteen years.

I’ve noticed that so far most of the letters have been sent in by girls, and from my brief search through before I think that trend continues. I wonder if more girls wrote in, or Blyton picked more girls’ letters, or a mix of both.

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Monday #269

Letters to Enid volume 4

and

Summer Term at Malory Towers

The Caravan Family is the first book in what’s sometimes known as the Caravan Family series. In it, Mike Belinda, Ann and Mummy have been living with Granny while Daddy was away with some sort of war-work. Now that Daddy is back they are looking for a home, but can’t find a suitable one. What they do find are two caravans which, although unorthodox, end up being a perfect home for them. They do them up with new paintwork and flooring, new little bits of furniture and so on, and move into them. They acquire horses after a time and move around the country, ending up on Uncle Ned’s farm just in time to help with the haymaking.

Berta Wright is the daughter of a famous scientist, she owns a dog and in Five Have Plenty of Fun she dresses as a boy. She’s not as like George as that sounds, though. Firstly, she’s forced to disguise herself as a boy to keep herself safe from her father’s enemies, and she actually rather likes being a girl. Her dog is a little poodle called Sally, and while Sally is loyal and loves her mistress she doesn’t have the same protective bulk that Timmy does.

Berta’s American and the Five tease her about not being able to say ‘twenty’ or ‘plenty’ properly, but they admire her pluck in dealing with being left with strangers while kidnappers are looking for her.

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Five on Kirrin Island Again part 2

I didn’t mention the Curtons at all in part one of my review, very remiss of me!


The Curtons

Martin and his father are staying in a cottage belonging to the coastguard. Martin, as seen through the eyes of the Five, is a slightly curious boy. He is quiet and rather sullen, difficult to get along with beyond polite small talk. He does, however, ask George a great deal of questions about George’s island and her father’s work there. Somewhat foolishly she tells him a fair amount, flattered by him mistaking her for a boy. Dick is not so easily taken in and has a couple of disagreements with George over Martin’s interest.

His father seems genial and jolly, inviting the Five to come and watch television with them – the first time George has ever seen a television – but when the Five are not there he displays a terrible temper and is unkind to Martin.

When Mr Curton reveals that he is newspaper journalist Dick relaxes, thinking that Martin was merely assisting his father with a story. But this is a clever red herring.


A bit more about Uncle Quentin

I looked at his relationship with George last time, but there are lots of other bits about Uncle Quentin, particularly his terrible memory and lack of attention when it comes to anything other than his work.

Apparently he has been terribly excited and so thrilled lately, so says Aunt Fanny. I wonder how he displayed that, I can’t quite picture him skipping around Kirrin Cottage no matter how excited he was. Perhaps she just meant he smiled a lot!

He does not look after himself at all well while staying on the island. He forgets that Fanny and the Five are coming to visit despite it being written in his diary. He wolfs down the picnic Aunt Fanny has brought – he clearly hasn’t been eating regular meals while working. Fanny had even left him soup, which he had forgotten about.

What’s more is he tries to eat the soup a few days later and has the cheek to complain that it was quite bad. Aunt Fanny had clearly anticipated this and already told him to throw the soup away, before it went bad.

Aunt Fanny also relates the brief story about the time Quentin was working in the Cheddar caves.

I remember once when he was doing some sort of work in the stalactite caves at Cheddar, he disappeared in them for over a week – but he wandered out all right when he finished his experiments.

There probably isn’t much more to the story than that but I find myself wanting to know more. Had he gotten lost? Did he just find a place to work that nobody thought to look? Did anyone even bother going looking for him? Anyway it pretty much sums up Uncle Quentin, totally absorbed in his work. I bet if a recue team had made effort to find him, and interrupted his work he would have been very angry!

I have to say though, that he is quite heroic in the end. He does everything he can to keep his work falling into the hands of the bad guys, and is willing to die in the process. His dash to his tower to destroy the power supply and therefore prevent the blowing up of the island is also impressive and exciting.


George/ina

George’s desire to be treated as a boy is often merely an interesting facet to her character, popping up now and again. But sometimes it becomes important to the storyline, for example when her ambiguous gender confuses adults and causes them to miscount the children (like at the end of Five Go Off in a Caravan).

This book has only the one important plot point regarding George being mistaken for a boy, by Martin, – and I’ve mentioned that above. The bad guys also mistake her for a boy towards the end, though it doesn’t have any impact on the story.

There are several instances where it was mentioned, though, and a couple of little things in relation that I picked up on.

Julian praises her for giving in gracefully, adding you’re more like a boy than ever when you act like that. Perhaps he just wanted to say something complimentary to her, or use that comment as a way to encourage her to sulk less, but Anne takes a bit of offense. Her reply is it isn’t only boys that can learn to give in decently… heaps of girls can. And she’s quite right.

George does seem to have some strange ideas about girls, mind you. She doesn’t want to be petty and catty and bear malice as so many girls did. Her ideas about boys aren’t always much better.

When Dick calls her out for spilling everything to Martin just because he mistakes her for a boy he says Jolly girlish-looking boy you are, knowing that will offend her more than most other insults. George’s reply is magnificently silly.

I’m not girlish-looking. I’ve got far more freckles than you have, for one thing, and better eyebrows. And I can make my voice go deep.

Dick is suitably disgusted with this logic, and ends with the accusation that Martin was just playing up to her, knowing how much you like playing at being what you aren’t. Ouch! George was being pretty daft but that was rather cruel a comment from the usually affable Dick.

Little things I noticed were James calling George Miss twice instead of master, and the fishermen doing the same.


 

The usual nitpicks, comments and observations

This is the first adventure for the Five since they went caravanning the previous summer, and it is also the first time the children have all been together since then, too.

There are two major(ish) continuity errors in this book. One is the already mentioned room in Kirrin Castle which has collapsed in Five Run Away Together but is perfectly fine now. The second is that Alf, the fisher boy, is now called James. It is definitely meant to be the same character as his relationship to George and Timmy is mentioned.

Aunt Fanny somewhat foreshadows the start of a later book when she says whoever heard of bathing in April? Do you want to be in bed for the rest of the holiday with a chill? Of course at the beginning of Five Have a Wonderful Time George is delayed from joining the others because she has been bathing in April and has caught a chill.

I have to adjust my mental pictures of the locations quite often when I’m reading and notice details or descriptions don’t match what’s in my mind. Kirrin Cottage is said to not overlook the island well, so George struggles to look for Timmy with field-glasses and they have to go upstairs to watch for Uncle Quentin’s signals. This somewhat contradicts the fact that in Five Run Away Together George asserts she has seen a light on her island. It also doesn’t match my mental picture of Kirrin Cottage being quite near the beach and looking directly over the island.

Talking of misunderstanding things, I tend to forget that Uncle Quentin prevented the explosion. I think I confuse it with the end of The Island of Adventure when the mines and undersea tunnels are blown up, and end up thinking that the same happened to Kirrin. I even went as far as drafting a Travel Blyton Kirrin post where I mentioned the former undersea tunnel.

