Dissecting the Magic of Blyton’s Famous Five Books by Liam Martin

As I mentioned in my Secrets of Blogging post, this is one of my go-to resources when blogging. I actually got it for free when it came out!


WHAT EXACTLY IS IT?

The introduction describes it as showing the mechanics of the Blyton writing formula but it’s not the sort of book I could read cover-to-cover. I use it mostly when I need to know if and when something has featured in the Famous Five books, and occasionally I run through the index and randomly look up anything that interests me.

Liam Martin, the author, has with what can only have been a tremendous amount of work catalogued every mention of dozens if not hundreds of words and phrases from the 21 books. It covers pretty much everything from grass to thunderstorms and beetroot to measles. Idioms and phrases are in there, countries, days of the week, jewellery, types of transport… as I said, pretty much everything.

It would take me all day to list them all so I’ll just list some of my most recently used ones.

Society>Health>Food>Cakes (I wanted to check who had eaten chocolate cake for Stef’s blog).

Society>Health>Food>Gingerbread (again, to see who had eaten it and when for Stef’s recipe blogs).

Society>Health>Illness> (to check if I had missed any instances of measles or such – and oops, I had)

Also squeezed into the book are some facts about the lengths of each book, Blyton’s style of writing, her  success (or lack of) in America and other bits and pieces.


SOME RANDOM FACTS FROM THE BOOK

  • The moon is out in eleven books (#s 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20 and 21.) It even helpfully, notes the chapter and paragraph. So the moon is out in chapter 19, paragraph 14 of Five Run Away Together.
  • Cabbage is mentioned in three books. As pickled cabbage in Hike, once in Wonderful Time and as a joke in Billycock Hill.
  • There are only two books which don’t feature cake – Five Get into a Fix and Five Are Together Again.
  • Television is featured only once (in Kirrin Island Again, of course) but is mentioned seven times in that book.
  • It is only ever Thursday twice in the series. (Well, twice that it is stated that it is a Thursday, really).
  • November is never mentioned and nothing ever happens in November.

THE DRAWBACKS

If I were to start being critical I would say there are two main flaws with the book.

One is that the primary sources were 2001 editions of the books. As we know these are not the same as the original – though earlier editions are said to have been consulted. I don’t think the updates by then would have dramatically altered the use of the words/topics listed but it’s possible that in updating somethings that this book isn’t entirely accurate for the early editions. The page numbers are also not going to be accurate; but the chapter and paragraph noted should lead you to where you need to go.

The other is that it is not completely exhaustive. At the front it states that instances of a word used ten times or less will have all of those identified. If there are more, only a sample is given. I have (so far) found that this is enough – there are times where 11 books are named, and where all but this book/these books is used (obviously that then lacks the location within each book) but if you are looking for each and every instance of a particular word you may find it lacking. I don’t think this makes the book useless, not by a long shot. It would probably become too long and cumbersome if every instance was meticulously listed and I think it finds a good balance between giving us a lot of information and giving us too much.


MY THOUGHTS

I think this is really useful resource for a blogger, or indeed anyone who has a burning desire to work out how often the Five drank gingerbeer  (if you include ginger-pop they have it in ten books) without reading all 21 books.

It works best on a computer or a kindle touch (it may work on the older Kindle but I haven’t tested that) as I imagine it could be tedious to find things otherwise. On a computer you can browse the contents and click on 03. Plants, which takes you to chapter 3, a break down of the entries associated with plants. From there you can click on cornflower and you’ll end up in chapter C, which is part of the full alphabetical listing.

Or you can bypass that and search the book for a word or phrase. If you had a real book you would have to use it more like a dictionary and flip through to find the Cs and cornflowers. Not the end of the world, certainly, but the index on a computer makes it easier to browse and look up random subjects of interest.

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Monday #255

Bourne End

And

Dissecting the Magic of Enid Blyton (by Liam Martin)

Hollow Tree House, a tale of two neglected and abused children who run away to live an idyllic – if brief – life in a hollow tree. It’s a less in depth version of main story of The Secret Island, but it has many charming moments and a few suspenseful ones too.

