I’ve been doing a bit of eBaying again (a dangerous pastime!) and I’ve now got a much larger collection of Noddy books. Not all of them yet, there’s four I don’t have, but it gives me plenty of new stories to review.
So, my eighth review will be of the very first book in the series Noddy Goes to Toyland. It will be interesting to see how he ends up there, I think. The copy I have is an original hardback without dustjacket and it is a little tatty, but it only cost me about £2.50 so I don’t mind too much.
The first character we meet is actually Big-Ears the brownie (who we know becomes a great friend of Noddy’s later) as he hurried though the woods on his little red bicycle. He crashes into someone though, and from the illustration we can see it is a little wooden man with no clothes on!
This strange naked man clearly isn’t a pixie, brownie or goblin they both agree. The little fellow doesn’t think he’s a toy either – rather he calls himself a little nodding man, because of the way his head balances on his neck and nods when he’s speaking.
Of course we all know it’s Noddy and finally I know where he came from! He belonged to Old Man Carver who made him, but he ran away. He was made from the ground up
wooden feet, and then wooden legs, and then a round wooden body, and then wooden arms and hands, and then a wooden neck and then a round wooden head.
He apparently has beads for eyes (fully functioning eye beads obviously) and cat’s fur for hair. He has run away, you see, because he gets lonely at Old Man Carver’s house and the man is carving a lion which Noddy is rather afraid of.
It’s interesting to read all this as it’s not mentioned in the second book really, all we know there is that he’s new to Toyland. It also explains that Big-Ears lives in a town where only Brownies can stay which is why Noddy has to travel a little way to visit him in later books, and as Noddy is most like a toy he really belongs in Toyland.
Big-Ears is actually the one to name Noddy, and continues what seems to be a tradition of being named after your looks.
ALL ABOARD TO TOYLAND
The two of them catch a train to Toyland – a toy train of course.
It was a toy train, of course, and it was made of brightly-painted wood. The engine was red, with a blue funnel and yellow wheels.
We meet some of the Toyland folk on the train, some wooden dolls, a wooden soldier and a pink cat who gets her tail trod on by Noddy. The train passes through the very un-pc Golliwog Town, and three Gollies get on the train (one of them stands on the pink cat’s tail as well). Gollies have been removed from the book since the early nineties and there’s a perception that they were bad characters in the books. No doubt some of them do get up to bad things at some point but Big-Ears doesn’t warn Noddy to stay away from the Gollies or not to visit Golliwog Town which seems perfectly pleasant.
It’s then on to Rocking-Horse Town after that (where Noddy and Mr Marvel visit in Do Look Out Noddy) but rocking horses don’t take the train as they can get about just as fast on their rockers. Next they stop at Clockwork-Mouse town, and then Toy-Cat Town.
LAST STOP, TOY VILLAGE
Noddy stays on until Toy Village (I always thought that Toyland was the name of his town but it’s the name of the wider area that encompasses various toy towns,) where Big-Ears takes him to the market to get some clothes. Poor Noddy doesn’t even know what money is so the brownie has to explain it;
It’s something you get when you work hard. Then you put it into your pockets and wait till you see something you want. Then you give it in exchange. You will have to work soon and then you can get money to buy heaps of things.
A nice, simple explanation that sets Noddy up for his future stories where he is always very conscientious about earning his wages in his little car.
NODDY GETS HIS BELL
Big-Ears is kind enough to buy Noddy’s clothes and helps him pick out his iconic outfit – red shoes with blue laces, bright blue trousers with wide bottoms, a red shirt, a yellow belt and tie. So he is not only built from the ground up, but also dressed that way too. Big-Ears can’t afford a coat for Noddy but he can stretch to a hat, so they go to have a look. Noddy picks out a blue baby’s bonnet which Big-Ears doesn’t think is suitable, and suggests the famous blue hat with bell instead.
ARE YOU A TOY?
