Last week I finally posted the first part of my review, having been intending to do so for over a month. But we all know that time goes funny over the Christmas period and barely seems to count, so really, it was just a week or so. And it’s done now, and I’m keeping up by publishing part two, now!
Aily is one of those curious characters that only seem to exist in Blyton books. The kind who you may wonder is entirely human, sometimes.
Julian and Dick first meet her while they are at the chalet on the hill. They are not sure if she is a boy or a girl at first, only that they must be very cold.
It was a small girl coming alone, a wild-looking little creature with a mass of untidy curls, a face as brown as an oak-apple – and very few clothes! She wore a dirty pair of boy’s shorts, and a blue blouse – or it might have been a shirt. Her legs were bare, and she had old shoes on her feet. She was singing as she came, in a high sweet voice like a bird’s.
The illustration on the left is from the first edition, the one on the left is from the serialised story in Enid Blyton’s Magazine.
With her she has a little dog, and a lamb. All three are pretty wary of the two boys, though the dog is able to be tempted with a little ham. The lamb then wanders over and Dick, in a unusual move for him, takes hold of it and won’t let it go unless the girl comes to talk to them. He might do something like that in the midst of a mystery, when finding out a bit of information might be crucial, but otherwise it doesn’t seem very like Dick, even if he is very gentle with the creature.
Anyway, with the kidnap of her lamb and the bribing with biscuits, the girl is persuaded t talk to the boys. She does not speak much English and they have to talk slowly and clearly for her to understand them but she introduces herself as Aily, the dog as Dave and the lamb as Fany.
She also tells them (in a round-about way) that her father is a shepherd up on the hills, while she lives down the hill somewhere. With that she simply gets up and runs down the hill.
As Dick says:
What a funny little creature. Like a pixie of the hills, or an elf of the woods. I quite expected her to to disappear in smoke, or something. I should think she runs completely wild.
I see her as as a younger version of Tassie from The Castle of Adventure, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wandered about in the winter in just her dress and perhaps even no shoes.
Aily is also revealed to be even more Tassie-like when the boys ask Mrs Jones about her.
That mad little thing! She’s the shepherd’s daughter – a little truant she is, runs off from school, and hides away in the hills with her dog and her lamb. She always has a lamb each year – it follows her about everywhere. They say there isn’t a rabbit hole of a blackberry bush or birds’ nest that child doesn’t know…
She’s as wild as a bird – there’s nothing to be done with her. If she’s scolded she goes off for weeks, no ne knows where. Don’t let her some round that hut now, when you’re there – she’ll maybe steal from you.
It’s not clear just how old Aily is, but old enough to supposed to be at school. Perhaps 7 or 8? Though in the illustrations she looks younger. Mrs Jones obviously has quite a low opinion of the girl, while the Five of course are much more taken with her.
After moving up to the hut they meet Aily’s mother coming down the hill. It’s not clear if she has merely been to see her husband, delivering a meal perhaps, or if she has been looking for Aily. She has no better an opinion of her daughter than Mrs Jones does. She ask the Five to tell Aily, if they see her, to tell her not to stay out that night.
That child! She’s fey, I tell you… You tell here there’s a good whipping waiting for her at home if she doesn’t come back tonight. She’s like her father, she is, – likes to be alone all the time – talks to the lambs and the dogs like they were human – but never says a word to me!
It’s quite an information dump there, which takes the children aback, especially when added to all the gossip she has already imparted about the old lady at Old Towers (more on that later).
Julian is smart enough to know that a promise of a whipping is not a good enticement for a child to go home, and says as much, and the woman goes off muttering.
Aily’s father visits them the next morning, and he is much more like Aily than his wife. Aily’s mother spoke English fluently, whereas the shepherd is halting and needs things repeated just like Aily does. Presumably he spends most of his time with the sheep and dogs, and talks to them in Welsh. He doesn’t mention Aily, so perhaps she did go home after all – that or he just isn’t that worried about her!
The only view we get of the shepherd from the first edition, on the left, and an alternative scene on the right from Enid Blyton’s Magazine.
It’s interesting that later, in the end chapters, Aily sees her father while she and the Five are in a bit of a dangerous situation. She makes no move to go to him, or even make him aware of her presence. It could be because she’s afraid of Morgan, as he does go to her and pick her up later when he spots her, but perhaps despite being somewhat alike they don’t have a great relationship.
One last point is that we never learn Aily’s last name, she is always just Aily (except when she’s that child, of course.) Her father is just the shepherd or Aily’s father, though her mother is referred to as Maggy once.