I find it strange when both Joanna and Aunt Fanny keep calling Uncle Quentin The Master. I always think of Joanna as almost part of the family, rather than a servant. She’s obviously staff, but she’s not part of a large household where servants were supposed to sneak around the back stairs without ever being seen.

And lastly, when I first read this I had no idea what sou’westers were. I imagined them as a sort of jumper or sweater – mostly because sweater and sou’wester share a lot of letters, and is something you might wear on a cold, wet day.


Last thoughts

Despite enjoying the Kirrin setting and the neat addition of the undersea tunnel this book is only in 14th place in my series rankings. I think there are a few factors which lower my opinion of the book. One is that the enemy is revealed/met so late, and it’s only George and Uncle Quentin who feature in the bulk of the final scenes. Mr Curton is never a real threat to the children despite his involvement and Martin is neither horrible enough to be disliked or nice enough to garner my sympathy. I do like his little backstory and the stuff about the painting but it’s not really enough for me to feel like I know him as a character.

The other is the frustration of having a Kirrin adventure where the island is mostly off-limits. The same could be said for Five Go Adventuring Again, but the constant tension of Mr Roland at Kirrin Cottage and the exploring of Kirrin Farm make up for it.

I do like the introduction of the (never seen again) coastguard, and the quarry, but I feel like this book misses out on some of the things I like best about the Famous Five books. The glorious picnics, lazy days on the beach, exploring their location together, the Five alone facing their enemies.

It’s still an excellent book, just not as excellent as thirteen of the others!

 

 

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Search terms, the whole nine yards

Ah the things people search for! I never fail to find something amusing when I look. Here are the best of the latest crop.


Misguided questions

Famous Five why do Georgina and Henrietta break up? I wasn’t aware that they were ever in a relationship! They didn’t get on because George didn’t like to see another girl pretending to be a boy – specifically one who looked more boyish due to the extremely masculine look of not having curly hair.

Mr Plod and Little Noddy story book beginning in short. Noddy books are only around 60 pages – that’s pretty short. The ‘beginning’ is probably only three or four pages, and this person wants that summarised even shorter??

Best part of Tinker Famous Five are Together Again. Erm, his knees? Is that what you’re after?

Anne Kirrin Famous Five “bottom”. I’m not even going there, this is a family site!

What are the qualities that have meet Julian in Famous Five? Well there was that time that humility, courage and helpfulness came wandering down the road and introduced themself to Julian… No, wait, that never happened. I’m not sure what this one’s about.

Famous Five story with pufgins. Even if we mentally correct pufgins (sea birds who enjoy a stiff drink?) to puffins, this one still fails at identifying a book that actually exists.

pufgins


That’s not the title, and that’s not her name

This week’s variations on Enid Blyton:

  • Enid Blighton
  • Edin Blyton
  • Enid Bkyton
  • Enud Blyton
  • Edith Blyton

That last one came from the gem noddy goes to toilet but edith blyton not a book one cost to buy. I’m not sure where to start. I mean Noddy doesn’t go to the toilet, because Enid/Edith Blyton’s characters never do such a common thing, and the rest just makes no sense.

Secret Severn Mystery of the Skull. Is this a secret river society, which just so happens to share a mystery with the Secret Seven as written by Pamela Butchart?

secret severn

www. old covers of maloray towers books.com. I’m absolutely certain that this is not a website. For one, you don’t get spaces in web addresses. Secondly, it’s Malory, but that at least makes a change from it being spelled Mallory – as in Miss Grayling Mallory Towers.


The rather too vague

Famous Five dvd about a tenner. Which Famous Five series – the CFF? The 70s Southern TV? The 90s Zenith North? The Disney one where it’s the Five’s children? Or do you not really care as long as it’s about ten quid?

Short dramatise story. Apparently it doesn’t even have to be by Enid Blyton.


Good questions

Where did Enid Blyton live? She had many homes. Starting in Beckenham where she lived in several different properties before she lived Bourne End in a house called Old Thatch. Her last home was Green Hedges in Beaconsfield.

Enid Blyton Adventure Series where is Craggy Tops locations? Craggy Tops’ location is never named. The 1982 film adaptation was filmed in Cornwall, which seems a reasonable real-life location.


New descriptions for old classics

The new tag line for The Secret Series should be Enid Blyton book about some kids and a foreign prince and his bodyguards.

Noddy story book What a Adventure no.17 what a chaise! moral. I can’t allow that bad grammar or spelling but I could see Noddy story #17, Noddy has an Adventure, being known as Noddy: What an Adventure! What a chase! The moral, incidentally, is probably to lock up your car lest someone borrow it to commit crimes.


The ones I can’t answer

Enid Blyton rhymes stinging nettles. I can’t see any poems with nettles in the title, but there may well be one or more mentions of nettles within poems, or in little verses in stories about nature.

The Ladybird Book written by Enid Blyton lady ladybird your are were neat. Searches for Enid Blyton and ladybird throw up some poems, and two books published by Ladybird.


 

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Monday #268

More Blyton search terms

and

Five on Kirrin Island Again part 2

One of the questions you so often ask me is about my childhood. You are in the middle of yours. You quite naturally want to know what mine was like. Did I play the same games as you do? Did I like reading? What books did I read?

Enid Blyton introduces the chapter ‘About my childhood – the books I read’ in The Story of My Life, her autobiography.

Naughty Amelia Jane is the first book about Amelia Jane, a very naughty doll (based on one owned by Blyton’s daughter Gillian). Amelia Jane is home-made rather than shop-bought and therefore lacks the sort of good manners that purchased toys have. She bullies the other nursery toys and does wicked things like cutting up rugs and curtains. She learns her lesson many times over but it never lasts!

 

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Letters to Enid volume 3

Previous letters pages can be found under the letters page tag.


Letters page from Volume 1, issue 12. August 19th – September 1st 1953

OUR

LETTER PAGE

 1. A letter from Joan Richards, Warren Farm, Pyrford, Woking
Dear Enid Blyton;
It is so nice to be a Busy Bee. I am collecting milk-bottle tops and stamps. I try to stop anybody being cruel to animals. I hate to see animals suffering. I have sent for the Busy Bees News, and I have asked a girl to join, because she loves animals too.
Love from
Joan Richards.

2. A letter from Jean Lockyer, Silvermere, Verwood, Wimborne, Dorset.
Dear Enid Blyton,
I am sending you a snap of myself and my sister Audrey. I am dressed up as Big-Ears, and Audrey as Noddy. We won third prize in the 1953 Verwood Carnival. The children who were watching the Carnival procession were very excited when they saw us, and called after us. We are delighted with your new magazine and we love reading the Noddy books and all your adventure books.
Yours sincerely,
Jean Lockyer.

