Five Have a Mystery to Solve part 3

In part one I talked about Wilfrid and in part two I talked about how foolish the Five were. Now for part three which will include the nitpicks.


George as a boy

There are various things to unpick here.

Mrs Layman mistakes George for a boy, which of course pleases her.

At the cottage Anne is in charge of making the meals but has a little help from George sometimes. Dick helps Anne on one occasion as George is holding Timmy’s collar, and he cuts too many tomatoes as he’s distracted by complaining about Wilfrid. (I’d say there’s not really such a thing as too much of any food when the Five are around, and they do all get eaten).

He declares himself official tin-opener as Anne says she always nearly cuts herself, and then gives this very of-the-time speech:

Dear old Anne, whatever should we do without you! You take everything on your shoulders, and we just let you! George ought to help more. She’s a girl like you – but she never gets the meals or anything. I’ll tick her off one of these days.

Anne replies that she

Like[s] doing things on my own. George would only break things or upset them. She’s as ham-handed as a boy when it comes to washing up or setting out crockery, though she means well.

Dick pretends to be offended about boys being ham-handed.

 When have I ever broken anything I’d like to know. I’m as careful as any girl, when I handle crockery.

Unfortunately for him he drops a glass at that very moment and breaks it. There is also, of course, the small matter of the broken egg in Five Go Off In a Caravan.

The above is pretty standard attitudes of the times but it grates reading it now as I like the Five yet they’re so stuck in their gender roles. It’s particularly annoying that Dick acknowledges that it’s not very fair that Anne gets lumped with the household tasks, but his solution is forcing George to do them too as ‘she’s a girl’, rather than volunteering to do more than open tins and smash glasses himself. I know Anne likes doing household things, and yes, it’s probably easier if the others are useless but they don’t need to be useless. With a little bit of effort and practice they’d be just fine.

Dick continues to channel a Julian-like approach to boys v girls later, which is unusual for him. Perhaps he would have said this sort of thing many times before and just hasn’t had a chance as Julian always gets in first.

Couldn’t Wilfrid take the two girls back to the mainland, and then come back with the boat? I really don’t think we ought to let them run any risk.

George is not having any of it, as usual:

We’re staying here – though Anne can go back if she wants. But Timmy and I are staying here with you boys, so that’s that.

Wilfrid foolishly thinks that the girls are the cowardly type:

I hope the girls won’t be scared when they hear the awful wailing noise. It’s only the wind.

Thankfully George is suitably scornful in her reply.


Random points

  • This story is set at Easter. Their last adventure was in April, so this must be a full year (or near enough) later. They have just broken up from school for the holidays at the start so they can’t have just been to Demon’s Rocks.
  • Instead of one scene filling the endpapers there are two smaller illustrations on the endpapers. As far as I know it’s the only Five to do that.
  • Julian’s family have a cat called Tibby (never mentioned before but they’ve spent very little time at that house during the books, and/or the cat could be new).
  • Julian announces he’s going to phone George to invite her over. Although the language is more modern than when his father telephoned to Uncle Quentin in the first book, I thought this was vaguely reminiscent.
  • Anne was top of her form and captain of games
  • I always picture the door on the other side of the cottage. The book clearly says the cottage faces down the hill to the harbour but I imagine the door facing the road, because that makes more sense than having to walk around the cottage to get to the door.
  • Julian admits that he can’t paint very well, though he had ambitions of being an artist back in book 2
  • Wilfrid plays tit for tat, you won’t hold my beetles so I won’t carry water for you. To be honest he’s younger than Anne so I was wondering why he should carry water for her just because she’s a girl.
  • Anne, in addition to having a couple of reasonably justified moments as a tiger is also rather rude to Wilfrid. He is showing off a bit, with beetles, a toad and so on and she says For goodness sake get a nice little baby rabbit. I’d like that. Throwing water over him was a bit far, too, despite how much I dislike him myself.
  • Wilfrid tells an interesting tale of the island though it’s funny he doesn’t know the name of it.
  • Dick says his father plays a good game of golf, but the book also says they’d watched both their parents play. Is mother not good, or did Dick just not think her game was worth mentioning?
  • I found the phrase scanty bathing things a bit funny. Bathing things are usually reasonably brief as to be practical for swimming. By highlighting their scantyness it rather makes them sound more provocative than was intended!
  • The whispering trees remind me of those in the Enchanted Wood
  • Everyone climbing trees to hide is reminiscent of Anne doing the same in Five Get Into Trouble.
  • The well exploration is reminiscent of similar scenes in Five on a Treasure Island, Ring O’ Bells Mystery and The Island of Adventure.

Blyton talks to the characters and the reader quite a few times in this book

  • When Dick is down the well – Quick, Dick, quick – everybody’s waiting for you!
  • As they head up the secret passage from the beach – And there they go, all of them, climbing up in the dark passage into the cliff! What will they find – what will they see? No wonder their hearts beat fast and loudly, no wonder Timmy keeps close to George. An adventure? He must be on guard then – anything might happen in an adventure!
  • Practically in the middle of the last chapter, after Julian has said he will be glad of a little peace as they row away from the island – Well—you’ll soon have it, Julian! That little cottage is waiting for you all, with its glorious view over the Harbour and Whispering Island. You’ll have quite a bit of excitement tomorrow, of course, when the police take you back to the island in their boat, and you show them the old well, the vast treasure-chamber, the secret passage, and all the rest. You’ll be there when all the men are rounded up, you’ll watch them chugging off, prisoners, in the police boat, amazed that the Famous Five should have defeated them. What an adventure! And what a relief when all the excitement is over, and you lie peacefully on the hillside, with the little cottage just behind you.
  • And at the end of the final chapter – We’ll leave them all there in the sunshine, quiet and peaceful, watching the little creatures that Wilfrid can always bring around him. Julian is lying back, looking at the April sky, glad that their adventure ended so well. Dick is looking down at Whispering Island, set in the brilliant blue harbour. Anne is half asleep—quiet little Anne who can turn into a tiger if she has to! And George, of course, is close to Timmy, her arm round his neck, very happy indeed. Good-bye, Five—it was fun sharing in your grand adventure!

The nitpicks – I have so many questions

The events at the start of the book are unclear. It’s said that they ate all the sausages, as Timmy was there – and obviously George as well.

But then they say that today is the first day of the holidays, and George will be disappointed if she’s not with them. Firstly, they are often apart on the first day. Secondly, did George go straight to Julian’s after travelling back from school, only to stay for tea then go back?

Mrs Layman always gives them treats and never forgets their birthdays but Dick can’t remember her name. Also it’s interesting that Mrs Layman is a long-time friend but she lives near to George, and not where Julian etc lived before the final few books.

Julian’s family’s cook is referred to as the cook, Cook and Cookie all on the same page.

The Five have to buy food for eight. If you include Timmy, there’s the Five and then Mrs Layman and Mrs Kirrin/Barnard. If Mr Kirrin is there he is never even mentioned.

I cannot fathom the arrangements at Mrs Layman’s cottage. The one bedroom mentioned has two mattresses in it, and George and Anne are going to sleep on the sofa bed in the living-room. So where does Mrs Layman normally sleep? On a mattress on the floor? On a sofa bed even though there’s a bedroom upstairs?

I also wonder where Mrs Layman is. She says she needs to go off to her cousin, but then she turns up again to check on them, so she can’t have been far away. If the cousin’s is too far for her to keep an eye on Wilfrid then surely it’s too far for her to pop back to see the Five? It would have made more sense for her to be there to greet them when they arrive, having stayed over night. But then they wouldn’t have met Wilfrid by themselves.

Apparently their daily woman who does shopping for them had come that morning, so why was there only old milk and stale bread in the kitchen? But then a whole cake suddenly materialises from the larder – even though Anne looked in there earlier.

On the island the questions continue. Dick says the bolt is too stiff to move, yet it falls right off in his hand after that. The bolt doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. I can understand a door in the well, so that people in the underground rooms could get water – though it is far too high to use without climbing on the furniture. But why is the bolt on the outside, in the well. How many people went down the well to open the door from the outside?

Blyton mentions them being in the room that the boys had seen through the opening, but George and Anne both went down to look too.

When a man comes into the room Julian pushes the girls behind a chest, while Dick, Wilfrid and Timmy are behind the bed. Dick has a hold of Timmy. When the man discovers George’s foot sticking out the boys shoot out of their hiding places and suddenly George is holding back Timmy.

As they escape up the well Dick shouts to Julian that he and George are staying, as Timmy can’t climb a rope (yet again they all forget about that until the last minute, despite having come up against that problem before). On the next page Dick says he must tell Julian as he’s expecting George and Timmy at the top… surely Julian couldn’t expect Timmy up the rope in the first place and Dick’s already told him George isn’t coming up.


Did you notice any of these anomalies or can you explain them away?

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My 2022 in books and Blyton

This is my third time of assessing what I read the previous year in a blog post.

