If you like Blyton: The Lone Pine Series by Malcolm Saville

I will start with an honest admission – I didn’t like this series the first time I tried it. I had heard that Malcolm Saville was like Enid Blyton and if I like the Famous Five etc then I would like the Lone Pine books. I dutifully borrowed the first one from the library and I gave up after about one chapter. I gave up so early that I didn’t even recall the start of the book when I came to try again as an adult.

I feel it’s important for me to stress that as an adult I very much like them, and if I had given them a proper chance as a child I probably would have ended up devouring the series. (Side note: I didn’t like Harry Potter when it first came out. I read the first chapter or so of the second book and abandoned it again quickly. Then years later I saw the first films, read the whole series and now I’ve read them dozens of times. I was a harsh and hard to please reader sometimes!)

I’ve only read sixteen of the Lone Pine books so far, as I had trouble getting the 17th for a long time.

The Lone Pine Books

There are 20 Lone Pine books in total, as well as one hard-to-get-hold-of short story (The Flower-Show Hat (1950).

  • Mystery at Witchend (1943)
  • Seven White Gates (1944)
  • The Gay Dolphin Adventure (1945)
  • The Secret of Grey Walls (1947)
  • Lone Pine Five (1949)
  • The Elusive Grasshopper (1951)
  • The Neglected Mountain (1953)
  • Saucers Over The Moor (1955)
  • Wings Over Witchend (1956)
  • Lone Pine London (1957)
  • The Secret of the Gorge (1958)
  • Mystery Mine (1959)
  • Sea Witch Comes Home (1960)
  • Not Scarlet But Gold (1962)
  • Treasure at Amorys (1964)
  • Man With Three Fingers (1966)
  • Rye Royal (1969)
  • Strangers at Witchend (1970)
  • Where’s My Girl? (1972)
  • Home to Witchend (1978)

The books feature a group of children who have formed a club called the Lone Pine Club – named for the solitary pine tree which guards their den/club house in Shropshire.

Interestingly (to me anyway) Saville clearly liked to vary his titles – he didn’t use the same format or even include Lone Pine in more than a couple of titles.

malcolm saville

The Lone Piners

There are nine human members of the Lone Pine Club plus the obligatory dog. However, it is rare for all nine members to appear in the same story (this only happens in the final book, in fact). This is mostly because they don’t all live in the same place(s) and so some adventures only involve local members.

The core of the club, and in every book, are David Morton (the Captain) and David’s younger twin siblings, Dickie and Mary plus Mackie, (short for Macbeth) the Mortons’ Scottish Terrier.

David and the twins move to Witchend – a house in the Shropshire hills – as evacuees from the Second World War in Mystery at Witchend. They meet Peter, who lives with her father on the Long Mynd where her father is in charge of the reservoir. The other founding member is Tom Ingles from the Ingles Farm down the lane from Witchend. Peter and Tom feature in most of the Shropshire-based stories but don’t often travel to the other locations.

Jenny Harman first appears in the second book, she lives near Peter’s aunt and uncle by the Stiperstones (not too far from the Mynd).

Cousins Jonathan and Penny Warrender join in the third book, when the Mortons visit Rye.

Harriet Sparrow is the last member to join, in the tenth book, when Jonathan meets her in London.

Lone Pine Locations

Several of the books are set in Shropshire, many featuring the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones (Mystery at Witchend, Seven White Gates, The Secret of Grey Walls, Lone Pine Five, The Neglected Mountain, Wings Over Witchend, The Secret of the Gorge, Not Scarlet But Gold, The Man With Three Fingers, Strangers at Witchend and Home to Witchend) as that is where the Mortons, Peter, Tom and Jenny live.

They also visit Sussex several times, in particular Rye (The Gay Dolphin Adventure and Rye Royal), and the Romney Marshes (The Elusive Grasshopper and Treasure at Amorys).

Also visited is Dartmoor (Saucers over the Moor and Where’s My Girl), London (Lone Pine London), Yorkshire (Mystery Mine) and Suffolk (Sea Witch Comes Home).

Blyton used some real places in her books, others were very loosely based on real places and most were just made up, but I think all of Lone Pine Locations are real (bar individuals’ homes/farms etc). Saville really brings his locations to life with rich (and accurate) descriptions of each place, and many of them can be visited today and immediately recognised.

The best part (in my humble opinion) is that each book has a map of where the story is set, highlighting all the important landmarks and locations.

Why would you like these just because you like Blyton? 

There are a lot of familiar ideas between Blyton and Saville. Both authors’ books have a group or groups of children who camp out, solve mysteries and catch criminals. They are both of the same period (at least the start of the Lone Pine books are contemporaneous to Blyton’s works, but Saville continued writing into the 1970s) where boys take care of girls and children can run rather wild without parental influence.

The Lone Piners as a group are like a mixture of the Famous Five, The Adventure Series lot, the Five Find-Outers and the Secret Seven. They are an organised club with rules, passwords etc like the Secret Seven, and they often ‘formally’ investigate mysteries like the Five Find-Outers. Yet they also accidentally fall into adventures while camping, holidaying and travelling like the Famous Five or Adventure Series children do.

