The Treasure Hunters is a title I never read as a child – despite having it as part of a 2 in 1 volume. I had read The Boy Next Door, the first book but somehow never made it to the next one! I didn’t even realise I had owned it until looking up my childhood editions of books. So I ended up reading it for the first time as an adult, an experience which can often lead to disappointment. Thankfully that was not the case here – I thought this was a good read.
THE SCENE IS SET
It’s not a very long book so Blyton doesn’t waste much time at the start. Within the first chapter we establish that Daddy has to take Mummy away for some good sea air, so the children are to go to Granny and Granpa’s for a while. The eldest two, Jeffrey and Susan, have been to Grayling’s Manor before but because of chicken pox John has not. So John’s lack of knowledge allows a few descriptions to be given for our benefit. (At first it sounds like Granny and Granpa never see the children but later it’s explained that they normally come to visit the children instead of the other way around – which does seem strange later when you experience Grayling’s Manor and its perfect-for-children grounds).
There’s also a letter brought up, from Granny. In it she writes about her heartbreak at this possibly being the children’s last visit – as they are about to have to sell the big house.
The Greyling’s Treasure is quickly brought up, and even if it hadn’t been in the title you’d guess that the children were going to turn into treasure hunters. This magnificent treasure has been lost for many a year and would perfectly solve the money problems allowing Granny and Granpa to keep their home. The money problems are attributed to ‘bad luck’ and losses, because of the lost treasure. But saying that Granny and Granpa have lived in what must be reasonable luxury for many years as they still have several maids and a gardener – plus the house is never described as shabby or in any way that suggests they haven’t maintained it well.
GREYLINGS MANOR AND GROUNDS
The house is a pretty typical Blyton one – study, dining room, kitchen, secret passage… The secret passage is not so secret now but it leads from the dining-room into the back of the cupboard in Susan’s little attic room. Susan’s room is an odd one – rather round and entered through a low door from the boys’ bedroom. It reminds me of the room found in the first Biff, Chip and Kipper book. The door to that was hidden under wallpaper in the bedroom, and, like Susan’s room, contained a doll’s house.
The grounds are extensive, and beyond the well maintained gardens are a wood, a farm and cottages. The children get a slap-up meal in the farm-house while hunting for their road with four bends. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s go back to the treasure map.
In the woods the children find a large pond, and mysteriously, there are marble steps leading down to it. As they say, there would only be steps if people had used it and had a building or something nearby. But there’s nothing to be seen at first. Then after some hunting they find that there is a building – a sort of brick summer house – entirely overgrown with brambles and ivy. As it’s on Greyling’s land (though this isn’t clearly established for the reader until later) they feel quite justified in hacking away not only the overgrowth but also the door to get inside.
Granny, after, gives them permission to use it as a playhouse. In one of those lines that makes modern readers cringe Susan cleans it all up because she is the girl. Blyton redeems herself slightly as John volunteers to help scrub the floor – as he likes doing that.
Jeffrey maintains the boy/girl status quo however and does all the chopping and ‘man’s’ work, he’s also the one to have pockets full of useful things like candle-ends, matches and so on.
Above on the left is the first edition illustration of Susan doing the cleaning, and on the right Barbara Freeman’s version from my copy which also features John.
Anyway, gender issues aside, the next hurdle is a blocked chimney. (It seems to be summer or at least warm so I’m not sure why they need a fire… but anyway.) Using a broom they clear away a bird’s nest and assorted rubbish, and then a heavy box!
The next bit is reminiscent of Five on a Treasure Island. Both involve a mysterious old box – one that can’t be opened until it’s thrown out of a window and the other which doesn’t reveal its contents until Susan drops it onto the floor and a secret compartment opens. Both are first suggested to contain treasure – well, possibly an ingot, or some small broaches – but both only contain a treasure map. In the Kirrins’ case this is a details dungeon plan with ingots marked on it, in the Greylings’ case it seems a bit less useful as it just has local features.
MR POTTS AMD MR EPPY
Our next old favourite Blyton plot is that of the seemingly genial man who is really working against the children. They crop up fairly often – is not dissimilar to the men buying the island in Five on a Treasure Island to find the treasure first, and it has likenesses to the Hennings in Five on Finniston Farm too – but in this instance it’s probably most like the scenario in The Ship of Adventure.
Both involve a treasure map which gets divided – the Greylings’ map falls into two so that Mr Potts only sees half (and the children keep the other half safe) while the Mannering/Trents deliberately (and somewhat sacrilegiously) cut their ancient map into quarters to keep it from Mr Eppy’s prying eyes. Therefore in both books our pretending-to-be-friendly chap only has part of the information he needs. Both maps get well-hidden by the children, and despite their enemies best attempts at ransacking their rooms, are not found.
The other reason that Mr Eppy and Mr Potts are alike is that the adults in the situation like and trust them. Aunt Allie is happy to have Mr Eppy keep an eye on the children when she is called away and Granny and Granpa take the children to visit Mr Potts’ house and have lunch there. This makes it harder for the children to avoid their enemy – though Jeffrey has a genius plan whereby be makes a fake tracing of the other half of the map and allows Mr Potts to get a hold of it.