Every year I set some reading goals. The main one is how many books – I generally start with a goal of 100 and if if I hit that early I’ll increase it, and I also have some looser goals that I don’t put actual numbers on. So this is a way of me seeing how well I did on those goals, and starting to think about what I want to achieve with my reading this year.


Goal: read at least 100 books

My goal in 2022 was 100 books, and I read 131. I did think about increasing the goal to 120 or 130 but I never got round to it.

In 2020 I read 166 (but I was furloughed for months) and in 2021 I read 121, though I was also furloughed for a couple of months then!


Goal: Read more new books than rereads

I always caveat this by saying that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with re-reading old favourites. I love revisiting childhood books as well as things I first read a few years ago and enjoyed. I’m lucky to have the sort of memory which means I can reread a murder mystery two or three years later and still not remember who did it, but some books are so good that even if I do remember it doesn’t matter, I’ll still enjoy it.

Even so, I can’t just read the same books over and over. There are great new books coming out every day and plenty I’ve missed along the way, so I try to read more new books than I do rereads.

In 2022 I read 89 new books and 42 for the second (or third, or more-th) time.

 That’s not as many new as the previous two years but it’s still not bad at all – I think I did quite a bit of comfort reading (or listening) towards the end of the year.

The rereads

I finished listening to the Aurora Teagarden books, a re-read which I started in 2021.

I revisited several of my favourite Nancy Drews after writing a blog about them.

I started reading Roald Dahl books to Brodie and I think I’ve read him everything I have, plus a few from the library.

And I have read (listened to) the Chronicles of St Mary’s for the fourth time.

The new

I’m not going to list all 89 books, but a few highlights were:

The Lighthouse Witches by C K Cooke which I read because I like lighthouses and witches.

The Secret of Haven Point by Liz Auton another one about a lighthouse and the community of people who live there.

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch is the 9th book in the Rivers of London series and was worth waiting about a year for since book 8 came out.

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson which is all the better as it is loosely based on real events

Also based on true events is The Wreck of the Argyll by John K Fulton which not only features a lighthouse but is set near where I live.

The Library by Bella Osborne rather than my usual romance in a library/bookshop this is about a friendship between a teenage boy and an elderly woman who frequent the library.

 


Goal: Read some books I’ve always meant to

I always have an enormous list of books to read, many of which have been there years yet I’ve never got around to them. I probably add far more than I read so it is growing rather than shrinking.

Lately I’ve tired to focus on reading at least one classic a year (so that I can have some idea of what people are talking about when they make references), reading some books that have inspired film or TV adaptations that I’ve enjoyed, and books that seem to appear on every ‘must read’ list.

The classics

They were all children’s classics this year, but at least I enjoyed them for the most part.

I read Little Women – Louisa May Alcott, Mary Poppins – P. L. Travers and A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The books adapted for screen

Whether I read the book or see the TV show/film first doesn’t matter to me, I just like seeing the different ways the stories are told in different mediums.

The only one I read deliberately was Sleeping with the Enemy by Nancy Price.

But I enjoyed reading the various Roald Dahl books which have been adapted for screen, and then watching those films with Brodie to see his reaction. (He said the film was better each time…)

Books on all those ‘must read’ lists

I don’t know if I ticked off any of these beyond the classics above. Saying that I do have a few lists that are books about bookshops and libraries, and I have read rather a lot of those (14 to be exact, including the two above) as I do love them.


Goal: Find a good balance between books for children and books for grown ups

Again, I see nothing wrong with enjoying children’s fiction, but it’s too easy for me to stick with reading easy children’s books instead of reaching for something a bit more complex.

Last year I read 75 books for grown ups, 38 for children and 18 for teens/young adults. That’s a fairly similar ratio for grown ups v children’s compared to the previous years but a few more teen/YA books.


Read more non-fiction

In 2020 I aimed to read more feministly and I did quite well, but the further books I’ve gathered on that subject in the past year or so have as yet gone unread. Last year I read a few about race, so I mentally widened that to aiming to read to increase my social awareness. I failed at that this year, but I did manage to read some non-fiction which would be a decent enough goal in itself.

In 2021 I read 22 non fiction (to 99 fiction) but this year it was only 9 non fiction (and 121 fiction). It really didn’t help that two of the non fiction books I picked in the last two years have been a total slog and I still haven’t finished them.

 


Formats

This section used to be about how the pandemic affected my reading but happily we are past that now, but it’s still interesting (to me anyway) to see how I read last year.

I would say the numbers are probably back to normal, I’m reading less ebooks as the library hasn’t been closed!

I read just 18 ebooks,  compared to 71 physical books and 34 audiobooks.

(Of course I don’t think that the format matters, they all count equally, I just like to see the numbers!)


And finally, my Blytons

Well, this is what you’re here for, isn’t it?

Yet again I read shamefully few Blytons for someone who blogs about her every single week.

I was carrying on my reviews of the Famous Five books of which I managed:

Five Get Into a Fix
Five on Finniston Farm
Five Go to Demon’s Rocks
Five Have a Mystery to Solve

I also read two new (to me) Blytons:

The Story of Our Queen
Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories (I have an old and not very detailed review here.)

I also read several continuations and other books based on Blyton’s works.

New Class at Malory Towers
Bizzy and the Bedtime Bear
The Naughtiest Girl Wants to Win
The Naughtiest Girl Marches On
The Sea of Adventure TV novelisation
The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl
Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

Some of these were pretty dire (Bizzy, the three Naughtiest Girls and the TV novel). The other two were decent enough.

And lastly, I widened my Jenny Colgan reading with her boarding school stories – Class, Rules and Lessons. These aren’t continuations of Blyton’s books or anything but she admits she was influenced by Malory Towers and St Clare’s as well as other boarding school books. I’m hoping at least one of the other three she has planned will come out this year.


Did you hit your reading goals last year?

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Monday #511

January is rushing past us, though I  generally still feel like it’s only a week past New Year. Saying that, it feels like winter has dragged on forever (as it always does in January).

According to Google meteorological winter ends on February 28, but astronomical winter doesn’t end until March 20. I know which date I prefer!

My 2022 in books and Blyton

and

Five Have a Mystery to Solve part 3

I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing this one – Five Have Plenty of Character – which I got for my Christmas. The blurb reads:

The adventure, mystery and excitement are what attract readers to Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five‘. But what attracted me was their character. Blyton strives to show that good character wins the day and trials can be overcome by loyalty, friendship and courage. Blyton has been criticised for portraying two dimensional characters but this book seeks to show that the Famous Five are as deep, interesting and exciting as characters from the best children’s books. The Famous Five have influenced generations of children in making moral decisions and valuing good character. This book will, I hope, show why.

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If you like Blyton: The Flying Classroom by Erich Kästner, reviewed by Chris

Much as I love Enid Blyton’s stories, and often as I re-read them, my very favourite children’s book is The Flying Classroom by Erich Kästner. It is a Christmas story, which I re-read every Christmas Eve and even now – in my late fifties – its ending brings a lump to my throat, just as it did when I first read it as a child.

A contemporary of Enid Blyton, Erich Kästner (1899-1974) was a German author, probably best known for Emil and the Detectives. He had an interesting life which I won’t summarise here, but of note is that his books were amongst those burned by the Nazis and, although he lived in Germany throughout the war, he was constantly under suspicion for opposing the Nazi regime.

However, although published in 1933, just months before the Nazis came to power and Kästner’s books were burned, there is really no direct political comment in The Flying Classroom, apart from a reference to the unfairness of unemployment and, more tellingly, a pointed remark from a teacher that “when wrong is done, it is the fault of those who do not prevent it as well as those who do it”.

Such serious things aside, this is a boarding school story about the rivalry between the pupils of that school and a day school in the same German town, Kirchberg. That rivalry leads to a mass snowball fight, and a one-to-one boxing contest between the ‘champions’ of each school (see cover of 1933 German edition). Whilst this is going on, the boarding school boys are preparing a Christmas play, entitled ‘The Flying Classroom’ which gives the book its name.

These things provide most of the action of the book, including a slightly gruesome scene in which some boarding school boys are tied up and repeatedly slapped by their day school opponents. At the same time, there is much subtle humour in the story, as well as an understanding of the loneliness and fears of young people, perhaps especially in boarding schools.

But the real themes are deeper, and include those of courage, honour, loyalty and, above all else, friendship. This friendship is, in the first instance, between the boys, including the deep bond between artistic scholarship boy Martin Thaler and poetry-writing Johnny Trotz, cruelly abandoned by his parents. More surprising is the friendship between the boisterous, ever-hungry boxer, Matthias Selbmann, and shy Uli von Simmern, who doubts his own courage to the extent of seeking to prove it by jumping off the school roof with only an umbrella as a parachute. But equally affecting is friendless Sebastian Frank, the Schopenhauer-quoting intellectual loner, who conceals his own lack of courage but at a price to his self-respect.

Beyond this, much of the book is about the friendship between the boys and their house master, Dr Johann Bökh, who they nickname ‘Justus’ for his fairness, and between the boys and the mysterious man they call ‘the Non-Smoker’. The latter is so called not because he does not smoke (“indeed he smoked a good deal”) but because he lives in an abandoned ‘non-smoking’ railway carriage near to the school. He makes a living by playing piano “until very late in smoky beer house” for pittance wages and a hot dinner.