Diana Lynton from the Barney Mysteries is a strong, wilful character – when she’s not mooning around that is. No, I don’t mean she bares her bottom! She has a bit of a day-dream from time to time, though. She’s probably dreaming of a bit of time away from her dull(ish) brother Roger and extremely annoying cousin Snubby. She manages to keep those two in hand, though she often takes a back seat in adventures being the only girl, and she takes motherly care of Barney when he turns up.

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Blyton Bites: Jam Tarts from the Jolly Good Food Book

The Jolly Good Food book, by Allegra McEvedy was new out last year and we haven’t gotten around to looking at it, but I thought I’d share a recipe with you from it, for everyone to try!

Ingredients – For the pastry

  • 225g plain flour, extra for dusting
  • 110g unsalted butter – cut into pieces
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 orange
  • 1 egg beaten
  • sea salt

 

 

Ingredients – for the filling

  • 24 teaspoons of your favourite jams (I assume you don’t actually need 24 teaspoons!)
  • 1 egg yolk beaten

You will also need two 12 holed tart tins and a pastry cutter.

Steps:

  1. Pastry – put the flour in a mixing bowl and add the butter cubes. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour so it looks like breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the caster sugar, pinch of salt and finely grated orange peel.
  3. Pour in the beaten egg and mix into the breadcrumb mix.
  4. Bring the pastry together into a ball ad wrap it in cling film. Put it in the fridge and leave to chill for 30mins or a bit longer if you have time.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius/160 fan/ gas mark 4. When the time is up, take the pastry from the fridge, roll it out to about 0.5cm thick.
  6. Using the cutter, cut out 24 rounds of pastry. Place and press these down into the trays.
  7. Use a fork and prick the bottom of the tart case and then start putting your jam into each case.
  8. Using a pastry brush, brush the eggwash along the edges of the pastry so its nice and golden when its cooked.
  9. Pop in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden and the jam is bubbling and oozy.
  10. Take them out of the oven and leave to sit in the tin for a few minute, then sing a palette knife to get them out and then on a wire rack.

So there we are, Allegra McEvedy’s jam tarts. Do you think they’d be worthy of  our Enid Blyton heroes? I suggest we make them and see. Other recipes can be found in Jolly Good Food.

An alternative jam tart recipe can be found in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brockett.

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The Enchanted Wood part 2

So here we are, ready to see what lands the children will visit and what other strange characters they will meet.


THE FIRST LAND AND THE SLIPPERY-SLIP

Arriving at the top of the tree the children creep through a hole in the clouds and find themselves in The Roundabout Land. All ideas of just peeking at it were clearly forgotten! The land is playing a tune like you hear on roundabouts, and then the land starts to swing around. I think we can see why it’s called the Roundabout Land already.

The Faraway Tree’s top branch is lost and the children need help from some rabbits to escape. They meet Moon-Face once they are back in the tree and use his slippery-slip to slide quickly back to the ground. Moon-Face is a bit of a strange one (like anyone in this book is normal!) he seems very jolly and kind but demands payment in toffee for the use of his slide.


THE NEXT ADVENTURE(S)

I had thought the book would be very episodic with a new land every chapter (like Mr Pink Whistle meets a new child every chapter) but I was wrong. The Land of Ice and Snow lasts for five chapters. Jo goes up alone (having learnt nothing from the last time) and ends up trapped by the mad snowman who is king of the land. The rescue involves a trip for Moon-Face and the other children to see Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a snowball fight and a very cosy cottage. There are shades of The Rat-a-Tat Mystery in it for definite. Moon-Face isn’t all bad then, and of course it has a happy ending.

As Moon-Face handled the rescue of Jo, it’s only fair that the children rescue him when he is trapped in the Land of the old Saucepan Man, even though they had planned to take a break from visiting any lands at the top of the tree.

It’s here I think I started to think how dark the idea is, that you go up a tree and into a strange land… and if you don’t come down quickly enough then the land sails off with you stuck on it forever! There’s no mention of times I don’t think so it seems madness to enter a land that might disappear with you on it in five hours or maybe only five minutes! They do say there’s a new land every day so perhaps they are there for 24 hours which would mean you had some warning, but it’s still scary stuff despite being handled very lightly by Blyton.


THE SAUCEPAN MAN COMES TO VISIT

As of yet I don’t know why the Saucepan Man is covered in saucepans. He’s not made of them, he just wears them all over himself. This makes him quite deaf (perhaps selectively so at times) so there are a lot of good laughs to be had at him mishearing things.