3. A letter from Irene Horbury, 3 Morton Street, Heaton Norris, Stockport.
Dear Enid Blyton,
I look forward to reading your magazine every fortnight, and I wonder if any other reader has a pet like mine. My budgie Tony never fails to read the magazine with me. He is only four months old, and he talks very well. If we are having a salad tea he always flies down to our plates and eats with us. He is a very lovable little bird. So that’s all for now.
Love from
Irene Horbury


I really wish they had included the snap of Jean and Audrey as Big-Ears and Noddy.

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April 2019 round up

What I have read

After a slow few months I’ve not only caught up to my target but I have exceeded it! As a reward I’ve allowed myself to borrow the next Outlander book.

I’ve finished:

  • The Nightingale Christmas Show (Nightingales #9) – Donna Douglas
  • District Nurse on Call (Steeple Street #2) – Donna Douglas
  • G is for Gumshoe – (Kinsey Millhone #7) – Sue Grafton
  • Poor Tom is Cold (Murdoch Mysteries #3) – Maureen Jennings
  • Mystery of the Skull – Pamela Butchart (reviewed here)
  • A Nightingale Christmas Promise (Nightingales #10) – Donna Douglas
  • The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell
  • Let Loose the Dogs (Murdoch Mysteries #4) – Maureen Jennings
  • I’d Rather Be Reading – Anne Bogel
  • The Shipwreck Hunter – David L. Mearns
  • Ten Little Superheroes – Mike Brownlow
  • Hairy Maclary’s Bone – Lynley Dodd
  • Five on Kirrin Island Againreviewed here

I’ve still to finish:

  • The Wild Things – Dave Eggers
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) – Diana Gabaldon

What I have watched

  • Hollyoaks
  • Some of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 2
  • Murder She Wrote Season 3
  • The final stages of Only Connect

What I have done

  • Went to the cinema to see Avengers: Endgame, and only cried at the end.
  • Visited the Scottish Deer Park
  • Took Brodie to Lego Club at the library and he just ran riot!
  • Took Brodie to an outdoors messy play session in the park. He liked the earth the best.
  • Had lunch at a local pub restaurant which has a children’s play area, and then cake there the week after
  • Taken some walks in the countryside now that Brodie is able to walk further (though sometimes we take his trike to help!)
  • Went to an Easter barbecue at my aunt’s house and did an egg hunt for Brodie
  • Been able to play in the garden and use our nearby park even more often now that it’s occasionally warm and sunny
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Monday #267

April round up

and

More letters to Enid

The two boys held their breath. Good gracious! They were right in the middle of something very queer! Why were these men meeting at this tumbledown place? Who were they and what were they doing?

Jack and George stumble upon a mystery in Secret Seven on the Trail.

The Adventurous Four is set in Scotland and features Andy, a fisherboy, twins Mary and Jill and their always hungry brother, Tom. The four children take a sailing trip and get shipwrecked. If that’s not adventurous enough the island they land on is being used by some strange men with a nefarious purpose.

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Five on Kirrin Island Again

This is an important book, I always think. It was where Blyton originally intended to end the series, nicely bookending the series with two Kirrin Island adventures. There is a fair amount of character development from George and we get to see more of her relationship with her father too.

The first edition dustjacket on the left with the back-to-front telescope, and then the version I have, first published in 1951. I’ve never really looked at the second cover in great detail – but George looks very tall and masculine. I almost mistook her for Julian at first. It must be James pushing the boat off, I’d never realised he was on a cover before.


A story in three parts

In my first review I broke the story into parts, and for some reason this is what I think of when I pick up each subsequent book.

So for this story, we have:

  • The Five coming together again, and arriving in Kirrin
  • The Mystery of Uncle Quentin’s hidden workshop on the island, and the idea there might be someone else there with him
  • George’s trip to the island and the main drama at the end of the book

I had toyed with the idea that ‘part 3’ would begin when Uncle Quentin suspects he’s not alone, but I think tonally it fits more with the mystery of where he’s working than the high drama later.


Five on the Mainland Again

For a book about Five on Kirrin Island (again) they actually don’t spend a lot of time there. Uncle Quentin spends more time there than they do, because he is conducting some scientific experiments there. The Five visit for lunch twice, and are almost pushed into the boat afterwards, Quentin is so keen to be left alone. Timmy spends the most time there, from page 93, and George secretly returns to the island on page 128. Julian and Dick go back on page 168, and Anne joins them on page 173, for just five pages.

Most of the Five’s time is spend around Kirrin, at George’s home, and a two new locations, namely the Coastguard’s cottage and Kirrin Quarry.


Uncle Quentin’s two mysteries

The middle of the story concerns the two mysteries around Uncle Quentin’s stay on the island.

Firstly there is the puzzle of where he is working. The only whole room of the castle had fallen in before the events of Five Run Away Together, and it has magically repaired itself but Quentin isn’t using it. He’s not in the cave, nor in the dungeons as the stone hasn’t been lifted. He isn’t at the top of his new plastic tower, either. They don’t actually check the wreck but it’s hardly likely for Uncle Quentin to shin up a rope and slip around the deck.

Aunt Fanny isn’t particularly worried. She imagines there are many places on the island to hide. Considering the cave the Five found in their third adventure, I’d say it was possibly for there to be one or two secrets the island hasn’t yet revealed but the children are wild with not knowing. It’s a strange situation for the reader, too, as we are so used to children in Blyton’s books being smarter than any grown ups and running rings around them, even intelligent scientists.

Quentin could tell them but chooses not to – showing that he has a bit of a petty side, I think. He does say he needs water all around and above, which is a massive clue, though the children don’t seem to notice or take that through to its logical conclusion. If he isn’t in the dungeons, though, which as far as we know don’t extend beyond the island, where exactly is he?

The other mystery is a more dangerous one. On their second visit Uncle Quentin says he thinks there is someone else on the island. He has heard a cough and found a fresh cigarette butt. Because of this he asks for Timmy to be left to guard him.


George and her father

George and her father have a strained relationship at best. They are quite alike in their sudden tempers, yet don’t seem to understand each other very much.

In this book Quentin demands a lot of George. Firstly he takes her island – without even asking – and then he wants her beloved dog.

In Fanny’s letter to George, warning her about her father’s plans for the island, she says Father thinks you will be very pleased indeed to lend him Kirrin Island. What planet does he live on? If he had had the decency to ask George himself then I imagine she would have given grudging permission, along with a request for him not to take too long, but she could never have been described as pleased about the situation. When Quentin reveals later in the book why he has come to the island in relative secrecy his demand for the island seems a bit more reasonable, but not knowing that I can understand why George is furious. It’s a typical act from Quentin, to assume that he knows best and can just organise other people’s lives and belongings. He probably thinks that George should be pleased to lend him the island, that any nice daughter would, and from that convinces himself that she will. 

He does sort of ask to borrow Timmy, though again without any sort of acknowledgement on how hard it would be for George to be separated from him.

You and that dog – anyone would think he was worth a thousand pounds! 