These two adults both teach the boys important lessons about, at the most generic level, right and wrong. Gradually we realise that they had been friends together at the same school, a generation before, and that the Non-Smoker had taken a brutal punishment upon himself so as to allow Justus to visit his dying mother. Later, they shared lodgings at university but lost touch when the Non-Smoker’s wife died, and he disappeared after the funeral. Even before they know about this, the boys understand that the Non-Smoker has experienced some terrible suffering, and that he relates to them through memories of his own childhood, before it happened.

These two aspects come together in the most moving parts of the book. Firstly, the boys effect a re-introduction between Justus and ‘the Non-Smoker’. He turns out to be a doctor called Robert Uthofft, who, it’s implied, had a breakdown when he was unable to save his wife’s life. Following their reunion, Justus gets him appointed as the school doctor. Secondly, Justus pays for Martin Thaler to travel home to spend Christmas with his parents, because they are too poor to do so. It is the letter that Martin’s mother writes to Justus, to thank him “for the Christmas present of flesh and blood which you have sent us”, that always brings lump to my throat.

If all this sounds rather serious, be assured that the book is for the most part a very light read and, apart from anything else, is full of delightful background detail such as the baker’s shop where Matthias buys the rolls to sustain him, the Marrow Bone Inn where the Non-Smoker plays his honky-tonk piano, or the train station where “the sixth-form boys strolled up and down the platforms and chatted like men of the world with their girl-friends from the dancing-class.”

There are also wonderful cameo characters, such as the self-important prefect ‘Handsome Theodor’ and the pompous, but as we also see rather pathetic, headmaster Dr Grünkern. Especially eccentric is the German teacher Herr Kreuzkamm, who not only criticises the parents of Rudi Kreuzkamm for their lack of care for their son, but tells Rudi to give his father Herr Kreuzkamm’s compliments. Of course, Herr Kreuzkamm is Rudi’s father!

Then there are pranks with itching powder and ghost costumes, the drama of the Christmas show, and, vital for a Christmas story, lots of snow.  Also in the mix are some wonderful line drawings by Walter Trier, which bring the story to life despite their apparent simplicity. Another nice touch is having a preface and an end note, depicting the author before and after writing the main story but treating him as a character in his own book, who knows the other characters.

I wouldn’t really make any direct comparison between The Flying Classroom and Blyton’s books. It is very different to any of her school stories, the most obvious point of comparison. For that matter it is very different to the Jennings’ boarding school stories which I’ve discussed previously on this blog. But I first read it at the same time as I did those others and I still get pleasure from it, so I hope that this review may encourage fellow Blyton-lovers to read or, perhaps, to remember this charming book.

The c.1967 Puffin edition I had as a child when I first read it. The illustration rather strangely combines an image of Martin Thaler’s parents going to post their thank you letter to Justus, and a prank when Uli von Simmern is hoisted in a waste paper basket.

 

The 1961 re-issue (left) of the English edition originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1934 (right). The 1961 re-issue is the version I own. The illustration is of Justus telling the boys (after the snow ball fight) about his childhood friendship with, as it later turns out, the Non-Smoker. The boys with their backs towards us appear to be (left to right) Johnny Trotz, Sebastian Frank, Uli von Simmern, Matthias Selbmann and Martin Thaler.

The original 1933 German edition, published by Stuttgart Perthes (left) and a 1952 German edition, publisher unknown (right). The first depicts the fight between the ‘champions’ of the two schools, the second shows the prank played on Uli von Simmern.

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2022 birthday and Christmas present round up

Every year I am lucky to get at least a few Blytonian gifts between my December birthday and Christmas. In fact, each year I am amazed to still get Blytonian gifts as sometimes it feels as if those that know me have bought every readily available bit of merchandise already!


If you read my 2022 Christmas gift-guide then you might recognise this Yoshi purse, as I put it into the post and onto my own wish list!

Here’s a close-up of the Blyton book on it – Let’s Garden – which is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.


You also might recognise this magnet:

Which I also put on the list, but my mum appears to have bought me by sheer coincidence.

Here it is on the fridge, holding up one of Brodie’s pictures of a boat between a couple of lighthouses, and beside my Scrabble magnets which (when Brodie hasn’t been messing around with them) spell out a standard daily diet for Blyton’s characters.

Just to be clear, the magnets and picture have been on the fridge for a while, but I moved a bunch of other pictures, magnets, shopping lists etc out of the way to take this photo. And I cleaned the front of the fridge. Wouldn’t want to look like a ragamuffin on here.


My mum checked with Ewan before buying me this, and he thought I didn’t have the stamps. Well, I did, just not out on display. Though it was a good thing he said no, as I didn’t have the little sheet that came inside the envelope, or the set of postcards that came with it.


I’ll need to find some space in the hall for the postcards alongside all the others.


This was written by a member of my Enid Blyton Facebook group so when she shared it in there I added it to my wish list. I’ll hopefully review it in the next few weeks.


Did anyone else get anything Blyton-related last year?

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Monday #510

For once I have an actual list of posts to write/post and have had to work out the best order to use them. Those should last me for at least a few weeks, then I will likely return to scrambling around for last-minute ideas.

2022 birthday and Christmas present round up

and

If you like Blyton: The Flying Classroom by Erich Kästner

“Now look,” she said, “here’s the first thing we have to guess—the name of somebody silly. Seven letters it has to be, Twiddle.”

“I know who that is!” said Twiddle, at once. “It must be old Meddle. He’s silly enough.”

“No—Meddle has six letters, not seven in his name,” said his wife. “Guess again. Can it be Brer Rabbit—no, that’s ten letters. Dear me, I can’t think of the right answer at all. Let’s guess the next bit.”

Mr and Mrs Meddle try a crossword puzzle in Don’t Be Silly, Mr Twiddle, and name-check a couple of other Blyton characters while they’re at it. Initially I thought Mrs Twiddle was joking that at seven letters the answer has to the Twiddle, but she’s just speaking to her husband. She does make that joke at the end of the story, though, after Mr Twiddle has hung her best hat on the washing line, and put his mended shirt in her hat box.

 

 

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December 2022 round up

What I have read

The majority of what I read in December were audiobooks. I did entertain thoughts of finishing various books so that I could start 2023 without anything lingering on my unfinished list but it wasn’t to be.

What I have read:

  • The Lighthouse Witches – CJ Cooke
  • A Winter’s Wish for the Cornish Midwives (Cornish Midwife #3) – Jo Bartlett
  • A Second Chance (Chronicles of St Mary’s #3) – Jodi Taylor
  • A Trail Through Time (Chronicles of St Mary’s #4) – Jodi Taylor
  • Christmas Present (Chronicles of St Mary’s #4.5) – Jodi Taylor
  • Five Have a Mystery to Solve – reviewed here and here
  • No Time Like the Past (Chronicles of St Mary’s #5) – Jodi Taylor
  • Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories – reviewed here
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  • The Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin #1) – MC Beaton
  • Christmas at the Borrow a Bookshop (Borrow a Bookshop #2) – Kiley Dunbar
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Chronicles of St Mary’s #6) – Jodi Taylor
  • Ships, Stings and Wedding Rings (Chronicles of St Mary’s #6.5) – Jodi Taylor

And I’m still working on:

  • First Class Murder (Murder Most Unladylike #3) – Robin Stevens
  • Enid Blyton’s Christmas Tales 
  • Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly 
  • Monarchy – David Starkey
  • Paddington Goes to Town (Paddington #8) – Michael Bond

 


What I have watched

  • Christmas films featured heavily – Home Alone 1, 2 & 3 (Brodie declared 3 was the best!), A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish (terrible), Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (a Thanksgiving film, really, but of the season), and remake of Miracle on 34th Street.
  • Other movies we watches were Glass Onion (aka Knives Out 2), Angel Has Fallen (the third and possibly most ridiculous Fallen movie)
  • Other Christmas things were the Call the Midwife Christmas Special, a couple of episodes of Christmas Sugar Rush and Christmas Lego Masters (half-watched while putting together a Ghostbusters Playmobil Firehouse…)
  • We have been watching Only Connect (there were a couple of new CHristmas specials for that, and two repeats. Even though we’d seen the repeated ones already – and only two years before – it didn’t help us!) and Richard Osman’s House of Games, and I’ve carried on with the Originals – now on season 3 – and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. I love some of the designs but there’s rarely any privacy! Could not live in many of them.
  • Lastly we have been watching Willow the TV series as we like the movie. It’s nowhere near as good as the movie, though. It’s all young attractive people speaking like modern teenagers as imagined by middle-aged people and wearing ‘period’ clothing that’s clearly been bought in shops and had a few studs added to it. 