X DOES NOT MARK THE SPOT
As I’ve said above the Greylings’ treasure map seems a bit useless. I know X marks the spot is one of those movie clichés, but you need a bit more to go on, surely? The description in the text is fairly vague, it just references the features and the illustration in my copy doesn’t help!
As you can see there is a winding river, clearly it’s a river as there’s a great round pond in the middle of it! It’s actually frustrating how long the children believe this is a road for, but I suppose it pads the hunting out a bit more. Then there are some trees, a bit of a hill, and a strange little building. It does not suggest any direction to start from/go in or where along it the treasure is hidden. In fact it suggests the building is near enough to the pond that it would be foolish to go via the trees!
Saying all that if you look at the first edition’s illustration, it does look more like a road and the word treasure is over the building which helps a bit. But the order of four bends, trees, hill, building doesn’t work.
But anyway they set off – and after finally working out that they need to follow the river they make their way past their summer house (again with the map from the first edition this makes more sense, with my edition you’d surely start at the pond and cut out a lot of travel.)
They find the three trees, though one has been cut down, and then eventually discover the building – whatever it was – has long become a ruin. This is slightly Finniston Farm-y again, though there are some stones lying around to show the rough outline of the building rather than just a grassy indent.
Here though, they are stumped. There couldn’t be stairs up to the building – it’s on flat ground – and the map clearly shows lines laid out like stairs. Then they twig that the stairs must lead down from inside the building…
THE FINAL HUNT(S)
The children head back with spades the next day and uncover a trapdoor in the middle of the building. They need a rope to get down, though, and it’s lunch time so they have to beat a hasty retreat – not before they spot Mr Potts and his friend snooping around though. Through sheer bad luck they have ‘followed’ the fake map and heard the excited voices of the children.
Mr Potts intends to come back first thing the next morning to find the treasure so all the children have to do is find it that afternoon! Only it isn’t that simple – they’re sent to their rooms for the rest of the day as a punishment for being late for lunch.
As with all Blyton’s good characters they refuse to outright lie. They have promised to stay in their rooms for the rest of the day but said nothing about the night. This is a very good example of indirect dishonesty, which is apparently ok! They know fine well that Granny does not mean it is acceptable for them to go out at midnight but they believe that by following the precise wording they are not technically doing anything wrong. The children do the same earlier in regards to the map.
“Do you know where it is?” he said very suddenly, wheeling round on Susan.
Susan had no idea where Jeffery had put the map. She shook her head. “No,” she said, I don’t know where it is at all.”
“Do you?” asked the man, staring at John. John went very red. Like Susan he had no idea where the half was but he couldn’t help blushing.
“I don’t know at all where it is,” he said.
Mr Potts turned to ask Jeffrey – but that sharp boy had slipped out of the room. He wasn’t going to tell an untruth – but he was jolly sure he wasn’t going to tell the truth to Mr Potts either!
And again, later, when Mr Potts assumes the spades are to help the farmer with, they run off and ignore him, pretending to save a hen from Rags the dog rather than answer dishonestly.
Anyway – they sneak out at midnight and head down the trap-door and find the treasure. That’s just fine and dandy until Mr Potts also turns up and chases them all the way down the underground tunnels and right to the farm where the tunnel ends. (Never fails to amaze me how many busy, working farms have huts/sheds/chapels with trapdoors that are easy to open yet have remained undiscovered for a hundred years…)
It’s a nice bit of tension to end with, but as this book is probably aimed at slightly younger readers the children end up safe with the farmer and his wife.
The next day Granpa sends Mr Potts and his lawyer off with some choice words (but no sword wielding like in Finniston Farm) and we can relax in the knowledge that the Greylings’ home is safe.
A COUPLE OF BLOOPERS?
There were two little things I noticed that didn’t seem quite right. Firstly, they look at a picture of their great-great grandmother and comment on her blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, ‘old family pictures’ sounds like photographs rather than paintings, and of course photographs wouldn’t be in colour!
And later, a definite mistake! Jeffrey goes back to cover over the trap door with branches etc, and that’s when he sees Mr Potts has found it too. He observes him briefly then sneaks off again – yet when they go back at midnight they the move the branches etc that Mr Potts has put back, yet it was never put there in the first place!
Despite several of its elements being reused in more famous books The Treasure Hunters still stands up well by itself. It is strong enough to be enjoyed by an adult on first reading, but simple enough for younger children to love it too. It’s not very long or detailed perhaps, and the danger is limited to a brief portion at the end but there is enough intrigue with Mr Potts looming in the background from time to time – and of course there are the obligatory gratuitous food descriptions interspersed with the treasure hunting.
And of course you can’t fail to love the end where they celebrate with ice-creams and Granpa fills the priceless Greyling’s cup with iced ginger-beer! (I only hope he washed it well first.)