Well, we know that he’s worth a lot more than that to George. I’m not much of a dog person but even I empathise greatly with George here. Timmy is her constant companion and probably her best friend.

It’s not all arguments, though.

George rushes to the island in the night to make sure Timmy is all right, and ends up rescuing him and her father. She admits she is ashamed of making such a fuss about the island and Timmy when she hears more about what her father is working on, and he doesn’t seem to remember about it anyway.

Although she is impatient to check on Timmy George listens to her father’s tale, and offers to fetch help even saying I’ll do anything you want me to, Father, anything! before demanding to know where Timmy is. She wants to check on him but as soon as she has she plans to head to the mainland for help.

They then have their most touching interaction to date:

“Good girl,” said her father, and gave her a hug. “Honestly, George, you do behave as bravely as any boy. I’m proud of you.”

Even George thinks that this is one of the nicest things her father has ever said to her.

He does clearly love her, despite not showing it very often.

“I can’t risk having you buried down here, George. I don’t mind for anything for myself – workers of my sort have to be ready to take risks all their lives – but it’s different now you’re here.”


I’ve jumped around a lot here in an attempt not to just summarise the book which is what I do when I review the story in the order it unfolds. Still to consider in part two of my review are the mysterious Curtons (not to be confused with curtains), the reveal of Uncle Quentin’s secret lair, and my usual nitpicks and wonderings.

 

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Short stories from Rainy Day Stories

Rainy Day Stories is the first of a two book series published by Evans Brothers, the second book being Happy Day Stories.

Despite it having been the best weather we’ve had all year this past weekend, I chose this book at random. I then chose three stories based on their titles sounding interesting.

This isn’t the first edition but I couldn’t resist using the Eileen Soper cover from the second edition. My edition has no dustjacket unfortunately.


The Vanishing Bananas

Story number ten in the collection makes a mockery of my previous assertions that bananas didn’t feature in Enid Blyton books. This story was originally published in Sunny Stories in 1932, so well before the WWII removed bananas from the diets of most people in Britain. As far as I’m aware they didn’t feature in any of her major series during or post war, though.

Anyway, the bananas in this story are bought by nurse for Eileen, Tommy and Mary. She buys seven at a time because they are seven for sixpence (around £1.14 now, so only marginally more expensive than today. An average banana at Tesco costs 14p, so you’d get seven for 96p, or around 8.5 for £1.14) and she buys them every other day.

But suddenly bananas aren’t lasting two days, as they are going missing in ones and twos from the bowl. The children deny taking any, and of course Blyton’s children never lie (or at least not the ‘nice’ ones with nurses and large banana budgets). It’s a mystery to them, but not really to the reader as there’s an illustration of a monkey holding a banana early in the story.

The children lie in wait for the banana thief and find the monkey belonging to the sailorman next door is sneaking in the window and helping himself to bananas whenever he likes. I’m amazed the monkey had the restraint to eat only a few and not just take the whole bowlful!


Old Mr Sticky-Bits

I had to read this one to find out what on earth it was about because it clearly cannot be about what it sounds like…

It’s about a gnome who repairs things with glue. He’s very cranky and always complains that the pixies and elves who use his service are very careless and shouldn’t break so many things. Clearly he doesn’t stop to consider he would be out of business without them breaking things! Though I do understand, I’ve often said that working in retail would be great if it wasn’t for the customers.

Anyway, in one of his cranky outbursts he accuses some of his customers of stealing his glue brush. He even calls in Mr Lockemup, the policeman (everyone has descriptive names it would seem), but eventually discovers the brush is stuck to the seat of his trousers because he has sat on it. He is suitably chastened by this and becomes a bit friendlier.


Mr Noodle’s Eggs

This appears to be based on a very old fable (I’ve read a version in Aesop’s fables but it seems to predate even that). The fable is The Milkmaid and Her Pail, whereby a milkmaid is so buys dreaming of the riches she will earn that she spills the milk and loses her chance to make any money. The moral being don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

With Mr Noodle, he is planning to sell 50-odd eggs. Then he will buy a goose to sit on goose-eggs, then a goat for milk, and then a cow, and then a big house to look down upon everyone. He then falls in his eggs and smashes them. He has been boasting out loud the whole time too, so there’s a second moral in there about pride coming before a fall, I think.


 

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Monday #266

Short stories from Rainy Day Stories

and

Five on Kirrin Island Again

“This bird,” he said, looking at Kiki suddenly, “this bird – it must be in a cage. I order it.”

Gus and Kiki get off to a bad start in The Circus of Adventure.

 

The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage is the first book of the Five-Find Outers series, where Fatty and Buster meet Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets, and they solve their first mystery.

Fatty teaches the others about detective work, like gathering clues (or glues as Bets thinks they are called), identifying suspects and investigating motives.

Old Clear Orf is no match for the Find-Outers, even though they are new to investigative work, and they are the first to work out who set fire to Mr Hick’s workroom.

the-mystery-of-the-burnt-cottage

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Enid Blyton, praise and criticism part 2: The Child and the Book

A few weeks ago I looked at what the Who’s Who of Children’s Literature had to say about Enid Blyton, and it was overwhelmingly positive. This time I want to see what The Child and the Book has to say. Unlike the Who’s Who, this book is not divided into chunks about authors, rather it discusses some different types and age levels of books, and thus mentions Blyton on a dozen or so different occasions.


The Child and the Book

Written by Nicholas Tucker and first published in 1981, this book’s subtitle is A Psychological and Literary Exploration. 

It is divided into the following sections; Introduction, first books, story and picture books, fairy stories myths and legends, early fiction, juvenile comics, literature for children, selection censorship and control, and who reads children’s books. I have my suspicions which sections will, or indeed will not feature Enid Blyton but we shall soon find out.


An unbiased introduction?

Her first mention comes in the introduction;

If any discussion also includes popular literature for children, such as nursery rhymes, fairy stories and comics… then the results should give some idea of what children have always seemed to like, very often despite rather than because of adult approval.

Sometimes popular books for children this century have been almost disliked by adults as they have been welcomed by most young readers. Continuing adult attempts at interference, however, have on the whole not been successful; although the works of Enid Blyton, for example, have been banned from more public libraries over the years than is the case with any other adult or children’s author, she still remains very widely read.

At this point I was wishing for a citation for this last statement, and I got one. It is from Censorship in Public Libraries in the United Kingdom During the Twentieth Century by A.H. Thompson. I have just this morning bought a copy as apparently chapter four discusses Enid Blyton books in great detail.

Unfortunately after this, the majority of references to Enid Blyton are the typical insults about her skill as a writer, story-teller and author in general.

I won’t bore you with every last detail, suffice to say that the section on early fiction (ages 7-11) has 35 pages. Thirteen pages, more than a third of the chapter, are dedicated to Enid Blyton’s and her books (most of it in a negative way), with several more references to how inferior she is to other authors gracing a further half dozen pages.