What I have done

  • Went to see Santa and make some Christmas ornaments (and feed the hungry ducks)
  • Went in town to see the lights and tried curling
  • Went out for hot chocolate and cake for my birthday
  • Saw what the Elf got up to each night (and cleared up after him!)
  • We had a week of sub-zero temperatures meaning that a few inches of snow stuck around, lots of hot chocolate was needed that week
  • Saw Brodie perform as a robin in his school nativity
  • Had a nice Christmas with family, and as I was off work the whole way through we were able to get together a few times for games and fun. And lots of cheese.
  • We went for our first walk in ages, normally we are out every week but I think our last one was in October! 
  • One of my Christmas jigsaws and a fair bit of Lego building

What I have bought

I don’t usually treat myself in December but I found an issue of Enid Blyton’s Magazine that I didn’t have so I snapped that up. It was volume 6 issue 14, and with that I now only need six magazines to complete the collection. 


I hope everyone reading had a good festive season!

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Five Have a Mystery to Solve part 2

Last time I talked a bit about the places and people the story was based on and how annoying I find Wilfrid. Now on to more of the plot (perhaps!)


Mistakes and foolish decisions

I think the reason this is a least favourite title is that the Five are so dumb in it!

It’s not their fault that they rather jinx themselves by taking out a boat called Adventure, though it’s foolish of Julian to state that they are CERTAINLY NOT going across to the island as that really was asking for trouble.

After that, it’s all on them.

We know that the Five are pretty experienced when it comes to boats. George has owned one for a number of years and the rest have used her boat on multiple occasions. It’s not just a case of them knowing how to row to Kirrin Island and back, either. George rowed them right around the island to view the sunken wreck in the first book, it’s said she takes her boat out fishing, Julian and Dick row along the coast to Red Tower’s place to rescue George, and they handle Tinker’s boat to the Demon’s Rocks Lighthouse.

So, they know boats and presumably the dangers of the sea. They should also know that they need to be careful in unknown waters. But what do they do? They go rowing off without thinking and get swept along with the outgoing tide. They’ve even heard a story about two men who went missing, having potentially done exactly the same thing. They should have been better prepared – but then of course there wouldn’t have been an adventure. (It wouldn’t have been impossible for them to have suffered some sort of incident that led to them going out too far – being hit by the wake of a tripper’s motor-boat and losing an oar for example.)

Having landed on the island they are then extremely foolish in not pulling the boat up far enough – something they know to do at Kirrin.

On the island Julian and the others make lots of silly comments and questions and behave as if they’ve never solved a mystery before.

Julian can’t decide whether or not they should hide from the men on the island. He declares them thugs and foreigners, which means they are also certainly not gamekeepers. I mean, he’s right, but it’s one of those leaps of logics that’s right by luck more than sense. After Timmy is shot Julian wants to march up to the men to announce they are there, to prevent being shot. But if they’re thugs, potentially criminals, and not game-keepers, as per his assertion, surely that’s a really bad idea? Thankfully he changed his mind after and tells everyone to steer clear.

Julian also falls asleep(!) thus allowing Wilfrid to sneak off and get into bother. It’s not said whether the others are also asleep but clearly none of them notice him going even though he’s been warned to stay put.

Having found the well, and a door inside it they are baffled and ask How could there be a door in the side of a well going deep down into the earth? I know they are stand-alone books but they do reference the odd previous event, and it’s maddening that they act as if they never went down a well on Kirrin Island and into the dungeons from there. Julian even asks But where on earth would it lead to? 

Going back to the fact they are on the island at all – it struck me that they are actually trespassing, and it’s for the flimsiest of reasons that they are poking around. They made wild assumptions (again, annoyingly they are at least partially right but not by any real logic that I could see) that the island may be a clearing ground for a gang of high-class thieves. 

The Five do trespass in various books, but usually they have at least some evidence that a crime is being committed rather than just hearsay. As far as they know the owner of the island could be legitimately removing and selling the artefacts that they own as part of buying or inheriting the island.

Of course there is something dodgy going on – though it’s not the most secret place. While it may be difficult to land on, the island is not hard to see from the surrounding areas, nor would boats which come and go in the middle of the day. There’s also a conundrum of why do Blyton’s thieves always move their stolen goods around the country to obscure hiding places and then send it back again? That’s just asking for a lorry to break down or have an accident and then be noticed by the police, but I’m getting off the topic of the Five’s idiocy.

On top of his wild accusations Julian says I never thought of that at least half a dozen times. It almost me wonder if he thought of anything at all.

Lastly when George says she will make her way down the passage to the beach as the others have gone up the well, nobody is concerned. They are all laughing and acting as if there aren’t other men – not knocked out – who could catch her on her way along. I’m surprised Julian didn’t order Dick to stay with her, but then again he didn’t think that Timmy couldn’t climb ropes even though they’ve come across that problem before.


The food

They eat a rather curious mixture of things in this book.

First up Mrs Kirrin (Barnard?) complains that the Five ate two pounds of sausages in one night – but they do remind her that Timmy was there.

Then the boys and Anne go to the shops for more sausages for lunch, after which is a steamed pudding with lashings of treacle.

They also got an assortment of cakes – including cherry buns – which are served with bread-and-butter, plus a meaty bone for Timmy.

They go shopping for their stay in Mrs Layman’s cottage and Anne buys so much from the bakers that she can’t get it all in her bike basket, and Timmy gets a very meaty bone.

In the cottage there is only some old bread, stale cakes and sour milk in the larder. Is Mrs Layman disorganised or does she not feel the need to feed Wilfrid?

Anne admires the tinned food the others have bought – fruit salad, pears, peaches, sardines, ham, tongue. Plus a new cake, biscuits, chocolate wafers. I’d hope that wasn’t an exhaustive list of what they got as I’d expect them to have/want salad, bread, butter at the very least.

For dinner/lunch Anne says they’ll open a tin of tongue, there’s plenty of bread left, and they’ll have lettuce and tomatoes. And heaps of fruit.

On the island all they have is two bars of chocolate, peppermints and barley-sugars – this is starvation territory for the Five.

Luckily Timmy steals half a ham in a move reminiscent of the one he pulled in Hike. Wilfrid is annoyingly smart in bringing tins, a large loaf of bread and a pound package of butter, along with plates and spoons plus waggomeat for Timmy. (No tin-opener but Dick has a pocket knife attachment.)

When they sit to eat on the island they have a tin of tongue, two tins of fruit and a large tin of baked beans with bread. There is no mention of them heating the beans, though! Another island meal is suggested but none of them are hungry which must be a first for the Five.


More to come next time including the ever popular nitpicks!

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Monday #509

We have skipped from Monday #505 straight to Monday #509 as I took an unannounced (and longer than anticipated) Christmas break. Nothing untoward happened – I just had so much on and decided to down tools a bit early. This is the first time I have opened my laptop since then, and it has actually been quite nice. But I have several ideas I want to get on virtual paper now, so it’s time to get back to it.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas, New Year, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or generally just a good time in the last month whether there was a celebration or not.

Five Have a Mystery to Solve

and

December round up

Oh, little New Year, we are glad you have come,
You’ll bring us the snowdrop and crocus again…

This is the beginning of Little New Year, a poem that reminds us that although January is cold, dark and often a bit depressing after the Christmas decorations come down, there is plenty to look forward to.

 

 

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The Five as you have never seen them before part 3

I’ve done a couple of posts already, each showing a few illustrations by Eileen Soper which although look like they could be depicting the Five are in fact from other books entirely. So here’s another one! (Soper was quite prolific when it came to illustrating Blyton’s books!)


The Baronian Famous Five novel we all missed out on

Sadly the Five never travelled abroad for adventures (despite the boys being in France at the start of Five on a Secret Trail – just imagine what sort of mysteries they could have stumbled upon on the continent!). 

The Arnolds, however, did a lot of travelling. Eileen Soper only illustrated one of their adventures which was their trip to Baronia in The Secret of Killimooin

Peggy and Nora don’t look like either of the girls, but Mike definitely resembles George while Jack and Julian are very much from the same mould.

Here we have Julian and George (surely pleased to see herself referred to as a boy in the caption) finding a statue on just another of their underground adventures.


Famous Five on the farm

Soper also illustrated only one of the Farm series – More Adventures on Willow Farm. It’s been ages since I read that so I can’t remember who the children are in these illustrations. But we’re pretending they’re Kirrins so it hardly matters.

Here Dick shows off some as before unseen animal skills and shows George a squirrel.

Dick finding out that someone else has put on the Clopper costume.

And Dick finding a young Timmy (Famous Five timeline be damned!)


The Five in the colour of nature

Most of Soper’s nature plates which accompany the Nature Readers series are of animals and plants (and for some reason a lot of fairies). But there are children in some of them, including some young Famous Five lookalikes. The bonus of these are they are in colour!

A young Anne and George (if we ignore the fact that they didn’t meet in canon until Anne is 10 and George 11) playing dandelion clocks.

A young Julian and his mother (who I don’t think Soper ever illustrated).

And lastly a young Dick shows an equally Anne and Sid-the-paper-boy a conker.