Our old friend the toy policeman turns up then and demands to know if Noddy is a toy, as only toys can stay in Toy Village. (Presumably gollies, cats, mice etc can live there too, or can live in their more specific towns.) There’s an awful lot of red-tape and bureaucracy in Toy Village it would seem and the policeman’s explanation sounds awfully like something you would hear now over benefit eligibility or something.
You might be an ornament. Like a china pig. That’s an ornament, unless it’s a money-box pig, then it’s a toy. You look rather like an ornament. Have you ever been stood on mantelpieces?
Have you ever been played with by children?
It seems as if you’re not an ornament and not a toy either. You’ll have to come before the Court tonight, and we’ll decide just what you are!
Uh-oh, if this is anything like the real world it’ll be months of arguing back and forth and appeals and bad decisions… But we’ll have to wait until tonight to find out.
FINDING NODDY A HOME
In the mean time, Big-Ears is quite confident Noddy will be deemed a toy and so the next thing to be done is organise somewhere for him to live. All the dolls’ houses are taken so it’s off to get a box of building bricks to build one themselves.
They get a “House-for-One” box, which is enough for a back bedroom and a front living room. But no stairs, as apparently Big-Ears can’t manage those. Of course Big-Ears doesn’t have any money left but he asks for the bill to be sent to him later and they go off with the box on their shoulders to find a prime site. They don’t have to buy the land or even ask permission – they just find a big enough space between two other houses and start building! (How I wish life was that easy!)
Building the house is rather fun, and Noddy shows some of his endearing silliness when he suggests they do the roof first so that if it rains they won’t get wet while they do the walls. They lay flat bricks for the floor first, and then build the walls, though Noddy forgets to leave a door-space and Big-Ears forgets to leave one for a window. They sort all that out and then on goes the roof, and Mr Tubby Bear next door lends them a ladder to do the chimneys before inviting them in for a cup of tea.
Mr Tubby’s house is grand with an upstairs and downstairs, and it also has a bathroom! Noddy doesn’t even know what that is at first. Blyton books never mention toilets, ever, so there’s not much point debating if toys use one seeing as they do eat, but they do take baths anyway.
NODDY GETS INTO TROUBLE
The Court of Toys is mentioned again and it’s reiterated that if Noddy’s found not to be a toy then he can’t stay. Blyton keeps the suspense going though and sends Noddy on a tour of Toy Village. There are lots of lovely houses, and even a castle to see, but Noddy is most interested in the ark.
In a very Noddyish bit of behaviour he goes and opens the doors and lets all the animals out, and somehow the male lion escapes Mr and Mrs Noah when they return. He frightens one of the dolls by roaring and even though he apparently wouldn’t hurt her it seems like he would and Noddy comes to the rescue, throwing a shoe to scare him off.
This is very typical of Noddy stories as Noddy causes all sorts of trouble and then seems quite brave by stepping in to deal with it. At least he’s honest though, he admits it was his fault in the first place. How will that affect his hearing that night, though? Even if he is seen as a toy, he’s already gotten himself and others into bother!
The toy policeman says he thinks Noddy is not a toy when he comes to fetch him for the court, but Big-Ears defends him to the judge. A cry of “he’s a toy!” goes round the courtroom but the judge isn’t satisfied yet. He may be a toy, but is he a good toy? So of course the story of the ark comes out, and just as the judge is about to condemn Noddy as a bad toy a doll speaks up and explains how Noddy then saved her little girl from the lion.
That changes everything of course, and the judge decides Noddy is a good, brave toy and is allowed to stay in Toy Village. Phew.
Well we all knew it would happen really, as there wouldn’t be 23 more stories set there, would there? But for a child reading it for the first time in 1949 I’m sure it would have been very suspenseful. I think the morals are very good – that if you do something silly you can get into trouble, but owning up and especially trying to solve the problem you cause goes a very long way to making amends. It’s a pity in a way though that the judge was so lenient on him as Noddy can get almost annoyingly silly sometimes – but then I suppose if he truly learned his lesson there would be far less to write about in the future.