One positive passage from this chapter describes the appeal of ‘cognitive conceit’ which Blyton apparently employed in her book. Cognitive conceit is when children think they are as good as, or better than adults. In fiction many children outwit adults, such as the Find Outers and Goon.

The appeal [of cognitive conceit] can also be found in many of the children’s books written by Enid Blyton, a perennial best-seller for this age-group, and as such worth considering in some detail. Although her Noddy books are popular with younger children, her particular strength has always been with readers aged seven to eleven, at the first stages of starting to read simple novels right through for themselves. Books for these children should normally possess simple vocabularies, short sentences and clear, concrete plots since children’s concentration span and powers of abstract reasoning will still be limited. Enid Blyton stands out because of her truly massive appeal during her own lifetime, which still shows few signs of diminishing, given the large sales her books continue to enjoy, and the fact that some of her stories have been made into popular adventure series for children’s television. At her peak she was writing one novel each week, so giving rise to the baseless rumour that she employed other writers to share some of her work. Taken together, her books offer a good illustration of what children at this age easily understand and enjoy, but also what they must eventually grow away from, and older readers often find themselves looking back upon their one-time pleasure in her works with mixed feelings. But for those earlier ages the author identified so closely with the needs and outlook of her young readers that it was sometimes said that if children were capable of writing novels, they would write like Enid Blyton.

Ok there’s a bit of a negative in there about older readers growing away from and having mixed feelings about their previous enjoyment, but it’s a relief to see that the idea Enid Blyton had ghost-writers is firmly rebuked. The last sentence is also a sneaky criticism, which I will elaborate on later.

The other positive piece I found was;

As well as being a compulsive chronicler of infantile fantasies, Enid Blyton was an extraordinarily hard worker and also, in her way, a skilled literary craftswoman who knew how to get through to children.

In this sense, Enid Blyton remains a very positive person for the young. In her prose she offers them a pleasant, easily comprehensible world, where children are always heroes, occupying themselves with the sort of things they would like to do if they had the chance.

Her efforts to raise money for charities with her Busy Bees and Sunbeam society are also briefly praised.


Your bias is showing

The chapter on early fiction begins with saying that children like safe, predictable stories.

Enid Blyton’s stories about Noddy… are often as popular with infants as they are detested by adults. Here again, nothing very surprising happens in these stories, where the Golliwog is always naughty and Noddy regularly behaves like a perpetual innocent, but this is the type of trouble-free, fictional world where small children, never quite sure what may happen once a page is turned, can soon relax and enjoy.

If you’re going to make an accusation, at least make it a true one. Golliwogs are rarely the bad guy in Noddy books. Also incorrect is a later insistence that George Kirrin’s pet monkey throws raisins at Uncle Quentin. I wonder if the author has even read an Enid Blyton book!

Anyway, this part continues with;

Noddy ‘is like the children themselves, but more naive and stupid. Children like that – it makes them feel superior.”

This is attributed as something Blyton said herself. It was quoted by Colin Welch in Dear Little Noddy, an article in The Encounter, 1958. I struggle to believe Enid Blyton would say something like that about her readers.

A last insult is squeezed in when the book says that there are other stories for the lower ranges of this age-group that remain within children’s intellectual reach without descending to the same level of banality. The example given is the Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne.

The book also manages to insult me personally, when it says

Children may sometimes want literature that is so simple that none but the most determinedly regressive adult reader would ever find it satisfying; it is rare, for example, to see any grown readers still enjoying Enid Blyton’s Little Noddy stories.

The idea that if children wrote books, they would write like Enid Blyton is given a lot of explanation. The criticisms are not new or unique. Everything in her books is gratifyingly easy. The vocabulary is as repetitive as the plots (and on the same page the vocabulary is again denigrated as stock). Settings are suggested in a few cliches, and the people are shallow and stereotyped. The characters are mostly very dull and untroubled by introspection, moral dilemma [or] any reasonable sense of reality. Yawn. What seven to eleven year old sitting down to an adventure tale wants to read about introspective navel gazing? Later the book also says that accusations of limited vocabulary have been exaggerated by other critics – funny given this book has mentioned it twice already. Some example are given of her more interesting words and they are described as hardly an over-adventurous vocabulary, but certainly not baby-talk. Well, that’s a half-hearted bit of praise I suppose.

My favourite accusation is probably the one that Enid Blyton more or less bullies Goon, and never offers him any compassion when he is inevitably told off by the inspector. Followed by Blyton being insensitive to use the initials SS for the Secret Seven, including a quote about the children wearing their SS badges.

In terms of wild theories, the best has to be that Tinker Hayling’s lighthouse is a phallic symbol.

Blyton children also often have some surprisingly impressive possessions. Georgina, for example, owns her own island, while Tinker, a friend of the gang, goes even better. Somewhat unsportingly, this same character at one stage says to the androgynous Georgina,

‘I bet you wish you had a light-house of your own, George.’

“Well, yes I do,’ said George, gazing up at the towering light-house.

Psychoanalysts have yet to analyse the treasure-trove of Enid Blyton’s fantasy world, but when they do it will be hard to resist interpreting symbolism like this, where Tinker’s most treasured possession even puts Jack’s bean-stalk into the shade.

Honestly. I would love to own a lighthouse and I am neither androgynous nor wishing I was a man.

Despite this wild theory; there is still criticism that there is no sexual attraction between any of the Famous Five (who are either siblings or cousins, so hardly a good example!) to convolute the stories. Apparently children aged 7-11 have a very sensual side which Blyton expresses with affectionate animals.


I think you doth protest too much

Is it just me that thinks that in a book about children’s books in general, to spend so much time negatively commenting on a single author just comes across as ridiculous? If Enid Blyton was that bad she wouldn’t be vastly popular and there would not be hundreds of books to comment upon. If she’s simply average, again, how could she provide so much food for thought? Why give her so much head (or indeed page) space? Why has she gotten under the skin of this writer so deeply that she probably has more mentions than any other author.

Is it just the ‘done’ thing to slag her off? Would any serious book about literature from this time period be laughed off the shelves if it said that Enid Blyton was a great writer (without a load of ifs, buts and backtrackings)?

 

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Letters to Enid volume 2

Two weeks ago I posted the first ever letters page from Enid Blyton’s Magazine, and here’s the second one.


Letters page from Volume 1, issue 11. August 5th – 18th 1953

OUR

LETTER PAGE

 1. A letter from Jean Shaw, 6, Motehill Road, Gallowhill, Paisley
Dear Enid Blyton,
The Queen came to my home-town on the 25th June. All the schools in Paisley were out to see her. I was in the very front row, so I got a very good view of her indeed. I cheered and cheered and cheered the Queen and the Prince. The Queen is simply lovely. She is far nicer than her pictures make her out. I wanted to run out into the road and into the car and kiss the Queen. Prince Philip was very handsome and ever so friendly. I had a queer feeling when the royal couple drove past. I was wildly excited. I would do anything to see the Queen and Prince Philip again.
Love from Jean Shaw.