 

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Monday #505

Winter has really hit here in Scotland. Where I am we’ve had a couple of flurries of snow and consistent sub-zero temperatures which are set to last for the rest of the week. Lots of layers are required to venture out, but venture out we must as there’s still school and work for another couple of weeks before the holidays.

Brodie has his school nativity this week – he’s a robin – so I’m looking forward to that.

Five Have a Mystery to Solve part 2

and

The Five as you have never seen them before, part 3

 I can imagine children getting one or two ‘chapters’ a night throughout December read to them.

I’m quoting myself here this week as I have just revisited my review of Christmas Stories and discovered this little prophetic statement. Seven years later I find myself reading one or two chapters a night and hearing awww, just one more chapter, pleeeeeease? each time.

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Five Have a Mystery to Solve

I am now at book 20 of 21! It has only taken a little over four years. But here I am, at the penultimate book, and my second least-favourite of the series.

I’m not entirely sure why I think so lowly of Mystery to Solve. In my rankings of the Famous Five I noted that I disliked Wilfrid and was unimpressed at the Five getting stranded on an island, being used to taking out boats. The paperback I had as a child also had an ugly cover, and no illustrations, which I find often affects my opinions.

I haven’t read this in over ten years – and in fact I’m not sure how often I’ve even read my hardback edition as I only started buying the ones I was missing in the 2000s – so I am interested to see if my opinions remain the same with this re-read.


A basis in reality

Much like Five on Finniston Farm the location in this book is based on a real place.

At the beginning of the book Blyton writes in a special note:

My readers will want to know if Whispering Island is real, set in the great blue harbour in the story—and if the little cottage on the hills is there still—and the golf-course in the story—and Lucas, who tells the children about the island. Yes, the island is real, and lies in the great harbour, still full of whispering trees. The little cottage on the hills is still there, with its magnificent view and its old well—and Lucas can be found on the golf-course, nut-brown and bright-eyed, telling stories of the animals and birds he loves so much. I have taken them all and put them into this book for you—as well as the friends you know so well—The Famous Five

She doesn’t say where it is – but we know that it is Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, with the golf course being Purbeck.

I have spent some time on Google maps, but I can’t work out where the cottage would have been as it’s hard to identify any hills around there – and the gold course seems rather far back from the coast. The cottage may no longer be there, or it might have been extended or remodelled so it’s no longer small and white. But it has to be at the top of a hill, just across the road from Purbeck Golf Course and looking across to the island. If anyone’s visited the area and has any ideas I’d love to hear them.

Lucas was really Gordon (known as Johnny on the course, and Billy to his family) James, who was green keeper at Purbeck and also caddied for Enid and her husband many times.


Five get roped into babysitting

Mrs Layman – apparently a dear old friend of the family – comes to visit and to ask a favour. She has to go away to look after a sick relative (a Blyton standard for getting rid of adults) but she has this lovely cottage that’s not too far away. The only catch is it comes with a resident pain-in-the-neck.

I am not at all sure about Mrs Layman. Authors frequently introduce new characters with a quick back-story explaining they’re old friends of the family and I usually find that entirely believable. There’s no nit-pick here – we spend very little time Julian’s house and with his parents, so they could have dozens of friendly elderly lady friends that we’ve never met, and they’re unlikely to be mentioned unless relevant to the plot.

And yet Mrs Layman comes across as nothing more than a convenient tool to thrust the Five and Wilfrid together at the cottage. She has no real personality and only appears on half-a-dozen pages.

The Five chat away to her when she comes to tea and think her a most interesting person but unfortunately we don’t get to see any of that. The only thing we do see is that actually she’s a bit manipulative. She claims that Wilfrid is afraid of being alone, which when you meet Wilfrid is obviously not true at all. She also describes him as such a nice lad—so helpful. You’ll love him which is over-egging the pudding entirely.

Mrs Layman later admits that he’s rather a difficult boy at times. And he can be very rude. He hasn’t any brothers to rub off his awkward corners, you see. Which is far more the truth – though I don’t know about the brothers thing. Can sisters not rub off awkward corners too?

Wilfrid is ten, so the same age as Anne was in the first book. The Five are, well, of unknown age, but older than ten. I think we can assume that Julian is at least 16 by now, even if a) the illustrations suddenly make them look much younger than the previous progression starting with Finniston Farm and b) if you follow the timeline of adventures he would be about 21.

I cannot bring myself to like Wilfrid. Some characters are written to be unlikeable – the enemy, the bad guy, whereas Wilfrid has a sort of very basic redemption ark in the book, but I just find him rather annoying.

If I had to describe him I’d say he had all the annoyingness of Tinker Hayling with the animal skills of Philip Mannering. Admittedly Philip could be a bit of a jerk to Dinah but they were siblings and she gave as good as she got. Wilfrid deliberately tries to wind up the Five from the moment they arrive, going at it hardest against George by trying to lure her beloved Timmy away from her.

He does redeem himself with rowing to the island to rescue them, and of course by saving Timmy from choking but by that point I find it kind of galling that he gets to be the hero of the moment (and also that he’s right about the ball being a choking hazard.) I also find it annoying that Timmy fawns over him like he did with Jo.

Dick sums my feelings up nicely – I think he’s a badly brought-up little pest – and if I were a dog, I’d bite him, not fawn on him!


And that’s enough for this week I think!

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An updated round-up of Christmas posts 2022

It has been a few years since I did one of these posts, and I managed to post quite a few Christmassy things since then. 

There’s plenty to visit, or revisit, so I hope this makes up for me not adding any Christmas content this year other than the gift-guide!


Book reviews

Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories – one of Hodder’s short story collections.
Enid Blyton’s Christmas Treats – another Hodder short story collection.
Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories Audio – the audio adaptation of the Hodder short story collection.

The First Christmas – Blyton’s retelling of the nativity story.
Noddy Meets Father Christmas – the 11th Noddy book.
The Christmas Book – a one-off novel about Christmas traditions.
Father Christmas and Belinda – a Collin’s Colour Camera Book.


Songs and poems

Christmas Gifts
Christmas News
In the Stable
Santa Claus Gets Busy
The Party


Guides and round ups

Blyton at Christmas – a guide to stories, books, poems, puzzles and more.
1920-1945
1946-1950
1951-1962
Christmas bits from Enid Blyton’s Magazine
More Christmas stories
Even more of Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories

Winter and Christmas reads – a guide to Blyton’s seasonal novels
Part 1
Part 2

Decorating for Christmas
Decorating the Blyton way

Christmas illustrations
Eileen Soper at Christmas


Fan fiction

Adventure at the Christmas Market – featuring the Kirrins and the Mannering Trents, a Christmas Market and a thief.

Spot the Famous Five’s favourite Christmas songs – A story which is really just a vehicle for the puzzle it contains

 


Blyton Christmas Presents

We’ve been lucky enough to get lots of Blyton goodies for Christmas (and birthdays):

Birthday/Christmas 2021
Birthday/Christmas 2020
Birthday/Christmas 2019
Birthday/Christmas 2018
Birthday/Christmas 2017
Birthday/Christmas 2016
Birthday/Christmas 2015
Christmas 2015
Birthday/Christmas 2014
Birthday/Christmas 2013
Christmas 2012

And we’ve come up with some ideas for gifts for other Blyton fans:

Gift guide 2022
Gift guide 2021
Gift guide 2020
Gift guide 2019
Gift guide 2018

We’ve even thought about what Blyton’s characters would have been given:
What would Enid Blyton’s characters be unwrapping?


Recipes

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a ton of food!
Mince Pies
Gingerbread by Katie Stewart

Other recipes can be found here – as Christmas is all about the food, isn’t it?

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Monday #504

We are into December now and there are more and more Christmas trees and lights up, which is nice when it’s dark by 4.30!

A Christmas content round up

and

Five Have a Mystery to Solve

“Oh DAAAN!”

I have started to read Christmas Stories to Brodie at bedtime so last night we got to the first of the short stories – The Lost Presents – where Dan hides them in the spare room and then forgets where they are. Brodie thought that was hilarious and cried Oh DAAAN! complete with a palm to the forehead. 

 

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November 2022 round up


What I have read

I didn’t manage to read an awful lot in November as I was ill for over a week and didn’t read anything at all other than listening to one audiobook. But as I hit my goal of 100 books back in September, anything I do read is just a bonus! I managed to cram in a few books at the end of the month – ones I’d been waiting on coming into the library for ages.

