Smuggler Ben is one of the novels that Blyton first published under the name Mary Pollock, a book that was reprinted later under her own name in 1950, at least according to the copy I purchased in a book shop in Alton last week when Fiona was down.
The story was originally published under the name Mary Pollock in 1943, which I believe was around the time Blyton was testing the waters to see if it was her stories that children were interested in or her brand. Smuggler Ben must have done well enough to warrant a reprint in 1950 under her own name and then another reprint in 1955. The 1950 reprint which I picked up for £6, has seen better days, and personally I’m beginning to wonder why I did pay so much for a book that should have been at least three. Anyway its a short little book, 91 pages to be exact
So given its length it is quite an easy read, one more suited to children’s bedtimes perhaps, given the length of the chapters as well (the book is divided into ten little chapters). You meet the children Alec, Hilary and Frances in the first couple of lines and so, but there is no mention of their ages. It is assumed that as the boy, Alec is the oldest, and I think Hilary is the middle child, but I cannot be sure and it doesn’t seem to make much difference. In fact Frances, the supposed baby of the family, doesn’t really seem to contribute much to the story. Nevertheless, three children start off the story by arriving at their holiday home; a sea side cottage in which they are to stay for a month.
Immediately the children fall in love with the cottage and want to explore. Their mother warns then about the currents and bathing however, and tells Alec to be careful with the girls. The cottage, rather like Kirrin Cottage, has the sea out front and a moor out back, but the moor plays more of a part in Smuggler Ben than it does in the Famous Five.
The scenery for the first evening is wonderful. The children head down onto the beach during sunset and skip around in the waves and sand. This is also the first time where they come across Smuggler Ben, who is a little unfriendly, well a lot unfriendly as he tries to frighten the children off with a knife.
The children decide to stay well clear of him, even when they find out he’s the only one who might be able to let them have a boat. However after a chance meeting between Hilary and Ben, Ben decides to make friends with them and show the children some of his caves and play with them.
Soon the children are playing Smugglers in a cave when they are trapped by high tide and discover that someone is planning on coming back to the cave in a few nights time. They think its smugglers, and decide to come back on the Thursday night to see what the smugglers do!
During a rainy afternoon, when Ben comes for tea, the children discover that there is a secret passage down to their cave and when the rain clears up, the hurry off to find it and clear it, making it easier for the children to get to the cave on the night the smugglers are due. With a job well done, they go back home and wait for Thursday to arrive.
Another great thing happens on Thursday, the children’s father and Uncle Ned arrive at the cottage to spend their leave from the army with the children and their mother. They have a week or so to spend in the little cottage. This is where we get the first mention of the wider world I think, and the war. I don’t think it’s mentioned before hand, but please correct me if I’m wrong. The children get worried that they shan’t be able to sneak out to spy on the smugglers when they hear Mother say that Uncle Ned shall have to sleep in the living room, on the sofa.
The children do manage to sneak out alright that might, but not as successfully as they thought because Uncle Ned wakes up and follows them, wondering what they’re up to and why Alec is leading the girls around in the middle of the night. As the children disappear down their secret tunnel their uncle follows them and for once a grown up’s meddling comes in handy.
I shan’t give away the ending, but its pretty thrilling. Its nice to know that this book has a bit more awareness of the war than some of the other Blyton’s I’ve read. Some of the Adventure series, Valley I think, has a few references to the past war, but there aren’t many in Blyton’s work as she liked to give children fantasy rather than a mirror to reality. Still it’s a nice little story and a thoroughly charming read. For an adult with time to spare, or if a child’s a good reader, its an hours read, or an afternoon read. Its definitely aimed at the slightly younger age group, the sevens and eights perhaps, maybe a touch younger, but is not lacking for Blyton charm. Well worth a read, but then again, what Blyton isn’t?