We have reached another of my favourites with book #12, this came fourth in my definitive (personal) rankings of the 21 books.
[It has just come to my attention two weeks later that I accidentally skipped book #11, Five Have a Wonderful Time… I will finish my review of Sea in part two then go back!]
A story in three parts
How to divide this one?
- The Five head to Tremannon and spend a day or two just having fun
- They go to visit Grandad and hear about the wrecker’s way and have a run in with Mr Penruthlan
- They investigate the old ruin, get trapped underground then return to Tremannon to solve the mystery
This is quite a slow build as the main action occurs in the last part of the book. It’s page 125 before they go to the old ruin, and page 143 before they go underground. There are only 191 pages in the book!
A look at the general story
The Five are off to stay with the Penruthlans at Tremannon Farm in Cornwall for a nice holiday. As Anne doesn’t want any more adventures they all agree to say pooh-pooh to any adventures that come up.
They begin with typical Blyton holiday activities; eating vast quantities of home-made food and going to the beach for a bathe and a poke around the caves. They pay a visit to an old shepherd – the great grandad of a boy called Yan who hangs around the farm – who knows all about the coast and can tell tales of wreckers from years ago.
Old grandad’s father used to light a lamp which would lure ships onto the rocks to be wrecked and plundered.
There have been no wrecks, and there’s a new lighthouse along the coast anyway so the Five aren’t entirely sure whether to take it seriously or not when he says he’s seen the lights this year, but Julian and Dick think it’s worth a little night-time trip. They don’t make it far, though, as they run into a brute of a man who grabs hold of Dick – a man who they realise is Mr Penruthlan. What’s he doing out on a stormy night, and why has he lied to them and his wife about tending a sick horse?
There’s then a diversion from the mystery as the Barnies – a travelling group of performers – arrive.
Ju and Dick go out again that night, and this time make it to the hill but they need Yan to show them the light flashing. And flashing it is! They see Mr Penruthlan again when they come back, and this time he’s searching through the Barnie’s props and belongings.
The Barnies have their show the next evening, and there’s a huge meal after. Julian and Dick take the surly Guv’nor of the Barnies his meal and discover Clopper, the horse costume is just lying around. In one of Blyton’s funniest scenes ever Julian and Dick don the costume, caper around and then get stuck inside it.
The book was originally serialised in Enid Blyton’s Magazine and Eileen Soper illustrated that, then did fresh ones for the book. Some are very similar, others we get completely different scenes or the same scene a little differently. Below is Clopper falling over from the magazine.
The next day they have decided to pooh-pooh at pooh-poohing adventures, and take a picnic and go off to investigate the ruins where the light flashes. There are four empty rooms and one tower with a great view and a lot of spilled oil drops. Someone’s certainly been signalling from there recently, but who? And why?
Naturally they hunt around and find a not very well hidden hole in the chimney which leads to an underground passage (a lot of Blyton’s passages start in chimneys). Timmy has gone on ahead so instead of following one passage down to the sea they have to head down the other in a more inland direction. That leads them to a storage room where a mystery figure locks them in.
Thankfully Yan is exceptionally brave and comes down the passage – in the dark no less – to rescue them. It is the middle of the night by now and they head down to the beach and see Mr Penruthlan taking a small boat out to meet another one. Yan leads them along the cliffs a little way to another passage, and this one takes them to a barn on Tremannon Farm!
In order to foil Mr Penruthlan they cover the trapdoor with heavy objects and – after running into the Guv’nor who is hanging around in a rather suspicious manner – they tell Mrs Penruthlan the unfortunate news that her husband is a no good smuggler.
Well, I do love Julian but I still love this scene as Mrs Penruthlan boxes his ears for saying such terrible things. She doesn’t know where her husband is – everyone else is out hunting for the lost Five but not him – but he’s a good man and certainly not a smuggler.
Spoilers follow as to the identities of the criminals, you’ve been warned!
Mr Penruthlan then turns up and reveals that a) he wasn’t on the beach earlier and b) he isn’t a smuggler, he has been working with the police to try to catch the smugglers.