What I have read:

  • A Symphony of Echoes (Chronicles of St Mary’s #2) – Jodi Taylor
  • The Dead Girls’ Dance (Morganville Vampires #2) – Rachel Caine
  • The Witches – Roald Dahl
  • The Bullet that Missed (Thursday Murder Club #3) – Richard Osman
  • The Christmas Bookshop – Jenny Colgan
  • Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever (Jane Jameson #3) – Molly Harper
  • James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
  • About Time (Time Police #4) – Jodi Taylor

And I’m still working on:

  • The Lighthouse Witches – C.J. Cooke
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  • Monarchy – David Starkey
  • Five Have a Mystery to Solve

What I have watched

  • I got through a lot of movies last month, even if a lot of them I watched over two nights. I revisited the Chronicles of Narnia and watched all three films, and the firs two Pirates of the Caribbean films (which become rather silly and convoluted from the third one I think). I also watched The Craft after watching the sequel in October, and the 70s version of The Railway Children (which recently I discovered I had on DVD after lamenting it wasn’t streaming anywhere while I was reviewing the Jacqueline Wilson book).
  • I even managed to squeeze in three Christmas movies – Falling for Christmas (Lindsay Lohan’s return to acting), A Castle for Christmas and Noelle.
  • With Brodie I watched Matilda and The Witches seeing as we have read the books. He was engrossed in them both and declared them better than the books.
  • TV wise I watched the new series of The Crown, most of season one of The Originals (the Vampire Diaries spin off, which I’m sure I watched some of before but I don’t remember finishing the first season).
  • Plus the usual suspects of House of Games, Only Connect, Taskmaster and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

What I have done

  • Visited St Andrews for lunch and a bit of shopping (including at the Christmas Shop) – but Brodie was having a not smiling for the camera day.
  • Visited an independent Garden Centre which always has a huge Christmas area, this year it had a cable-car scene set up.
  • We put up our Christmas tree the last weekend of the month – with my Noddy decorations of course.
  • I did a decent amount of Christmas shopping but I know I still need to do more!

 


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Monday #503

Here we are in the last week of November already. We didn’t wait for December to put our Christmas tree up. We put it up yesterday which was the first Sunday of Advent. I’m not entirely sure what that means but I do remember the Blue Peter presenters lighting a candle once a week on their not-at-all flammable tinsel wrapped pair of metal coat hangers. I’m sure Enid would have known all about it.

Five Have a Mystery to Solve

and

November round up

‘Don’t look round, Anne, I’m wrapping up your present,’ said Dick. ‘There’ll be a lot to give out this Christmas, with all of us here—and everyone giving everyone else something!’

‘I’ve a B-O-N-E for Timmy,’ said Anne, ‘but it’s downstairs in the larder. I was afraid he’d sniff it out up here.’

‘Woof,’ said Timmy, slapping his tail against Anne’s legs again.

‘He knows perfectly well that B-O-N-E spells bone,’ said Julian. ‘Now you’ve made him sniff all about my parcels! Timmy—go downstairs, please!’

– from Happy Christmas, Five!

This is very much us at the moment – trying to communicate without Brodie knowing what we are on about. His ears are just too sharp (when it suits him). It won’t be long before he’s as smart as Timmy and can work out what we’re saying even in spellings though…

 

 

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Enid Blyton references in other works of fiction part 2

For years I have been collecting little quotes where other authors have mentioned Blyton in their books. The first I noted long before the blog even existed, though I have no idea what purpose I had noted it down for back then. I pulled together all the references I had collected in a post a while back, but since then I have found more (plus a couple I forgot to add last time) so here’s another collection of quotes.


Class: Welcome to the Little School by the Sea – Jenny Colgan

It’s perhaps not surprising that Jenny Colgan is featuring here, seeing as she wrote her own boarding school stories which she admits are highly influenced by Malory Towers. She mentions Blyton and Malory Towers in her author’s notes in those titles, which I have quoted in my reviews so I won’t repeat them here. However there’s another reference within the first story.

She looked through it all nervously in the staff room. Some modern poetry, nothing too frightening, plus the novel. She was looking forward to Wuthering Heights and Tess for the older ones; she’d never been able to teach those before… Although, she wondered, maybe all the girls here would have read those books already? They were going to be way ahead of what she was used to. What if this was the equivalent for them of Noddy stories?


The Bookshop on the Shore – Jenny Colgan

The Bookshop on the Shore an indirect sequel to The Bookshop on the Corner, as it follows a different main character. Zoe has moved to Kirrinfief (a Blyton reference in its own right) to take over Nina’s mobile bookshop while the latter is on maternity leave, and also to act as an au pair for her host’s unruly children. Her host happens to be a book buyer / seller, scouring estate sales for books which he sells on to bookshops. He is not that good at the job however as his study is crammed full of books he has bought but can’t part with…

Zoe grabbed the nearest book to her. It was a beautiful golden-edged copy of the Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald.

Although not a direct Blyton reference, the book Zoe finds in Ramsay’s study is Blyton’s favourite as a child. This may be coincidence as lots of classic Children’s books are mentioned, but as Colgan is a Blyton fan it may be more than coincidence.

Zoe had been a cheerful, bookish child not much given to introspection. If she had a bad day at school she’d read the Famous Five where friendship was assumed and never questioned. If she’d had a good day at school she’d read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where untold treats and wishes came to good unspoilt children. If she was feeling sorry for herself she’d read What Katy Did and imagine the horror of being trapped in bed. If she was feeling in a positive mood she’d read The Magic Faraway Tree and make up her own lands. In short, she self-medicated with books.


500 Miles From You – Jenny Colgan

500 Miles From You is another sort-of sequel. Set in Kirrinfief again it has a different main character to both the previous two, though Zoe and Nina pop up now and again. It’s less literary as it’s based on a nurse rather than a bookseller, but Colgan still works in a Blyton reference for us.

Now, he knew there was warm bread in the kitchen from the baker’s as well as good cheese and ripe tomatoes and, if he wasn’t mistaken, Nina had bought some ironic Enid Blytonesque ginger beer which they were both enjoying entirely unironically.


Death and Croissants – Ian Moore

A Facebook group I’m in has been running a casual book group lately so I read this so I could join in. I didn’t think it was particularly great but it netted me a new Blyton reference!

If he was going to take part in this adventure – an innocent word, he reckoned, more reminiscent of Enid Blyton than old blokes being possibly done in – then he was going to make damn sure that Valérie d’Orçay didn’t just take him for granted.


True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop – Annie Darling

The first in this series also had a couple of references which I noted in my last post.

So, as the summer’s giddy whirl of parties and celebrations continued, on non-going-out nights, she was in bed by nine. Even missing The Midnight Bell pub quiz, much to Tom and Nina’s dismay because Verity could answer questions on obscure saints and feast days and was no slouch on geography, beekeeping and the collected works of Enid Blyton (though admittedly those last two categories rarely came up).


The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

I was surprised to find a Blyton reference in a Neil Gaiman book, it seemed somehow incongrious in the middle of quite a dark, scary book, but it seems that Gaiman was a fan of Blyton – at least as a child.

I went back to the bedroom. It was my night to have the door to the hallway open, and I waited until my sister was asleep, and wouldn’t tell on me, and then, in the dim light from the hall, I read a Secret Seven mystery until I fell asleep.

There is also a more oblique reference which is not necessarily Blyton, or not exclusive to Blyton anyway.

Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?


The Little Wartime Library – Kate Thompson

I featured references from this book in my last post but forgot entirely about the interview with the author at the end.

What did your childhood library look, feel and smell like? Bet you can remember!

Like most, when it came to Enid Blyton, I virtually read the print off the page. Malory Towers gave me the keys to a boarding school experience I’d never have.


The Last Library – Freya Sampson

This is not from the main body of the novel but again is from the author at the end. Or it might have been the beginning I have forgotten!

When I was a child, I used to go to my local library every week and take out six books. It was there that I first discovered Matilda, where I worked my way through the St. Clare’s, Nancy Drew and Point Horror series, and where I borrowed my first Jilly Cooper novel.


Have you spotted any references lately?

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Malory Towers on TV: A series two overview

This is not going to be as easy to write as my overview for series one, mostly because it has taken me so long to watch this series that I’ve practically forgotten what happened at the beginning of it. But I have my reviews to remind me, so let’s get down to it.


A reminder of the episodes

I did this in my series one overview, but this time it’s as much for my benefit as it is for my readers.

1. The Head of Form

Most of the form return for second year (sans Emily and Katherine) and we meet new girl Ellen who’s there on a scholarship and the new teacher Mr Parker. As the title suggests the main plot is about choosing the head of the form which ends up being between Sally, Alicia and Gwen. There begins the disharmony as Darrell tries to be friends with both Sally – who wins head of form – and Alicia, as per the books.

Although Ellen and Nosy Parker are in the books they are played differently on-screen. Ellen is mostly cheerful while Mr Parker is new to the school and rather all over the place with his attempts at discipline.

2. The Dunce’s Cap

Continuing with the theme of Mr Parker being ineffective he brings in the dunce’s cap and shames Mary-Lou for her lack of confidence at reciting in front of the class. This ties in with the magic pink chalk trick which the girls play on Mam’zelle Rougier and Mr Parker.

The trick is funny, but not as well-done as in the book, while the dunce plot seems nothing more than a way to pad out the trick into an entire episode, seeing as they fail to use it to further Ellen’s storyline.

3. The Stray

The fact that Ellen doesn’t fit in becomes more apparent as we see her oversized uniform and her wrong lacrosse kit. She has a rant about how the other girls are lazy and don’t appreciate what they have, leading them to making an act of charity towards her which doesn’t go down well.