Aily herself turns up later that day, so she probably hadn’t gone home. I know it says that she runs off all the time, especially if she has been scolded, but I can imagine her mother would have locked her up – or at least tried to, to keep her home for a bit. Mind you, I wouldn’t put it past Aily to go climbing out of windows.
She is far less shy this time, as she probably knows there will be food on offer. If she’s off roaming the hills – especially in winter – I wonder how much food she is able to scavenge. I wonder if Mrs Jones suspects her from stealing from the farm – perhaps cheese or milk from the dairy, as that would be more accessible than food from the kitchen.
Aily confirms that she did not go home last night (George must have assumed that as she asks where she slept last night), but instead slept in the hay at Magga Farm. She then tells them more about Old Towers and the old woman there – things that her mother clearly doesn’t know, if it’s true. During this little interrogation it’s revealed that Aily can’t read, something she is perhaps embarrassed by as she tries to hide it.
She reminds me of Brodie, as when asked what some notes means she makes up nonsense about them saying that Aily is a good girl and so on. This is exactly the sort of thing Brodie does – he insisted that one of our Christmas cards said Happy Birthday Brodie, there are lots of present for you. But Aily is presumably a bit older than four, otherwise they’d not have expected her to be able to read.
Clearly she misses so much school that she hasn’t learned – though I also wonder if it’s a Welsh/English thing. I assume her Welsh speaking is much better than her English but I don’t know if they were teaching both in schools in Wales in the 1950s. I know that there was a time that the Welsh language (and history) fell out of favour with schools, but whether or not that would have affected a tiny village school in the 50s, I don’t know. It’s possible that Aily might be able to read and write in Welsh, and the Five just didn’t consider that.
Anyway, her story, and her information that there’s a way into the grounds and the inside of Old Tower is of great interest to the Five (for reasons we will look at later). But before they can ask her anything more Aily’s mother passes, and spots her. Aily tries to hide but her mother grabs her and shakes her, dragging her home to be whipped.
Aily comes through
Aily obviously manages to escape, however, as the Five find her hiding in the oil-bunker of their chalet that evening. She doesn’t want to go inside with them, so she clearly hasn’t hidden there in the hope of them looking after her. Julian suspects she might sleep there, as it’s sheltered, on occasion.
This time she has run away from home as Morgan (Mrs Jones’ son) came calling, having heard her story about Old Towers from Julian and Dick. She’s a plucky soul, though, as despite being afraid of Morgan (and I suspect rather wary of the goings on at Old Towers) she readily agrees to lead the Five to the secret way in. This is mostly because she’s fallen for Julian who has protected her from Morgan and looked after her. Much like Jo took a liking to Dick, and Sniffer to George, Aily is now willing to do anything to please Julian.
So the next morning they set off – Aily deigning to wear a hat and scarf only because they are they same as Julian has on. It’s funny as she complains that tobogganing makes her nose cold, but as the others point out surely she’s cold all over already.
The above scene is only illustrated in the Enid Blyton’s Magazine version of the story.
Like Tassie, Aily is the kind of kid who never gets lost and is able to guide the Five to the right part of the hill in the middle of a heavy snow fall. She is goat-like in her ability to jump down into the deep pot-hole she reveals to them and goes off into a dark tunnel, so her night-vision must be good!
Inside the house she just hares off alone to check where the caretaker is – and then shows them the kitchen where she takes a bit of meat-pie and eats it. I guess that answers the question as to where she finds her food. She’s also smart enough to have locked the sleeping caretaken into his room. She won’t go any further than a corridor on the second floor, though, as she is too afraid of the rows of paintings that line the walls.
Later Blyton says that Aily has a simple mind as she believes that the thunder and lightening comes from inside the hill as that’s where a great rumbling comes from. On one hand that sounds quite harsh, but on the other it might be quite true. Living where she does – and hardly attending school – means she probably lacks access to the knowledge of the wider world.
Anyway, it’s Aily – and her lamb – that lead to the final climactic scenes in the book. Fany, the lamb, skips off the wrong way underground and Aily plunges after her right away, with the Five following soon after. And that’s how they get caught up in everything that’s going on under the hill.
What happens to Aily?
I’d like to say that Aily has a happy ending but she doesn’t really get an ending at all. She returns to Magga Farm with the others to have a good meal and then isn’t mentioned again. Morgan returns later, but I’d have liked to have seen her father come and be reunited with her, perhaps with Aily realising that her wandering and adventuring is perhaps a little too dangerous and agreeing to go to school a little more. In return her father might promise to let her join him at the weekends and teach her what he knows about animals and nature.
I had no idea I’d be able to write over 2,000 words about Aily, but there you are. I think I’ve managed to cover a lot of the story as it relates to her, so next time I will look at the other story elements and then get to the usual nitpicks and observations.