2. A letter from Karin Smith, Farndale, Hepscott, Morpeth.
Dear Enid Blyton,
I am sending you my list of wild flowers. For the last two years I have collected and pressed them and stuck them in a book and labelled them. I have got 157 flowers and 14 grasses. We like reading your magazine very much, especially “Five Go Down to the Sea.” My two brothers and I (aged 7 and 12) each got a Coronation Bible and would like your special message to put inside them, if you still have some please. We are joining the I.B.R.A.
With best wishes,
from Karin Smith.

3. A letter from Sandra Knowles, a reader who has gone to live in a small island called Tobago.
My Dear Enid Blyton,
My many thanks for your postcard.
Tobago is a small island and is 27 miles long and 7 miles wide. So you can see by that it is small. Is is not far from Trinidad and only two special steamers go from Trinidad to Tobago. It is always sunny. We have nice flowers like hibiscus, queen of the flowers, gerberas, roses, forget-me-nots, celanders, and many, many others.
We have birds such as the keskadic, humming birds, birds of paradise, pelicans and kings of the woods. The fish we have are red fish, king fish, shark, barracuda, little jacks and sardines, and schoolmasters which have yellow stripes.
With love and best wishes,
Sandra L. Knowles.


And a bonus follow up letter (featured in the editor’s letter at the front) from Ian Stuart who won last week’s prize:

If you have got some books (quite a few are needed) why not start a small library among your friends? Have a rule card on which you print all rules, and a membership card. I would not let anyone join under eight years old, unless you can quite trust them. You can have a badge if you like – it needn’t be elaborate, just a plain one, say blue, with the initials of your library in yellow. When you lend books, lend them for just a week or two. If your members keep them longer than the last date, charge them ½d., 1d., or 2d. a week, and these charges can go into the library’s fund to buy a new book. If you have enough members you can choose a manager, secretary and president. I do hope you all think this is a good idea, and will start a library of your own.

Yours sincerely,
IAN D. STUART
Manager of Mr. Turnip’s Library


While reading the first letter I thought it was probably just as well Jean didn’t launch herself into the queen’s car and kiss her.

I went to double check the spelling of keskadic as the font is small and the lighting wasn’t great as I typed this up. According to Google no such word exists. The nearest I could find is a kiskadee, native to Trinidad (but apparently not Tobago!). This is a curious mystery, as even if keskadic was a local spelling or nickname, you would think it would appear on the internet somewhere.

I also Googled to find out that the I.B.R.A is. After several unlikely suspects (including International Bee Research Association, Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency and International Barrel Racing Association) I figured that the B may well be for bible, and adding that to a search led me to the International Bible Reading Association.

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Monday #265

More Letters to Enid

and

Enid Blyton in The Child and the Book

SORRY NOT TO SEE YOU THESE HOLS. HAVE GOT A MYSTERY TO SOLVE IN TIPPYLOOLOO, AND AM LEAVING BY AEROPLANE TO-DAY. ALL THE BEST! FATTY

Fatty sends the other Find-Outers a false telegram as a joke a the beginning of The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters. 

Tinker Hayling is, at first glance, rather an irritating child. He is only a year or two younger than Anne Kirrin, yet he is obsessed with cars, and specifically with pretending to be a car. He is often to be found running around making engine noises, gearbox noises, squeal of tires noises, and requesting biscuits or cakes in lieu of petrol. His redeeming qualities are that he owns a pet monkey, and also a lighthouse. Tinker appears in two Famous Five books, firstly Five Go to Demon’s Rocks where they stay in his lighthouse and then in the final book of the series, Five Are Together Again.

Tinker shut up said George

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The Secret Seven – Mystery of the Skull

Clearly I’m a glutton for punishment as I picked up a copy of the new Secret Seven book while at my nearest library for Bookbug with Brodie. That branch is closing for a while to be refurbished so I grabbed it before I lost the opportunity (silly as there are another seven copies across the system!).

We all know how much I tend to dislike modern remakes, adaptations and interpretations of Enid Blyton’s works. I don’t even like modern reprints with rubbish artwork and modified texts! What’s even worse is I’m not even a big fan of the Secret Seven. I only read them as an adult, and while the mysteries are generally decent enough I find most of the children far too interchangeable and bland.

So here I am about to read a book that wasn’t written by Enid Blyton about characters I’m not that fond of. I’m sure to love it (not)!

The glimmer of hope I can see is that as I don’t hold the Secret Seven in the same regard as, say, the Famous Five or Adventure Series lots, I might not be expecting so much or be so disappointed if it’s not good.


What’s it all about?

In 2017 Pamela Butchart, a Dundee author known for her Baby Aliens series, was approached by Hodder and asked to write two new Secret Seven books. The first, The Mystery of the Skull, came out in 2018 with a cover and illustrations by Tony Ross, who is responsible for the latest reprints of the Secret Seven series.

The blurb reads:

The Secret Seven Mystery of the Skull begins two weeks into the summer holidays when Janet and Peter return home from a fortnight with their gran. Peter discovers a skull in his bedroom and calls an urgent meeting of the Secret Seven. Where did the skull come from? How did it land up in Peter’s bedroom? And most importantly of all, what does this have to do with the new hotel down the road and its secretive proprietors?

It doesn’t sound very Secret-Seveny. I can’t see Enid Blyton writing about bits of dead bodies turning up anywhere let alone someone’s bedroom. I’m also not sold on the new hotel with secretive proprietors. Old hotels with secret passages are much more Blytonian.

Also not right is the title. Every other title has Secret Seven in it. Ok, so a lot of them were quite vague, but at least you knew what series they belonged to! This could be a Find-Outers book, though it’s still a bit too short a title for that. It seems unfinished, somehow. (Incidentally, apart from tipping them off that something odd is happening, the skull has no relevance to 95% of the book.)

From a Bookseller article is this sentence which doesn’t fill me with hope:

Set in the same world as Blyton’s original stories, the new mysteries promise “all the fun, adventure and humour that Butchart is known for, while satisfyingly extending this much-loved series”.

If you’re writing an Enid Blyton book you really should leave most of your personal style at home and try to channel at least a bit of Blyton! I’m imagining a zany tale worthy of David Walliams now. I don’t have a problem with Walliams – I quite enjoyed most of Gangsta Granny – but it’s not fitting for a Secret Seven book.


Where do I start?

I suppose I will start with the general story, which was probably the best thing about the book. In short; the Seven investigate the new hotel owners and discover they are digging behind the hotel. They interview Pam’s uncle about him and the other staff all being fired, and use a birthday meal at the hotel to do some snooping. There’s a midnight expedition to the digging site too, and the final chapters are concerned with the Seven searching the hotel (some of them in disguise) and uncovering the motive, the means and a few other surprises.

The detective work isn’t the best they’ve ever done but most of it stands up to scrutiny. Unfortunately they are extremely slow on the uptake at times, leaving two or three pages at a time which seem to just serve as padding as they blunder about before making an obvious conclusion.


