I had initially intended to just feature Jack Arnold as my character of the week a few Mondays ago (and in fact I did) but I wrote so much for what should have been a 2-3 hundred word paragraph that I realised I could and should write a whole post about him.
Which Jack is this?
There are many Jacks in Enid Blyton books. The Secret Seven, The Adventure Series and The Secret Series all boast Jacks as a main character, and there are other Jacks to be found in other books, too.
Jack Arnold is the Jack from The Secret Series (though when we first meet him he is just “Jack”. No last name is given, and I wonder if he even knows what it should have been.)
related post⇒ A completely un-confusing guide to names in Blyton’s books
We actually don’t know very much about Jack when we meet him. We don’t know, for example, how old he is. Jack himself does not know that. We know he lives on a farm with his old grandfather. We don’t meet this grandfather, but Jack mentions him once or twice.
“I must go now, or Granpa will be angry with me, and perhaps lock me into my room so that I can’t get out of again to-day.”
Jack and his grandfather must be poor as their farm is described as ‘tumble-down’ and Jack has no shoes and only tattered clothing. After running away with the Arnold children, from whom he will get his surname later, he returns to the farm for his belongings. The farmhouse, we discover then, has only two rooms. His ragged collection of clothing amounts to three shirts, a few vests, an odd pair of trousers, an overcoat, a pair of old shoes and a blanket. (If you’ve not read The Secret Island before we have various posts about it here but if you want a review then you’d be better off here or here as we haven’t reviewed the book ourselves).
There is no love lost between Jack and his grandfather, despite the old man taking Jack in. Jack says that he doesn’t remember anyone but his grandfather, so he must have been taken in at a young age. I had assumed Jack’s parents were dead but perhaps they had gone to prison.
I have seen a suggestion that his grandfather is struggling with dementia by the time the events of The Secret Island take place.
The inference here is that the grandfather is suffering the onset of dementia, an irony when you consider what happened to Enid and it is the aunt who is unconcerned for Jack, as she has no extra room for him along with his grandfather and considers him, in keeping with those times, old enough to look after himself
I imagine you could ascribe the state of Jack and the farm to his grandfather’s mental decline, though there are a few things that don’t add up for me with that theory. It is entirely possible that being elderly Jack’s grandfather is not physically up to running a farm any longer and is happy to move in with his daughter in order to be cooked for and have someone do the cleaning and so on.
Jack states that he isn’t bothered by a lack of material goods or family as he has never had those things to miss, whereas the other children had good lives until a year or two before and struggle to adapt to their new miserable existence. To me, this says that his grandfather has never provided well for him and he has always had to look out for himself. It is said that Jack ‘worked as hard as a man’ on the farm, and his skills in fishing, rabbit catching etc imply that he has been supplementing his and his grandfather’s diet over the years and earning his keep.
He knew how to catch rabbits. He knew how to catch fish in the river. He knew where the best nuts and blackberries were to be found. In fact, he knew everything, the children thought, even the names of all the birds that flew about the hedges, and the difference between a grass snake and an adder, and things like that.
The only kind or generous thing his grandfather seems to have done is ‘give’ Jack a cow and some hens of his own. However it is easy to tell a child that one cow of a herd and a few chickens of a coop are ‘his’ without any real generosity – it could have been a ploy to get him to do the milking and egg collecting. If it had come to selling off the dairy herd I bet he would have sold Daisy with the others, just as Quentin Kirrin intended to sell Kirrin Island despite his wife ‘giving’ it to George.
The other thing is that Jack’s aunt has clearly never cared about him either. She won’t take him in now as she has no room and thinks him old enough to live on his own (implying he must be around 14 or 15) but she doesn’t care that he will have nowhere to live or money to live off of. But what about when Jack was young? It is surprising that an aunt would not have taken him, or helped out with him. I think this could hint to a family feud way back when, that was never resolved as Jack’s parents died. (It puts me in mind of the Potters vs the Dursleys before Harry is orphaned in the Harry Potter series.)
But Blyton doesn’t consider any of that important: Jack is an orphan, his grandfather is moving away and he has friends that also want to escape a bad home. That’s all we need to know, and that gives them more than enough impetus to run away to the island without needing any detailed backstory.
Although only one qaurter of the cast Jack is the catalyst for most of the first book of the series. It is Jack’s idea to run away to the Secret Island. He is the one who knows of its existence and has visited it before, and it is he who sees its potential as a secret place to live.
Once on the island (having used Jack’s boat to get there), it is Jack who guides the setting up of their homestead. Obviously knowing the island already he is best placed to suggest a spot for their bedroom and where to keep their stores.
Jack is responsible for the bulk of their food; that is anything that didn’t come with them from their homes when they first ran away.
His ideas for sustenance include:
♦ Planting beans and peas in small discreet patches
♦ Bringing over his cow and hens for milk and eggs (and keeping the milk cool by keeping the pail by the spring)
♦ Catching fish and rabbits (he sets the lines and traps and mostly prepares the meat).
It is also Jack’s idea to gather various berries, nuts and mushrooms to sell in villages on the mainland, in order to buy things they cannot scavenge or grow themselves. It is he who does the selling, although Mike accompanies him as far as the edge of the lake. Jack keeps a count of the days so he can go selling on market day to increase his profits, and he is responsible for keeping a mental shopping list and coming back with the things they need, all without getting caught.
Jack’s other great idea is the building of willow house, and he teaches the children how to construct a house that will keep them warm and dry.
Related post ⇒Blyton’s homeliest homes
With the arrival of trippers on the island it’s mostly Jack’s plans they put in place to hide themselves, and he instigates their larger-scale plans for hiding should anyone search the island. He comes up with the idea of luring Daisy (the cow) through the caves with a turnip to make sure she goes easily and he makes the others do drills to practice their hiding plans.
And I will stop there for today.
In Jack Arnold, part two, I will look at Jack’s role as captain on the island and what happens to him in the subsequent books in the series.