Perhaps they also make him a bit stupid, as next thing he turns up at the children’s home! Now he’s not a talking rabbit or an elf or anything otherwordly but he’s incredibly odd all the same and you’d think there’d be some sort of rule about not being seen by any grown ups. Children are generally OK, most books and films have child characters helping or getting involved with otherwise secret species. But when grown-ups find out there are Borrowers under the floorboards that’s when it all goes wrong and they end up exploited or hunted.

Mother finds the Saucepan Man quite queer but is happy for her children to go talk to him in the garden so that she can get on with the washing, and then she lets them go off with him for the afternoon. Perhaps she is doing what so many grown-ups do when faced with the completely bizarre and unexplainable, she’s thinking she has imagined or exaggerated the weirdness and he is just an ordinary travelling saucepan sales-man.

Referring back to my comments about the land(s) potentially disappearing with you on them, the opposite has now happened. The Land of the old Saucepan Man has gone, and left the Saucepan Man behind! So either there isn’t a set time or the Saucepan Man is so addled he forgot about it.

The land he and the others end up on is one that rocks and rolls and causes everyone to tumble about and it’s quite a feat to escape.


Blyton’s ‘fantasy’ books aren’t my favourites of hers, I prefer her mystery/adventure, school and family titles (in that order) but I can see why children would love the Faraway Tree. There are some very clever ideas for lands already and a lot of funny moments.

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Monday #254

I am trying something new for Mondays as of today! Monday will now feature a few little snippets like quotes, characters or books plus of course the all important ‘what we will be writing’ now known as topics of the week. 



Coming up we have:

The Enchanted Wood

and

Blytonian Food

(a nice little accidental rhyme for you there!)


“Don’t forget Bill Smugs!”

Who could forget Bill? Even if he does change his name from Smugs to Cunningham to (Dr) Walker. He’s in all eight Adventure Series books too, so if you haven’t read about good old Bill, why not start with The Island of Adventure where he is using the name of Smugs, and find out more about him?

Bill Smugs/Cunningham, of the Adventure Series, drawn by Stuart Tresilian


Well it has to be Kirrin Island, doesn’t it? That most idyllic place with cute rabbits, sandy beaches, a ruined castle, an old wreck dank dungeons and on more than one occasion dangerous baddies. Not that any baddies are a serious problem if you’ve got the Five with you! Just remember to ask George’s permission before you go, or you might find yourself in a spot of bother.

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The Enchanted Wood

For those who are unaware – I have a shameful secret. I have never read The Enchanted Wood or any of the other Faraway Tree books. Take away my Famous Five Club badge and don’t tell me the next password for the Secret Seven’s shed, that is how heinous a crime I have committed.

But here I am about to put it right! I have all three in early(ish) hardbacks – one of them even has a dustjacket! – but I never had them as a child so that’s my excuse.


WHAT DO I ALREADY KNOW?

I may not have read the books but I have a rough idea what they are about. Three children visiting a magical tree called The Faraway Tree, and at the top they can visit whichever magical land is there at the time. I believe sometimes they have wonderful fun and other times get themselves into trouble. I have read many a mention of the tree’s features like the slippery-slip, and its inhabitants like Dame Slap, Moonface, Silky the Elf and the Angry Pixie so let us sally forth and meet them properly!


JO, FANNY AND BETH

Jo is not short for Josephine as in other Blyton titles, as Jo is a boy and the older brother to Fanny and Beth. The three are typical Blyton children from the outset – they can’t wait to move from their smelly, dirty town and into the countryside.

You won’t have any more adventures in the country than you will have in the town. I dare say you’ll find it all very dull.

– Father

Well, I expect he will be proved very wrong, don’t you?


THE ENCHANTED WOOD

Their adventures start the next day when they go exploring and discover a mysterious wood where the trees say wisha-wisha-wisha-wisha-wisha.

Its name is actually The Enchanted Wood, that’s not just what the children call it.

A week after moving, they finally get to visit the wood with their packet of sandwiches and a bottle of milk. They supplement this with some wild strawberries and as they sit to eat a very strange thing happens. Six toadstools grow out of the ground before their eyes. They may be town children but they know that this isn’t normal. The wood doesn’t just feel magic – it IS magic.