The title refers to a cat which Ellen finds and starts to take care of, mean while the leaky roof from previous episodes is explained when we find out that Malory Towers is in financial difficulties.

This is a rather uneven episode, with Ellen’s outburst coming rather out of nowhere, and the cat being rather superfluous.

4. The Audition

Head Girl Georgina Thomas is putting on a play about Lady Jane Malory and her lover Highwayman Jack. Gwen persuades Darrell into auditioning with her as she wants to impress her father, but Darrell still has time to go treasure hunting after Lady Jane Malory’s diary is found.

Almost nothing in this episode comes from the books, and it shows. The auditions are pure nonsense – they HAVE to audition in pairs, regardless of whether both girls even want to be in the play, and only girls from Darrell’s form even audition.

5. The Caricatures

Mary-Lou (who has been revealed as the artist behind some caricatures lately) draws a new one of Mam’zelle Rougier and Matron, leading to a lot of trouble, and Gwen makes a big fuss about learning her lines and making the play a success.

I love the (fairly small) part of the book where Belinda’s drawing causes first an upset and then a resolution between the two Mam’zelles. However Mary-Lou having been secretly skilled at art, leaving secret caricatures around and then drawing a somewhat spiteful picture doesn’t make sense. The story lacks impact, also, as there isn’t the same history of animosity between Matron and Mam’zelle Rougier.

6. The Runaway

Ellen messes up taking a test and is so upset that she runs away. Meanwhile personal belongings are starting to go missing and Gwen’s acting oddly about it.

Ellen’s storyline has been patchy at best, rather than building slowly to this moment for her it has come in fits and starts. The start of the episode does show her waking up amongst her study materials, implying she’s over-doing it but it’s a bit late.

7. The Play

The Lady Jane Malory play is held, with Darrell ending up having to take the role of Highwayman Jack at the last minute. Gwen has to try to keep her lies/secrets from unravelling as her mother comes to see the play, and Mr Thomas (Georgina’s father) also attends and is possibly going to save the school by investing.

This is one of the better episodes due in large part to it heavily featuring Gwen and her mother, both parts being acted extremely well. Lots of intrigue starts to build up here with questions over Mr Thomas’ motivations and Gwen’s behaviour.

8. The Measles

Much of this episode takes place in the San. Georgina has the measles, Mr Parker is unwell but it turns out not to be the measles and Gwen has to quarantine in case she ahs measles.

With Mr Parker absent Sally is given responsibility for the class and struggles to exert her authority, while Gwen is able to discover that Mr Thomas plans to demolish Malory Towers. She also steals something belonging to Georgina, establishing that she taking on the role of thief in this series.

Although there are some fun scenes in this episode (Mr Parker laid up in the san for example) much of it doesn’t make sense. Why is Mr Parker in Matron’s bed? Why is Gwen quarantining right beside a confirmed measles case? Well, to further the plots obviously, but it makes it all look very silly. I found Gwen’s honourable behaviour rather out of character, too.

9. The Sneezing Trick

Stealing a plot from Third Form at Malory Towers, Alicia and Darrell play despite Sally being firmly against it. This sets up a lot of strife as the trick is discovered and Sally takes the blame and Darrell falls out with Alicia for not owning up. Meanwhile, Gwen continues to steal.

This sticks reasonably closely to the (wrong) book, but it’s just not as funny or well-done as it was with Miss Potts, Matron and Mam’zelle Dupont.

10. The School Trip

Gwen carries on stealing, though has an attack of conscience when she finds out how much sentimental value Mary-Lou’s item has for her. Darrell and Sally find a clue to the treasure and Miss Grayling reminisces about her childhood at Malory Towers.

This episode drags a bit as Mary-Lou spends rather a lot of time locked in a cupboard while Gwen runs around risking being caught by having all her stolen goods out in the open. The stuff about Miss Grayling’s childhood was nice but again, seemed freshly made up for this episode.

11. The  Quiz

Malory Towers is to host a quiz against boys from a school nearby. Alicia accuses Ellen of being the thief, and Darrell ‘proves’ it’s true by catching Ellen looking through Mr Parker’s desk in the night.

With Ellen excluded – or so they think – Irene join the quiz team and after an extremely rocky start the girls do win.

Despite trying to base events on the book this falls very flat. Ellen’s actions and motivations are bizarre and the girls’ behaviour during the quiz is just silly. I was very disappointed that Darrell and Sally weren’t stronger in defending Ellen against the first thieving accusation, in fact Darrell’s speech was horrible to watch. The highlight was watching Gwen trying to work out how Ellen was expelled for theft when it wasn’t her.

12. The Heroine

Gwen is desperate to post off her stolen goods and so Mary-Lou ends up taking them to the post office via the cliff path. As per the book she falls over the edge and is later rescued by the thief, aka Gwen.

This sticks as close to the book as it can given the change of the thief’s identity and the fact it was filmed on a sunny afternoon. Some of the drama is lost as the girls chat quite casually despite one of them hanging off a cliff, but overall it’s not a bad episode.

13. The Lost Treasure

Everything comes to a head in this, the final episode. Gwen’s parcel is found revealing her to be the thief, and so Ellen is exonerated amongst her peers. Darrell and Sally go searching for the Malory Treasure while Alicia and Gwen try to delay Miss Grayling from selling the school to Mr Thomas, and then Gwen has to face Miss Grayling – and her dorm mates – over her thieving.

Everything is neatly tied up in the end – as you’d except. I wished Mr Thomas had had more of a comeuppance but I’ll just have to enjoy the memory of him falling in the mud back in episode 7.


 The cast

There were a few changes this term, as shown below.

Returning girls –

Darrell Rivers ( Ella Bright) – continues to battle her temper and finding her place in the form between steady Sally and the wilder Alicia.

Alicia Johns (Zoey Siewart) – The main trick-player for the series Alicia is perhaps in the background more often than she was in series one, though she is key in accusing Ellen of theft.

Irene (Natasha Raphael) – Irene was again under-used in my opinion as she’s very funny when she does get screen time.

Sally Hope (Sienna Arif Knights) – Sally has a bigger role now that she’s not holding onto so many secrets. As head of form she comes up against Darrell and Alicia on several occasions. I think that Sienna Arif Knights was a more confident actress in this series compared to series one, and was able to convey more feeling behind Sally’s prim exterior.

Jean (Beth Bradfield) – Jean’s main role is as a friend to Ellen, and her staunch defender which was nice to see.

Mary-Lou (Imogen Lamb) – Mary-Lou’s character was fleshed out a little more, though deviating from the books, as she is the mystery caricaturist.

Gwendoline Mary Lacey (Danya Griver) – As in series one Danya Griver’s acting was superb and she steals almost every scene she is in. Her facial expressions continue to be wonderful and convey so much without her even having to open her mouth. I can’t say that I was the biggest fan of making Gwen the second form’s thief, but Danya Griver certainly carried it off well, her consistent, skilful acting making you forget when the plot didn’t entirely make sense.

The new girls –

 

Ellen Wilson (Carys John) – Ellen is the new scholarship girl who comes from a much poorer home than the other girls. She finds it difficult to fit in and feels like she isn’t keeping up with the rest of her form, not having studied the same subjects at her previous school. Her story culminates in her trying to steal the answers to the inter school quiz and being falsely accused of the thefts in the second form.

Georgina Thomas (Edie Whitehead) – Not new to the school, but new to our screens, Georgina is solely in charge of the play the second formers put on. She’s also the daughter of Mr Thomas though thankfully she manages to finish out her last year at the school without his actions effecting her.

The returning staff –

Mam’zelle Rougier (Genevieve Beaudet) – Mam’zelle returns to rule her French classes. She has a couple of minor storylines – the chalk and sneezing tricks are played on her, she doesn’t pass on Darrell’s concerns about Mr Thomas to Miss Grayling, and she and Mr Parker play their own trick on the girls after some song lyrics are mistaken for a love letter.

Matron (Ashley MacGuire) – After Gwen, Matron gets some of the best scenes in the series – none of it based on the books, but just lots of little moments peppered throughout the episodes. She gets soaked when the dorm ceiling falls in,  she battles herself over whether or not to eat the chocolate cake they’ve just baked, and so on. She’s very funny, and actually more likeable than in series one.

Miss Grayling (Birgitte Solem) – I swithered over whether to put Miss Grayling as returning or new, as the character returned but the actress did not. Miss Grayling still dishes out good advice but I thought she failed Ellen rather badly in not listening to her.

The new staff –

Mr Parker (Jason Callender) – With Miss Potts gone Mr Parker arrives to take over the form – for 9 of the 13 episodes, anyway. He is a strange teacher, struggling to exert his authority at the beginning before fading into the background or disappearing altogether later in the series. It is a shame that Jason Callender rarely got to shine as his character had moments of sensitivity with his pupils, and I liked the storyline about him being picked on by the boys at his old school, though unfortunately it never went anywhere.

Everyone else –

Ron the garden boy returns and is involved in a few important plots – the selling (and rebuying) of Gwen’s mother’s stolen brooch, and the finding of the treasure.

