We were sitting at a table at the White Horse pub in Beckenham taking a well-earned break from exploring Enid’s various childhood homes when I noticed the book.
Stef was looking at a very familiar object – a book whose iconic cover could only suggest the name Enid Blyton and The Island of Adventure. I felt a Gollum-like urge to pick it up and peruse the pages I knew so well. Stuttering a request to do so I picked it up and was immediately lost in the world of Blyton’s four intrepid children and their voluble companion, Kiki. After a while I reluctantly returned the volume to Stef realising with a start that it caused me some pain to do so. I was faced with the realisation that I was addicted to Enid, more specifically to the ‘Adventure’ series – in fact I loved them!
Why should this be? What quirk of nature had made me so susceptible to these books? My mind went back 57 years to the year 1956 when a very young timid Francis was coping with the vicissitudes of being at Plymton Junior School. One day a girl I liked was reading this strange, exotically illustrated volume and I asked her what it was called. “The Mountain of adventure” she replied “and it’s the best thing I have ever read”. I looked in awe at the precious book and asked her where she had obtained such a treasure. “At the school library” she said. “You put your name down on the list and when it is returned and you are the next name on the list you may keep it for a week”.
Of course I immediately put my name down, finding that there were three names ahead of me (the most for any book – more ‘worthy’ volumes could be had straight away). The month I waited for my turn seemed the longest and slowest period of time I could ever remember. When the great day arrived I clutched the book to my chest and ran all the way home. After bolting down my tea (drawing criticism from my father) I spent the whole evening in my room reading the book. I fell in love with the children and parrot and thrilled to their exciting and dangerous adventures in the Welsh mountains. I think I read the book three times before reluctantly returning it to the school library. I have never felt again the sick excitement and rapidly beating heart that I experienced over this book. At least not with any other author’s works. I had become addicted for life. In future I would always return to Enid and the ‘Adventure’ books – after all they were my first and dearest love!
This is very well you might say but how does this relate to my current collecting habits? Well, like many other children in the 1950s, I could not afford to buy or own books. All the ones my sister and I read were from libraries – either the school, public or occasionally the Boots Lending Library (they had lots of Blyton books as they charged children a small sum and only stocked books that they actually wanted). This created a subconscious demand that could only be relieved in later years when I had my own money and the books started appearing in second-hand bookshops.
If you could look around our smallest bedroom (luckily you can’t!), you will see piles of hardback books from the golden age. Maybe five copies of ‘The Mountain of Adventure’, with four copies of ‘The Sea of Adventure’ (I love puffins), continuing to only one copy of ‘The Castle of Adventure’, ‘The Ship of Adventure’ and ‘ The River of Adventure’. The latter three books don’t have the same emotional resonance for me as I did not read them as a child. The same process continues with the ‘Famous Five’ books of which I have many copies of most of my favourites.
You will see from all this that I am not a well-balanced individual. Other Blyton books are notable for their absence – you will not find the ‘Mystery’ books, the schoolgirl stories or any of the other excellent series. I am taking therapy, however, meeting and talking to other members of the Forum, sharing their enthusiasms and making mental note of their recommendations. Please continue this process, everyone, I am attempting to become a person with more catholic tastes and interests and become more like you!
Editor’s Note: Therapy can be found on the Enid Blyton Society forum , so useful! 😉