This is proven without a doubt when along come a group of brownies.


THE FARAWAY TREE

They stumble upon the tree when they chase an ugly gnome up it, having stopped him stealing the brownies’ bag. The brownies are afraid of the tree and warn the children not to climb it – as you never know where you will end up.

Naturally the children ignore this! Jo, as the boy, worries about keeping his sisters safe but he reasons they can’t get into too much trouble if they only look at the land at the top of the tree.

Only it isn’t that easy to find the tree! I’m desperate to know what land they visit first but first they get stuck because the trees are too close to get through, then they find a pond with yellow water. I can only imagine that either grown-ups never venture into the woods or they somehow can’t see the weird things that go on in there!

They end up calling on the brownies for help – and we get a funny but unusual bit of humour from Blyton.

I didn’t think rabbits got the measles said Bessie, astonished.

They more often get the weasels, said Mr. Whiskers. Weasels are even more catching than measles as far as rabbits are concerned.

He grinned as if he had made a huge joke, but as the children had no idea that weasels were savage little animals that caught rabbits, they didn’t laugh.

The measles/weasels joke is a funny one on its own, and I’m sure Blyton just wanted to explain what a weasel was to her audience but it ends up as quite dry humour ending on ‘the children didn’t laugh’.

As soon as they climb the tree they discover it’s not an ordinary tree – beyond the fact it branches into magic lands, I mean! It grows acorns but also conkers. And it has windows!


THE FOLK OF THE FARAWAY TREE

Behind the window is our first denizen of the Faraway Tree – the Angry Pixie. As his name suggests he is not happy to find three children climbing past his house. He throws water at them and complains that people are always peeping into his window when they pass.

Undeterred they decide to knock at the next house, which has a little yellow door. That’s brave of them!

It is Silky who lives there so they are quite safe. She invites them in and offers them pop biscuits, which actually go ‘pop’ when you eat them and fill your mouth with honey.

Silky tells them about other inhabitants like Mister Watzisname who doesn’t know his own name and Dame Washalot who does a lot of washing and pours water down the tree. On their way up they see the former asleep and snoring and the latter pours her water right down on Bessie.


 

This is such an important book that I’d like to do it justice and therefore I’ll split my review into a few parts. So far I’m intrigued to see what lands the children will visit and to see more of the characters whose names I’ve heard so many times.

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Monday #253

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January Round Up

January has just flown by (for me anyway!) so here’s what we got up to:


WHAT I HAVE READ

I’ve made a start on my goal of reading 52 books this year – but I must try harder to pick up a book instead of my phone when I’ve got time to myself.

  • The Return of Beau Peep (Beau Peep #20) – Roger Kettle and Andrew Christine
  • The Enchanted Wood – which I have reviewed in three parts for you!
  • Curse of the Lion’s Heart (Alexandra Fry, Private Eye #1) – Angella Graff

I read to Brodie:

  • An Evening at Alfie’s – Shirely Hughes
  • Alfie Gives a Hand – Shirley Hughes

I’m still reading:

  • A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time #2) – Madeleine L’Engle (audiobook)
  • The Faith Trials – Buffy TV Tie-in
  • Bundle of Trouble (Maternal Instincts Mystery #1) – Diana Orgain

 


WHAT FIONA HAS WATCHED

  • Hollyoaks (it gets sillier every week but I’m still watching)
  • More ER – we are on season 12 of 15 so we’ll run out soon!
  • Only Connect
  • Friends and Buffy are often on in the background as they are rerun on TV.
  • I made it to the cinema to see the latest Star Wars too!
  • Completed my Famous Five jigsaw, but there was a piece missing!
  • Shopped for more 6-9 month clothing for Brodie as he is almost six months (how??).

 


WHAT FIONA HAS DONE

  • Started a circuit class (!!) which I can take Brodie to. He plays, I do the circuits.
  • Started Weight Watchers to help get me back into shape.
  • Gone to Rhyme Time and Busy Babies most weeks.
  • Watched Brodie learn to roll over, babble and start to really examine and interact with toys and anything he can get his little hands on.