Mr Thomas, Georgina’s father, has been created for the series and first appears as a benevolent benefactor with the power to save the school. Then we discover that he is only in it for his own gain.

Mrs Lacey returns for an all too brief visit for the school play and is as aloof and wonderful as ever.

Felicity also turns up for the play along with the newly-created character of Mary-Lou’s granny.


My thoughts on the series

I definitely didn’t find this series as compelling as the first, hence me taking months and months to watch just 13 episodes.

But first, the good points –

The standard of the acting remained exceptionally high – I couldn’t fault a single moment of the acting from any of the cast, no matter how young or how little their role.

The costumes, locations, sets and so on were also excellent. Visually it’s all very beautiful and (to my millennial eyes) perfectly of the period.

There were some really humorous moments woven in, and I commend the script writers and the actors for doing that so well. They never felt like filler material, but they brought uplifting moments that slotted nicely in-between slightly heavier or even just serious scenes.

And now for the bad –

I was really disappointed to not get Daphne or Belinda. As two girls left the dorm it’s a real shame we couldn’t have either girl and both their storylines were given to other girls. It was rather square peg in a round hole for both, but Danya Griver and Imogen Lamb acted it all very well and made it as believable as possible.

Both Ellen and Mr Parker had potentially interesting storylines (one from the book and one made up, of course) so I was frustrated that neither of them got the time to really explore that. Ellen seemed to get forgotten about rather a lot, and would then come out of nowhere with a rant or argument. Her storyline was cut in half, with what seemed like a resolution to her problems, then later being accused of theft and deciding to steal the quiz answers. It would have been much better to stick to the book and have one big bang for her with the accusation(s) and cheating at the exam. I can see how that would have reduced her screen-time, however, as Ellen is very much in the background of the book until the end.

As for Mr Parker, he had lots of small moments that didn’t really build to anything. We saw he had a teddy in episode one, that was never mentioned again. He did struggle to exert his authority in a few early episodes, but we never really got to see him bloom into a confident or capable teacher after that, except for perhaps his sensitive chat with Ellen in the san. He is missing entirely for four episodes, and his role in many episodes was reduced to a minor background plot such as playing the love letter trick on the girls or them thinking he was proposing to Matron. I feel like they didn’t really know what to do with him.

The treasure hunting story also suffered from a lot of stop-starting and getting forgotten about. I know the ghost story was similar but that just seemed to work better. It was also patently obvious – even for those who hadn’t read the book surely – that the treasure buried under the cross on the cliff would, after the cliff had crumbled, be likely to still be in the vicinity. Or at least that would be a good place to start looking!

I will caveat some of that with two things – I had long gaps between watching episodes (I watched two at a time until the last three which I did at once) so that may have exacerbated my feelings on the rhythm of the plots. I also realise that I am basing perhaps too much of my opinions on the books. Book Gwen isn’t the same as TV Gwen, so when I’m saying Gwen wouldn’t do that, what I mean is that book Gwen wouldn’t have. My issue is that they’ve changed the character rather than her acting out of character.


Just a last note to say thanks to everyone who’s commented on my reviews of this series, lots of interesting points have been raised and they’ve definitely given me more to think about when watching this adaptation. It’s always interesting to see what others have taken from watching it.

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Monday #502

My first Christmas post of the year went up last week. There may be more yet, there may not, as I might have exhausted the Blyton Christmas material that I have! While I figure that one out I have come up with other posts in the mean time.

Malory Towers on TV: A series two overview

and

Enid Blyton references in other works of fiction part 2

Ronnie, Susie and George were all feeling very sad. Not so much because they were going back to their boarding-schools in a few days, but because when they next broke up for the holidays, their lovely home, Grey Towers, would belong to someone else!

Why can’t we keep it for ourselves?” asked Susie. “Mother, it’s been our home, and Daddy’s home, and Grandpa’s home, and even Great-Grandpa’s home! Why have we got to leave? It ought to be our home too!”

“Well, dear, we’re poor now,” said her mother. “We can’t afford to keep up a big place like this, even though it has belonged to us for three hundred years! Our family used to be rich, you know, in your great-great-grandfather’s time. But then he offended a friend of the king of that day and he was stripped of all his money and the famous family jewels.”

All of them?” said Ronnie, who had heard this story before. “I thought, Mother, that great-great-grandpa hid some of his treasure.”

This is the beginning of Smuggler’s Cave, originally published in the Evening Express in 1945 it was then used in The Enid Blyton Treasury in 1947. The premise of the story will be familiar if you’ve read The Treasure Hunters (1940), but has elements also seen in The Rockingdown Mystery, The Secret of Spiggy Holes and many other Blyton stories.

 

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2022 Christmas gift guide

It’s that time of year again. Christmas is still reasonably far off, but close enough to want to make a start on getting organised. I’ve only bought a few things so far, but that’s better than nothing!

I know I say (or write it) every year but it gets harder to do this list every year! Certainly the past few years there hasn’t been much in the way of new merchandise or anything to suggest. But I’ve found various things and quite a mix of stuff for this year.

Many things from my lists in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 will still be available too.


Beginning with the books

Well, it wouldn’t be an Enid Blyton gift-guide without some books!

There is of course the Jacqueline Wilson continuation of the Faraway Tree series (I have a review of it here).

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure £10.99, from Waterstones

Hodder have released three new short story collections – Stories of Wonders and Wishes, Stories of Mischief Makers and Stories for Bedtime.

Stories of Wonders and Wishes £7.99, Stories of Mischief Makers £7.99, and Stories for Bedtime £7.99, all from Waterstones (£1 dearer than the previous years’ books!)

There is also a new Enchanted Library series for younger readers. There appear to be ten so far, all picture-books, each with three stories inside.

Stories of Animal Secrets
Stories of Nature’s Treasures
Stories of Favourite Friends
Stories of Dreamy Adventures
Stories for All Seasons
Stories of Starry Nights
Stories of Fairy Fun
Stories of Woodland Adventures
Stories for Cosy Days
Stories of Tasty Treats

Stories of Fairy Fun £5.99, Stories of Starry Nights £5.99 and Stories of Cosy Days £5.99, all from Waterstones

There has been a new release of the Adventure Series books with covers based on Stuart Tresilian’s work (iconic, retro covers as they are being advertised), though sadly they appear not to be illustrated internally.

The Island of Adventure £6.99, The Castle of Adventure £6.99 and The Valley of Adventure £6.99, all from Waterstones.

Also out this year is a new edition of Bunny’s First Christmas. There’s was 1993 Parragon version of this, with the story being taken from the Christmas 1954 issue of Enid Blyton’s Magazine.

Bunny’s First Christmas – Paperback £6.99, and Hardback £12.99, both from Waterstones.

Lastly, Zoe Billings – 1970s series superfan turned author – had her second book out this year which is perfect for fans of Blyton.

The Secret of Flittermouse Cliffs £6.99, Waterstones


Handmade gifts

While we may be lacking in official merchandise at the moment fans of Blyton are keeping us going with hand-made items.

Over on Etsy there is actually quite a lot of nice stuff. There are the usual second-hand books, pieces of fabric, and a lot of packs of loose pages from books (not very good value, you’d be better buying a tatty book and taking the pages out of it if you can bear to do such a thing) but there are also quite a few hand-made items.

I quite like the dolls’ house miniatures you can get. Even if you don’t have a dolls’ house, these tiny versions of the real books are super cute. I’d put them on a dolls-sized shelf and put them beside the real books on my real shelves.

8 Famous Five books £8.95, 4 Round the Year books £5.45, both from Landauhouse on Etsy.

CherishbyNicola who I bought my Noddy Christmas tree decorations from a few years ago still has several Noddy items in her Etsy shop while MyOldToyShop has some nice Noddy fridge magnets and pocket mirrors.

Bookmark £7.50 from CherishbyNicola, magnet £2.90, and pocket mirror £4.90 from MyOldToyShop

If you’ve got a big budget then ElfKendalFairies has several felted Faraway Tree characters back in stock. They’re only £75-85 each! At the moment there is Dame Slap, the Saucepan Man, Moon-Face, Mr Whatshisname, Silky, the Angry Pixie and Dame Washalot.

The Saucepan Man £85, Dame Washalot £75 and Silky £85, all from ElfKendalFairies


DVDs

The only new DVDs out are from the Malory Towers TV series. All three series are now out on DVD – in the UK, anyway. I have seen one and two on Amazon abroad.

Series one £9.99, series two £9.99, and series three £12.99 all from Amazon


And lastly…

I almost missed this one. I’ve bought a wallet from Yoshi Goods before and I like their book-themed handbags and purses so I always look when they release a new collection. It wasn’t until I looked again at the gardening book collection that I noticed they’d snuck an Enid Blyton book in!

There are several items in the ‘Green Fingers’ collection but only three have the Blyton book.

Cross body bag £59, Hudson purse £39 and Oxford purse £33, all Yoshi Goods.


Happy shopping!

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