Related post⇒ The Secret Seven reviewed



The language, the characters and everything else

The language sucks. There’s nothing even remotely recognisable about the writing. It’s full of armpits, needing to wee, throwing up, huge sweaty guys and dog drool. People are mega annoyed, told to calm their pants and Peter says Me and Janet instead of Janet and I. One of the girls wears pug slippers. Yes, pug slippers. On a midnight search of muddy land.

Everyone either gasps, shouts or screams. It feels like half the book is in capitals. Weird appears on almost every page, at least as frequently as queer ever featured in any Blyton book. The hotel owners’ dialogue is so stilted and terrible that everyone in the village should have identified them as phoneys within one sentence. We know from fairly early on that the hotel folk are up to no good, but they are too buffoonish to be genuinely considered a frightening pair.

Some characters are slightly improved and others become worse. Pam and Barbara are still quite silly but we get to see them do more, and Janet also gets to shine a few times. Peter, on the other hand, becomes a buffoon who is late to his own meeting and, although bossy at times, acts very daft. He (and the others) return from a night time mission and nobody notices they left George behind, for over a quarter hour. They only realise when he walks in! Colin becomes afraid of the dark, ghosts, and skulls, Jack is obsessed with food, and despite these ‘unique’ insights, are still more or less interchangeable. Susie, after her brief appearance at the start is entirely absent for the rest of the book.

While most of the plot is reasonable, the three visits to search the hotel become a bit repetitive. Janet even twists her ankle on two separate occasions. The final one has Pam and Barbara going to huge lengths to disguise themselves and booking a hotel room. But then the others sneak in and steal keys, so what was the point?


When’s a Blyton not a Blyton?

When someone else writes it, and especially when they disregard everything from the original and write their own book which just happens to feature characters with the same names.

I’ve said it before: if this wasn’t supposed to be an Enid Blyton book, I wouldn’t be as hard on it. Even as a modern children’s mystery, though, it wouldn’t rate particularly highly with me. It’s nowhere near as good as the Adventure Island series for example.

I gave it two stars on GoodReads. I do not recommend. (I had intended to include a link to a preview of the first two chapters, on the official Enid Blyton website. But when I tried to check it tonight the website just keeps redirecting to spam sites. I will add it later, if the website starts behaving again.)

I’ll probably still end up reading the next one, though…

 

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The Barney Mystery covers through the years

In the not-too-distant past I have looked at the various different covers that have been used for the Famous Five, Malory Towers, Secret Series and the Adventure Series. Now it is the turn of The Barney Mysteries, or as they are sometimes known The ‘R’ Mysteries.


Let’s start at the very beginning

The original publishers of the Barney Mysteries was Collins, with five books being illustrated inside and out by Gilbert Dunlop and one (the fifth) by Anyon Cook. The first book, The Rockingdown Mystery, has three different Collins Dunlop covers.

Collins 1949 / Collins 1955 / Collins 1956 / Collins 1950 / Collins 1951 / Collins 1952 / Collins 1956 / Collins 1959

What’s interesting to me is that the third Rockingdown cover is the most in keeping with the rest of the series, but it came out after most of the rest of the series’ first editions. I am left wondering why Collins re-released the book with the same illustration but different taglines and colouring, after publishing new entries in a different style. But I know very little about the publishing industry.

I think I like the third Rockingdown cover the best, out of those three and perhaps the whole series. It has a pleasing colour scheme, and I like seeing them discover the old manor. I also like the cover for The Rubadub Mystery with the huge shadows thrown against the wall, it’s very atmospheric.

Also strange is Anyon Cook illustrating the fifth book and Dunlop returning for the sixth (perhaps he was ill or on a long holiday when he was needed for The Rat-a-Tat Mystery.)


And it’s Armada again

While Armada are often the first paperback publishers of Enid Blyton’s book, they are in fact, the most frequent publishers of the Barney Mysteries. The first five books have six Armada editions apiece, and the sixth has five.

It’s not as clear with this series as to what constitutes a ‘set’, but I’ve done my best. The first appears to only have the first five books. Published between 1967 and 1970 with covers by Mary Gernat they have a typical Armada look despite the variety of fonts and logos.

Armada 1967 / Armada 1967 / Armada 1969 / Armada 1970

As a side note: how wide is that well? It must be fifteen feet across, at least!

The next set are all uncredited and are from between 1972 and 1974. Interestingly, they weren’t published in series order. (I find it odd how many series had new editions published across several years, as if they were still waiting for them to be written!) Also interesting is Rat-a-Tat being uncredited despite clearly being a recolour of the previous one by Mary Gernat. Anyway, they have a uniform font with slightly more realistic characters and backgrounds. (I like all of Mary Gernat’s covers but they are generally a bit more stylised especially with the colour washed backgrounds).

The extra-wide well is back for Ring O Bells, and there’s a start of a ‘strange positions’ trend too, first example is on the Rilloby Fair cover.

Armada 1973 / Armada 1974 / Armada 1973 / Armada 1973

Seriously what’s Tonnerre doing to Snubby? Trying to make him fly?

Next up are some 1979 Peter Archer covers. These all feature a coloured border and Blyton’s name in a jauntily-angled box.

This time both Tonnerre and Snubby look like they’re flying, but the well is not used on the Ring O Bell’s Cover.

All Armada 1979

I am always intrigued to see what scenes make it onto book covers. Usually it is something quite dynamic or picturesque, which makes me wonder why so many Rockingdown covers have some children doing very little in a dank cellar.

The three further Armada lots are all uncredited, and are from 1986, 1990 and 1993 respectively. The 1986 set has bold stripes for the title, and some oddly posed characters. The 1990 one has some of the most 90s clothing ever, and an almost impossible to read MYSTERY at the top. The 1993 set is similar to a set of Secret Series books from 1986, also by Armada, with the word mystery repeated on the edges (or Secret, in the case of the Secret Series).

Armada 1986 / Armada 1990 / Armada 1993 / Armada 1986 / Armada 1990 / Armada 1993

Back to Collins

The penultimate set takes us back to the original publishers, but a very different look, with covers by Piers Sanford. The main word of each title almost seems to glow, like a neon sign. The well may be a more accurate size based on the story, but there’s something a bit odd about the extreme angles of the main characters on the covers below. They all look like they should have already toppled over!

All Collins 1997

The most recent set is sixteen years old!

Yes, the last ever Barney Mysteries books published are from 2003, and are by Award. The children seem to almost be an afterthought on these covers, squeezed into the background while the foreground is given over to some adults.

All Award 2003

Which covers do you like? Do you have a soft spot for the covers of your childhood, or are you a purist who prefers the originals?

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Monday #264

Barney Mystery covers through the years

and

The Mystery of the Skull

The Mystery of the Invisible Thief is the 8th Find-Outers mystery. As the title suggests there is a thief in Peterswood. An invisible thief. One who is never seen despite leaving behind very large hand- and foot-prints as well as a strange round criss-crossed print too.