WHAT STEF HAS READ

I haven’t been in the frame of mind to read much recently, so I’m struggling here. As you know I’ve still not finished reviewing the Katherine Woodfine book “The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow” so that is still on my reading list, along with Sarah Millican’s “How to be Champion” and Sara Sheridan’s “Russian roulette”.

I ought to do my Goodreads challenge and try and challenge myself to get back into reading. Has anyone else apart from Fiona done it? What is your target to read this year?

 


WHAT STEF HAS WATCHED

I’ve mostly been watching Movies again but a little bit of TV has gotten in there as well:

  • Marvel’s Spiderman Homecoming
  • Disney’s Mulan
  • Vikings
  • Top Gear Specials
  • Taskmaster repeats
  • Marvel’s Antman
  • Marvel’s Iron Man 3

WHAT STEF HAS DONE

I’ve tried to keep busy this month:

  • I did a Race at Your Pace — where you run a set distance over the month in increments if needed. I ran 25 miles throughout Janurary
  • Started learning to play the fantasy roleplay game Dungeons and Dragons
  • And tried to get used to my new working hours

 

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Enid Blyton Fund for Seven Stories

It’s a time ago now, but Seven Stories had a blog in which they talked about the huge Enid Blyton memorabilia they received in a massive auction lot, way back in the distant past. This blog’s worth looking at if you never got to go to the exhibition and to see what went on behind the scenes.

Seven Stories' Enid Blyton Blog

We are thrilled to announce a new £¾m fund to benefit the work of Seven Stories, which has been founded thanks to the Enid Blyton Trust for Children.  Its Trustees have decided to wind up the Enid Blyton Trust for Children and donate its assets to set up a permanent fund at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. This fund will support the work of Seven Stories for years to come.

An Enid Blyton Trust for Children trustee explained their decision, “Seven Stories is a truly inspiring place. We know that we have made the right decision and believe that Enid herself would feel very happy with everything Seven Stories is doing for her, her work and for the children”.  This new Fund deepens Seven Stories’ connection with Enid Blyton and her outstanding contribution to children’s literature in Britain.  Grants from the Enid Blyton Fund for Seven Stories at Community Foundation…

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Another look at people searching for Blyton

This blog idea just keeps on giving – just about every time I look at our search terms I find something funny or interesting (but mostly funny!). The other plus is that these posts are fairly quick to write and don’t require lots of research. I’ll probably still have to write it in chunks, as my little boy is only amused by his vibrating chair or gym mat for so long, but at least I’m writing. I hope you’re not all fed up of posts about search terms by now, though!


MORE MADE UP BOOKS, FILMS AND AUTHORS

Some of these are just typos clearly, but they make for some funny reading.

There was a book called the isle of gloom. No, not quite. There is a book about the Isle Of Gloom though, that would probably do.

Then there was the upper fourth at malort towers, that well-known Blyton boarding school. And of course her most famous character – Nody, in nody has advanchers. 

And a couple which combine with the next topic, pfd the mestry of the missing neckless main point, famous five go to mystery moor full movie download and kirrin island blyton films. 

I assume the last one refers to the Children’s Film Foundation serialisation of Five on a Treasure Island (the other one doesn’t feature Kirrin). The first probably wants an illegal PDF of The Mystery of the Missing Necklace. (I’m getting my come-uppance for making fun of other people’s spellings already, it took me a couple of goes to spell mystery correctly there! But I haven’t had an unbroken night’s sleep in the best part of a year so I can be forgiven, yes?)

And the middle term must mean the TV episode of Five Go to Mystery Moor, but 70s or 90s who knows!

And lastly someone wanted poems written by edith blyton

 


PDFS (OR IS THAT PFDS?) AND OTHER ILLEGAL COPIES

As always there are more requests for downloads of books, TV episodes and movies (that mostly don’t exist)

second form at malory towers read online

Some don’t even get spaces as with theboynextdoorenidblytonpdf (funny how they can specify the format, though.)

I always wonder why people click onto our blog when they are searching for the full text or episode. It should be clear from the little blurb that Google gives that we are only discussing the original works.


FANFICTION

Fanfiction remains popular with some pretty normal requests like fanfiction alicia johns, famous five sniffer and george fanfiction, malory towers fanfic junes diary and famous five fanfiction romance julian. 