So if he wasn’t on the beach, who was? They rush to the trap-door but it has been opened and the men are gone.
The next day the Barnies are moving on, but Julian remembers how the Guv’nor was hanging around the night before. Mr Penruthlan has long suspected someone with the Barnies to be involved in the smuggling, but has never been able to prove it. Suddenly Dick goes utterly mad and races off with Clopper’s head!
Well, Dick may appear mad but actually he is clearly the only one with any brains. The Guv’nor has had Clopper’s head guarded almost every minute they’ve been at Tremannon. And why? Because the smuggled goods were hidden inside.
So it’s a happy ending as the Guv’nor is locked in a barn to await the police and the Barnies head to their next engagement without a surly (and criminal) boss.
There are several strong supporting characters so I thought I would have a look at them separately rather than bogging down the above summary/review with lots of character detail.
Mrs Penruthlan is, for the most part, Blyton’s typical farmer’s wife. Her children are all grown so she loves to welcome holiday makers and feed them up. She’s happiest when baking or cooking vast quantities of food then watching people devour it – partly why she loves the Barnies coming so much too!
Mr Penruthlan, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. As I’ve said above he seems jolly – he laughs his head off at Clopper and he’s the one to rescue Julian and Dick from the costume, but they’ve proven he’s a liar and a sneak.
An interesting side-story with Mr Penruthlan is that his speech is completely unintelligible. He’ll say nothing more than ooh or ock and Mrs Penruthlan will reply implying he’s just said a whole sentence. It turns out later that when he puts his teeth in he’s perfectly capable of regular speech!
Of course he is revealed not to be the baddie at all, it’s a classic case of misdirection just like Mr King in The Rockingdown Mystery. Perhaps Blyton wanted to keep him mysterious by not having him say anything understandable for the majority of the book!
The other character we see a lot of is Yan. Yan is a bit like Tassie from The Castle of Adventure. He doesn’t have a way with animals but he’s grubby and wanders the great outdoors all day. Unlike Tassie, he isn’t welcomed into the group. He seems quite a bit younger than the Five but his age is never given, only that he is of school age.
He lives with his great grandad who is more than 80 years older than him and doesn’t seem to have any other relatives or friends. He is dressed in ragged clothes and probably underfed and plays truant from school almost every day. He tags along after the Five constantly but as he is younger, has poor conversational skills and has nothing to offer the Five in the way of amusing them or informing them, they find him very annoying.
Mrs Penruthlan gives him a bath at one point and threatens him with sorting him out with new clothes but I wonder that she hasn’t done that before or taken him in a little, it seems like he has a pretty awful life, though his great grandad isn’t deliberately cruel to him. Obviously his great grandad has taken him in (presumably the parents are dead) but it’s no life for a little boy. (I must be going soft due to my own little boy as I’ve never thought this much about Yan before!)
The Five (apart from Timmy who loves him) are actually quite hard on Yan. He’s not a fat-headed trouble maker like Richard Kent, or a mean boy like Edgar Stick, his only crime is sneaking around following them as he’s probably fascinated by these well-dressed kids. They tell him to get lost in various different ways, then Julian calls him a little idiot and gives him a shake to send him off.
It doesn’t deter him, though, and he climbs up to nosy in Julian and Dick’s bedroom window after that! (I would accept some harsh words would be necessary at this point, but before it seems unfair).
What’s worse is when Yan follows them to the beach and the caves they just go and leave him as the tide is coming in. They assume he knows the caves and cliffs and will be fine, and only when they realise the beach is gone and the caves flooded with no sign of him having escaped do they worry. Of course he is fine, he does know the coast like the back of his hand, but they didn’t know that! They’re so relieved he is safe that they give him sweets and are rewarded with a bright smile in return, a smile which suddenly makes Yan seem an awful lot less annoying and a lot more sweet.
They are more accepting of him after this – and of course he proves his worth by rescuing them later and taking them safely back to the farm.
Next time; my nitpicks (there are actually quite a lot!) and other things I noticed and wanted to mention.
Next post: Five Go Down to the Sea part 2