Soon the hunt is on for a large-footed and very sneaky individual, until a silly trick played by Pip sets them onto the real culprit.

Pongo the chimp meets the Famous Five in Five Go Off in a Caravan. His friend Nobby introduces him to the Five and he makes firm friends with them all, even Timmy. Pongo is fiercely loyal to Nobby and tries to protect him at all costs, defending him against the nasty Lou and Nobby’s uncle Dan. He is strong and brave but also very mischievous. He will steal sweets from pockets and anything else he takes a fancy to, and loves to tease the circus elephant Old Lady.

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Letters to Enid

Recently someone commented on the blog asking how they might find a letter they had written to Enid Blyton many years before. It had been published in Enid Blyton’s magazine in the mid-fifties. I checked all of the copies I had from that period and unfortunately didn’t have any luck, but it got me thinking. How many other people are out there who wrote to Enid and had their letter published? Do they still have a copy of the magazine it was in, or was it lost or throw away when they grew up? Did they perhaps miss an issue because they were on holiday or the newsagents was sold out, and then never saw their letter in print?

I guess I’ll never know, but what I plan to do it upload all of the letters pages I have so that there is an online record of as many letters as possible, in the hope that people may spot their own letter, or that of a relative.

The person searching for their letter was a Christopher Black from South Africa, so if anyone reading this has a letter with that name in a mid 50s Enid Blyton Magazine, please let me know!


Letters page from Volume 1, issue 10. July 22nd – August 4th 1953

This is the very first letters page in Enid Blyton’s Magazine.

In volume 1 issue 9, Blyton says in her news sheet:

I wonder, children, if you would like a page of letters each time – letters you have sent in, I mean? Some of you really do write such interesting ones, and I could quote them on a Letter-Page, if we had one – and I could give a prize to a good letter every time. I don’t mean this to be a competition, but I thought I would just pick out a few of the more interesting letters sent in in the ordinary way. Would you like that?

They must have said yes, as the first one appeared in the next issue on page 35.

OUR LETTER PAGE

  1. A letter from Ian David Stuart, 142 Canterbury Avenue Avenue, Slough.

Dear Enid Blyton,
I would like to tell you about our Club, called Mr. Turnip’s Library. I have about nine members. I have some 190 books, 40 of them yours. My Club members like to read stories of “The Famous Five” best, and the “Galliano Circus” books second. My members range from the age of 8 to 10. All our members enjoy your magazine. We are making a volume up of all your magazines. Won’t it be a big one when it’s finished? I do hope you will become a patron of our library as we like your books best in the world.

Yours sincerely,
Ian David Stuart,
Manager

With his letter David sent the particulars of membership of his library, the badge, the rules and everything, all done most beautifully. The motto of the library is “Read Books Daily”. What a good motto! I expect we all agree to that.

2. Extract from a letter written to me by Joy Steele and Susan Arthur, of Paignton.

Dear Enid Blyton,
My friend and I write a magazine which we call Fortnightly Special. In it we have Nature Corner Pets, Puzzle Page, an adventure serial, a second serial and a different short story. We charge ½d to read it and get about 8d a fortnight. With this money we buy prizes for the competitions. 

Isn’t that a good idea, children?

3. Extract from Peter Brown’s letter, aged 6 (Plymouth).

Dear Miss,
I can read. I read to my little brother. He wants a Noddy story. I want a Pink-Whistle. Do you know any more?
Love from Peter.

On the newsheet for issue 10 is another mention of the letters page:

Your have said that you think this is a very good idea, so I will put extracts from three good letters on our new Letter-Page this week. The top letter gets my prize! All are very good and interesting.


I really enjoyed these letters. It takes me back to my childhood, I was always forming clubs and coming up with ideas to write a magazine or a book or a play. I never got very far with any of them, because the next fun idea would come along. I do think that perhaps this blog is the grown-up equivalent of my childish attempts to pen a magazine, though!

 

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March 2019 round up

What I have read

I’ve done a bit better this month, having finally picked up a couple of books that have been sitting on my shelves for ages (one I’ve had on loan since before Brodie was born!) I’m now back on track for 100 books this year, so I’d better not slack off again.

I’ve finished:

  • And Now for Something Completely Different (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #9.7) – Jodi Taylor
  • E is For Evidence (Kinsey Millhone #6) – Sue Grafton
  • Five Go Feasting: Famously Good Recipes – Josh Sutton (reviewed here)
  • New Term at Malory Towers – Pamela Cox (reviewed here)
  • Find Spot at the Library – Eric Hill
  • Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie (Nurse Connie #2) – Jean Fullerton
  • Easter With Nurse Millie (Nurse Millie #2.6) – Jean Fullerton
  • Noddy and the Case of the Hiding Pirates (Noddy Toyland Detective #2) – ??* (reviewed here)
  • The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (Goosebumps #14) – R.L. Stine
  • F is For Fugitive (Kinsey Millhone #6) – Sue Grafton
  • Mr Lemoncello’s Great Library Race (Mr Lemoncello’s Library #3) – Chris Grabenstein
  • Death at the Seaside (Kate Shackleton #8) – Frances Brody

I’ve still to finish:

  • The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell
  • G is for Gumshoe (Kinsey Millhone #7) – Sue Grafton

I have been true to my word from last month and not borrowed another Outlander yet, though I’m dying to!

* I haven’t forgotten to replace the question marks with a name, I literally can’t find out who wrote it. It’s credited to Enid Blyton everywhere.


What I have watched

  • I’ve finished Amazing Interiors on Netflix and gone onto I Own Britain’s Best Home, after watching a one-off about enormous families called Megafamilies.
  • Only Connect
  • Hollyoaks
  • We’ve started on Umbrella Academy (also Netflix)
  • I’ve returned to Murder She Wrote again, I’m now on season 3.
  • The Case of the Hiding Pirates, to compare it to the book.
  • Finished season 1 of The Sinner

What I have done

  • Many more trips to different parks
  • Continued the Organised Mum, Marie Kondo-ing and bullet journaling
  • Stayed in a lodge at Crieff Hydro, but it was a bit of a rubbish weekend as Brodie decided that sleeping in a strange room (with or without us) was akin to torture and cried on and off for significant chunks of two nights before we gave up and came home a night early. We did manage to use the soft play and the swimming pool and eat loads of good food, though, so it wasn’t a total wash out.
  • Took Brodie to the beach for the first time since he was a baby. He loved it, and paddled in the sea (wearing wellies!), spent ages picking up different stones and rolled around in the sand.
  • Had lunch and cake out a few times, including sharing an enormous bit of cake at a local family restaurant while Brodie played in the children’s area
  • Visited our local Transport Museum for the first time, Brodie loved riding the bus, police car and Reliant Robin, while my sister particularly liked Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
  • Made pancakes for pancake day, which Brodie wouldn’t eat.
  • Went out for afternoon tea for Mother’s Day

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