It’s interesting that people have some very specific ideas about what fanfics they hope to find. Pairings or characters are common to look for but scenarios and unusual pairings are much less likely to get results. I tend to find browsing by author or series with fanfic on proper fanfic sites will get you much further.

Anyway, there were also a few odd searches including famous five fanfiction injuries and finder outers spanking fanfic. That first one sounds like the Famous Five were injured by writing fanfiction, with papercuts all around, and the second… well, let’s not go there – but there’s even more spanking in my next section!


I DON’T EVEN KNOW, BUT SOME OF IT SEEMS WRONG

  • six persons illustrations five brexit islan – Did six persons actually illustrate this book? I don’t see how as they have Soper’s originals and a new cover artist and that adds up to two.
  • speak in ryme all the time spanker – More spanking and also speaking in r(h)yme?
  • naughty amelia .com – yep, not the sort of site we are at all
  • what is the term bluton and wegon – I’m not even sure these are real words.
  • enid blyton poem standerd3 with lyrics – Blyton’s standard, sorry, standerd poems… with lyrics. Right.
  • ebcoin and ebcoin.com – I know why this leads here as I once mocked up a pound coin with Blyton’s face on it for fun and called it ebcoin. I don’t know what a real ebcoin is but I don’t think we would have been helpful for this person (or people).

  • i want to make barley sugar? – Do you? Are you sure? Well, we do have a recipe for it when you work out what you want.
  • english ch- mystery of the missing necklace with ques ans – I’m not sure what english ch is, but I think ques ans might mean questions.

TRANSLATION REQUIRED

We’ve had a few searches which have foreign words in them, I suspect some might be Indonesian (but I could be miles off). It’s nice to see Blyton so popular around the world but I wish I knew what they meant!

  • the mystery of the missing necklace ka saransh
  • saran three cheers secret seven
  • jemima rooper famous five hentali

ACTUAL SENSIBLE SEARCHES 

Before you think that every that comes here is looking for the weird or wonderful we also get some normal searches too!

Someone wanted to know about the parents of Julian Kirrin – not that surprising as they barely feature in the books and their surname is unclear.

Others were looking for Enid Blyton’s quotes on jealousy, Mrs Glump’s shortbread, and asking where is Tauri Hessia?

And one of my favourites, wherever we go only the brave will follow. Which as I am sure you all know is a line from the Adventure Series theme song. It was so worth me playing it over and over to type out the lyrics!

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Monday #252

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Reblog: Five Go off to Camp by March House Books

In a change to the schedule, I thought it was best to bring you something rather than nothing given my no show last week. I’m struggling a lot at the moment to write and read due to work stress and depression,  so this is proving quite difficult for me. I apologise.

March House books have provided a lovely walk down memory lane in taking a look at Five go off to Camp (one of my favourite Famous Fives). I hope you’ll enjoy Barbara Fisher’s words.

The link can be found here: March House Books Blog – Five Go Off to Camp

Blytonfivegoofftocamp.jpg

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If you like Blyton: Mischief at Midnight by Esme Kerr

Mischief at Midnight is set at Knight’s Haddon, a girls’ boarding school, and the first chapter or two sounds rather like Malory Towers.


ON THE SURFACE

The language is different – but it has a clear posh boarding school sounds – for example most of the  girls are just back from some rather ‘brillo-pad’ holidays. Malory Towers girls would have gone for smashing or wizard (especially in the lower forms.)

There are familiar things like dormitories though Knight’s Haddon’s hold four girls each , and there are two dormitories holding our main characters. When the story starts the girls are settling in, all organised as to who is in which dorm when Matron comes along to ruin it all.

There’s a new girl joining, in the middle of the school year too, and she is to be put in with Edie (our main character) while her best friend Anastasia goes next door.

Matron is just like a Blyton matron – no nonsense! The headmistress, Miss Fotheringay, is more approachable than the kind but rarely seen Miss Grayling.

She has an even closer relationship with Edie than the other girls, even having her to stay in the holidays as she is an orphan. Edie dares to see the headmistress to complain about the dormitory change, and is told that the new girl has been taken on at very short notice, from a bad circumstance, rather like the orphaned Edie herself. (This is actually the second book in the series so I don’t know how much of Edie’s backstory is known at this point). Edie is therefore to take this Janet under her wing.