Saying that, they are not so similar that you would confuse one for the other. Blyton’s writing and Saville’s are somewhat different. Blyton, in my mind, is a more straight-forward writer. She generally writes what she means and her characters are similarly straight-forward. She does of course feature secrets, liars and plot twists but for the main part people come out and say what they mean and say it clearly. Saville prefers to make allusions, uses more metaphors and his characters do more ‘beating around the bush’. I find that a bit frustrating sometimes, actually, that instead of just saying something, a Saville character will keep quiet and we will waste time going in the wrong direction until they decide to speak up.

As I’ve said above the Lone Pine books don’t feature the same characters each time, unlike Blyton’s major mystery/adventure series which have the same line up each time. Saville’s children also grow up more obviously. The Famous Five do age, but not greatly. They mature a little, it is mentioned they are older and more responsible. The Lone Piners go through more development as they age – for example they begin romantic entanglements (David and Peter, Tom and Jenny in particular) and tire of their rural home life and long for a more cosmopolitan existence (Tom). Saville also moves with the times – his 1940s books are set in the 40s, and his 1960s books definitely have a nod to 60s vehicles, fashion and ways of life. It’s quite bizarre actually, as the Lone Piners are perhaps one year older but life has moved on by a decade!

Both Blyton’s children and Saville’s age a lot less than they should, the Famous Five age a few years over 21 adventures / 20 years, and the Lone Piners age around the same over 20 adventures / 35 years.

So there you have it. I would have liked to go into more details about the plots of each book but a) that would have made this post far too long and b) it’s been ages since I read them and I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. I will need to re-read them some day and perhaps review them too.

Let me know if you are a Malcolm Saville fan too!

This entry was posted in Reading Recommendations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to If you like Blyton: The Lone Pine Series by Malcolm Saville

  1. chrissie777 says:

    Great article, Fiona!

    What happened to your excellent photos that you and Steff once in a while posted in this blog? I do miss them.

    “The Ambermere Treasure” was filmed for British TV in 1955 as a series. I was trying to find a copy for years, but so far in vain.

    I also love another Malcolm Saville book which was filmed first for the Children’s Film Foundation (CFF) and written later: “Treasure at the Mill”, very blytonesque. I’ve read and watched it many times. Book and DVD are still available on amazon.co.uk and I can highly recommend both (the book has great illustrations). The DVD contains bonus material on the filming locations (the mill is located outside of Colchester) and another short Malcolm Saville movie with a very young Petula Clark, “Trouble at Townsend”.


    • I have to disappoint you, I’m afraid: all six episodes of ‘The Ambermere Treasure’, which was indeed one of ITV’s first ever children’s dramas (27th December 1955 – 31st January 1956) are confirmed on the ‘TV Brain’ website not to exist. Here it is on the free, public section of the site (the subscribers-only section gives the cast and crew): http://www.tvbrain.info/tv-archive?showname=Ambermere+Treasure&type=lostshow – tbh, very little British TV output from this time *does* exist, and I’d have been amazed if it had. I’d suspect it was mostly done live in the studio and conceivably never recorded at all, though maybe with some film inserts.

      I’m a Malcolm Saville fan as well, and have had some big … *ideas* relating to his work which I doubt will ever come to fruition.

      Liked by 1 person

      • chrissie777 says:

        Thank you, februarycalendar. It’s such a pity that the tapes from way back then no longer exist or (most likely) have been recorded over with another TV show, something that the TV studios tended to do to save money. 😦


        • fiona says:

          So many great programmes have been lost over the years and it’s a real shame.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Even a lot of 1980s and early 1990s material from TVS (makers of the adaptation of The Castle of Adventure previously discussed here, although the masters of that are safe in the National Film & Television Archive) has been wiped *within the last decade*, seemingly because the paperwork was missing, thus rendering DVD releases impossible, and Disney (rights holders by default, really) therefore considered them worthless. In some cases, the inferior versions on YouTube are the only surviving copies – a better situation than the pre-VCR era, of course, but still deeply depressing that this can happen so long after everyone assumed it couldn’t happen again.


  2. chrissie777 says:

    Norman Dale also has maps in most of his suspenseful books, like “Skeleton Island” (for me that’s his his master piece and very hard to find) or “The Exciting Journey” (with real locations). I thoroughly enjoyed “Skeleton Island”, because it takes place in Cornwall and features a river island and an underground passage in the cliffs along the river. Three boys are the protagonists in “The Exciting Journey”, “Mystery Christmas” and “Skeleton Island”.


  3. apropos some of your comments here, Malcolm Saville was widely regarded by critics, librarians &c. as “Blyton *but better*” – until the new politics of children’s literature criticism in the 1970s put him alongside her, his reputation was much higher than hers because he was considered to do something similarly readable but with greater literary merit. And his popularity, at his peak, wasn’t too far off hers.


  4. Helen White says:

    Sounds like I missed a trick with these books I gobbled everything of Blytons I could get my hands on but I like what you’ve described here. They just don’t write books like these any more…reading such stories “made” my childhood, from which I now draw huge amounts of nostalgia as though from a very deep and sustaining well!


  5. Kev M says:

    What a great find. Most of my generation were Blyton fans. I recall getting three Blyton’s books on Christmas day and reading them all in 48 hours. Most of my friends found the Swallows. I found Malcolm Saville, i must get to Shropshire (bucket list)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s