And so Janet arrives and immediately stakes a claim to the role of Elizabeth Allen (the Naughtiest Girl, to bring another series into the mix). She is not happy to be at Knight’s Haddon, and intends to behave as badly as possible to be sent home. Soon she is picking up order marks by the score for being late to class and breaking any other rule she can think of.


THE OTHER STORY LINE

The other main story involves Anastasia, who is the daughter of a rich and famous Russian. In the previous book someone tried to kidnap her, and she and Edie hid out at a nearby tower which the school has used for sleepovers. The big news here is that the tower has been sold. Unbeknownst to most of the girls, it is Anastasia’s father who has bought the tower and surrounding land so her mother can keep an eye on her. In a fit of rebelliousness, Anastasia decides she is going to celebrate her birthday by taking a sneaky trip to a gypsy fair being held ten miles from the school.


BACK TO BLYTON

So far, it’s all sounding reasonably Blytonian, isn’t it? The surprise for me came in the second chapter when it’s revealed that this is not in fact the 1950s. It is the present (or at least very recent) day. Knight’s Haddon has banned all technology, however, which is a neat way for the author to get around many of the problems that modern technology throws into books that hope to have any air of mystery in them. There are no mobile phones, and the only computers are for the exclusive use of the sixth formers.

The girls all have quite old-fashioned names, Edie (Edith), Anastasia, Sally, Alice, Janet, Belinda (who draws caricatures and sketches like Belinda Morris), Rose and Phoebe, and perhaps because they are all rather posh they manage to sound like they’re from the 50s anyway. Rose in particular sounds very much like Helen George playing Trixie from Call the Midwife.


AT THE FAIR

At the fair there is a strange group of young men there to protest the destruction of the woods around the prefects’ tower. Not much trouble ensues though, until a drunk follows the girls and thrusts a basket containing two ferrets on them, asking them to pass them on to Josie (whoever she may be, he must think she goes to the same school as the girls as he recognises their logo on a rucksack). Anastasia wants to keep the ferrets and manages to smuggle them back to the school even though the girls are found at the fair by Mrs Fotheringay and another teacher and escorted back.


FERRETS!

The next part of the book revolves mostly around the ferrets. Anastasia is gated for the rest of term – meaning she can’t leave the school grounds, but she is also banned from the animal house (like Whyteleaf the girls have a big shed where they can keep pets like rabbits or indeed ferrets). That doesn’t stop her sneaking out to see Precious and Treasure (I kid you not). It’s around now that she starts to seem quite spoiled and annoying and I wonder why Edie is such friends with her – but there was some sort of explanation at the start that they stuck up for each other as neither truly fit in. At this point though it seems Anastasia rather uses Edie.

She also blames Edie for them getting caught – accusing her of tattling to the headmistress. For that reason she is instructed to pretend the ferrets are hers, so that they can be kept. Miss Fotheringay sees through that, but lets the ferrets stay anyway. On one hand Anastasia is pleased, but on the other, she feels this just backs up her idea that Edie is Miss F’s pet.


THE RETURN OF JANET

Janet comes back into the story now too, and starts seeming like a better person. She adores the ferrets and spend a lot of time properly playing with and taking care of them (unlike Anastasia who wants to pamper and cuddle them). This leads to even more strife between Edie and Anastasia as the latter feels Edie and Janet are trying to steal her pets (made worse by Janet renaming them Thing One and Thing Two).

Then two mysterious things happen: first, Janet is very worried when she hears the ferrets were meant for a girl called Josie, and then, in the middle of the night, someone sneaks down and sets the ferrets loose.

Anastasia immediately blames Edie, as Edie had (perhaps foolishly) said she’d like to set them loose and be done with them. Despite appearing as a bit of a misfit, who needed Edie, Anastasia turns practically the whole school against her. It doesn’t help that Edie’s dressing gown was found the next morning, covered in mud at the bottom.

Janet is the only one on her side, but the mystery around her is deepening. Her mother turns up, in a helicopter no less, bad mouths Janet to the other girls then whisks her off for an afternoon. Janet then gets dumped on a train to come back. Janet then sneaks out to town when she’s supposed to be in lunch but refuses to tell Edie why.


 

I’ll stop there, and continue in another post, as this has gotten a lot longer than I intended!

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Monday #251

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Putting the Barney Mysteries in Order

As discussed in perhaps tedious detail, I didn’t have all the Barney Mysteries when I was younger. The Rilloby Fair Mystery was one I know I didn’t have, but I’m not sure which of the others I definitely even read as a kid.

Anyway, as always let me start with my favourite and work my way down the list.


THE WINNER IS…

My absolute favourite Barney book is The Ring O Bell’s Mystery. It has all the requisite elements of a good mystery – a shifty character, a rude and difficult custodian, a secret passage, strange noises in the night and a few mysterious tales from long-ago times.

I love the way the old tales are woven into modern times, and while believing that a local woman is a fairy-tale witch might sound silly, it works in the dreamy environment of Ring O Bells.

The drowning of the boy is actually a bit dark for Blyton, I always think, but it adds a really creepy element to the story and extra fear and danger to the journey through the secret passage at the end of the book.


NEXT UP

I am putting the first book into second place – the first in any series will come near the top for most people I would imagine.

The Rockingdown Mystery also has a creepy and mysterious tale from long-ago, and again it’s a little dark with the deaths of two small children. It also features an underground passage and noises in the night but these are cleverly supplemented with a suspicious tutor and a bit of kidnapping to form an exciting mystery story. It’s a pity Mr King couldn’t have cropped up in other books, I think he could have made a good Bill-like character and been perhaps a better role model for the boys than Mr Lynton!


A HARDER CHOICE

I went back and forth a bit here, trying to choose between The Rubadub Mystery and The Rilloby Fair Mystery. Both are pretty strong (though rather different) books. In the end I have gone for The Rubadub Mystery for third place.

Over-all Rubadub is probably the stronger book, but I find it hard to love it as I find it quite hard to read through the callous treatment of Barney at the hands of Mr Marvel. It’s just awful when he realises he has been double-crossed and isn’t going to meet his father after all. (Of course they do make up for that in the end.)

Apart from that unpleasantness, though, there is plenty of humour in this book (perhaps more than the others) what with the guests at the Rubadub Inn and the two dogs. Snubby is irritating as always but at least he’s irritating a number of even more irritating people!


AND OF COURSE

That means that The Rilloby Fair Mystery comes next. Rilloby Fair has a lot of strong points – the amusing stuffing-up of Great-Uncle Robert with the Green Hands Gang, the inclusion of a travelling fair with its stalls, animals and terrifying boss, a very solid ‘locked room’ mystery and some satisfying night-time adventures. The reason it comes lower down for me is that it’s a pretty homely and safe mystery on the whole. The children set out from their own home each day and are never really at the mercy of any of their enemies. It’s funny, as Kirrin adventures with the Famous Five can perhaps be ‘homelier’ and ‘safer’ than some of their others but I love them all the same – the location is special in its own right in a way that the Lyntons’ house in a regular old village can’t compete with.


KNOCKED DOWN TO FIFTH

Is the Rat-A-Tat Mystery. I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry. The Rat-A-Tat Mystery could have been great. The setting is perfect – the four children snowed into an old house with just the housekeeper/cook between them and smugglers… yet it falls a bit flat. The whole walking snowman part is silly and spoils what could have been quite a scary time in the book. The criminals seem particularly dumb throughout, in fact so it’s less of a feat for the children to have beat them.


LAST PLACE FOR THE LAST BOOK

I think most people agree that The Ragamuffin Mystery is a bit of a disappointing end to the series. There are actually some elements I very much like – for example, Snubby dressed as a ragamuffin fisherboy accidentally receiving a coded message isn’t too dissimilar to the Two Trees message ending up in Dick’s hands in Five on a Hike Together. It is perhaps a trifle more contrived but for me it works.

Unfortunately the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the start. Mr Llewellyn is a poor criminal even with the backing of his two friends from London. I think you should either make your baddies entirely evil and despicable or truly deserving of the reades’ sympathy and understanding in a book like this. It’s fine to have more ambiguous baddies (for example Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books) when you have time to develop a character and flesh out their motives and history, but in The Ragamuffin Mystery we just get a weak baddie who we neither despise or feel sorry for.

The end is also pretty luke-warm, despite involving a secret passage. It’s just not utilised to its full potential.


So there you have it – my ranking of the Barney Mysteries! What would your order look like?

 

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Monday #250

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