The Secret Island – How has Blyton’s original text fared in a modern edition?

As promised here I am starting a new text comparison, this time of the first book in the Secret Series, The Secret Island. My original copy is a sixth impression from October 1949 (and has an inscription in the front from Christmas 1949 when the book was given to Pamela, by her ‘Uncle Wendy,’ or at least that’s what it looks like!) The paperback is an Award one from 2009.

Starting, as you do, at the very start of the book, the first difference is that there is no end-paper illustration in the paperback, or vignette on the title page. Modern books so rarely have these lovely pictures which is a shame. Also, the Roman numerals have been removed. There are no chapter numbers in the paperback in fact, though all twenty-one chapter titles are unaltered.


The first change, which seems to be quite common is that the double quotation makes for speech are replaced with single ones. I always think double ones are clearer.

For some reason the single line after the first paragraph has been merged into the opening paragraph in the paperback. I can’t really see why.

Very quickly we get into the problem that the original text refers to Nora being slapped. She says Aunt Harriet slapped me six times this morning because I didn’t wash the curtains well enough. Look! This is replaced with yelled at me six times. Look! Originally she then shows Jack her arm, red with slaps. This is changed to her hands which were red and sore from all the washing.

Later when Mike says he hates to see the girls slapped and worked hard, it becomes bullied and worked hard.

And later, another line is drastically altered from Nora got a few more slaps and Peggy was scolded so hard she cried bitterly into her overall, to Nora got shouted at again, and Peggy was in such trouble she cried bitterly for hours. So slaps becomes a shouting-at, that’s expected really, but why has a scolding becomes trouble? And why can’t a girl doing cleaning wear an overall? It could easily have been changed to an apron or dress, why make it a time period instead?

Not all mentions of violence are removed though. In both copies Mike says that his uncle shook me so hard I couldn’t stand up afterwards. Likewise, the phrase no unkind aunt and uncle to slap them appears in both. I’m not sure either of these can be seen as any more acceptable to the editors so I assume they were somehow missed somewhere in the process.

The rest of the changes are quite minor really. The usual hyphenations become one word like to-day, good-bye and to-night, hallo Jack becomes hello Jack, and Granpa becomes Grandpa. I’m sure you can argue many ways that Grandpa is more correct but surely people are allowed to choose their own names for their grandparents? Be it Grandpop, Pop-pop, Paw-paw, Grandad, Granddad, Grandaddy… Granpa is pronounced a little differently from Grandpa and is a different name. Finally, some emphasis and excitement is lost when we must, must, see the secret island becomes just must, must (the second must losing its italics).

One change which may turn out to be a simple error comes when the children are being described. Nora is described as having a head of black curls originally, which matches the illustrations in both books, but in the paperback she is blonde in the text. Peggy also has blonde hair instead of yellow. It will be interesting to see if the hair colour changes back later.


A few more references to slapping are removed. Instead of looking forward to being safe from the slappings and scoldings, it becomes from shouting and unhappiness. Also, Peggy originally says she doesn’t care how much we are slapped or scolded now and this becomes shouted at now. 

A spelling error is corrected too, as Jack in the hardback has them bale out and baling out the water from the boat, this is altered to bail out and bailing out. I admit I did a quick Google just to check, and the difference is explained as bale is correct for bundles of hay for example as it is from an old German word connected with ball. Bailing out is spelled so because it’s from the French for bucket – baille.

Somewhat unusually (in my experience anyway) the paperback has a fair number of illustrations. There is one decent sized one in each of the first two chapters (compared to six small ones in the hardback). Unfortunately, in my opinion, they are fairly poor especially when compared with E.H Davie’s originals. The cover is lovely, as expected as it was by the great illustrator Val Biro (who sadly passed away recently aged 92), but the internal illustrations are by a chap called Dudley Wynne. I’ll take a few photos of them just to show you what I mean.

Wynne’s are much more heavily drawn and shaded and the children (especially Nora) have odd-looking faces. E.H. Davie manages to put much more detail in too. I’ve had a flick through the paperback and the illustrations don’t seem to improve so I will probably share some of the worst in later posts.

Anyway, I make that sixteen changes to the text (if you count all hyphen removal as one). It will be interesting to see if there are as many in later chapters as they will be removed from the slappings and shakings and scoldings then. This updated text doesn’t seem to go as far as some others does in terms of gender equality (at least not yet) as Mike still takes on the burden of making the decision about running away despite the fact Peggy is the oldest. And he sits and wonders if the girls will manage, roughing it on the island without proper beds.

And I will leave it there for this week.

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10 Responses to The Secret Island – How has Blyton’s original text fared in a modern edition?

  1. Dale Vincero says:

    Thanks for the review, Fiona. Not surprised the modern edition has been through this “cleansing” process. I have read both books in this series. Interesting how the same theme of caves/secret hiding places and animals come through in most of Blyton’s novels. To be expected I suppose. I would be the same, allowing my world view to come alive in the stories I wrote.


  2. Naveed says:

    Not sure this is relevant, but though I loved this story there was something by which I was really..really put off. That is on the island when Jack hunts and kills rabbits for all the children to eat. The whole rationale he evokes to doing so and the fact that the children actually eat them really put me off. Also I know that Blyton was very enamoured and caring towards animals–and also rabbits. So this really jarred on me that she could include such a happening. I know the times were different, but I thought so was Blyton. She seems to have let down her scruples and thinking on this one.
    Are the rabbit offered to the children for eating scene(s) in the modern version as well?


    • fiona says:

      The rabbit catching/eating scenes are present in both editions Naveed. I’m not sure I can agree with you about Blyton letting down her scruples, though. The children also catch fish to eat – is this morally wrong? Both are caught as humanely as possible and eaten out of necessity, just as they eat sausages and meat pies and so on when they are off the island.


      • Naveed says:

        Can’t say I agree with you fiona. I think Blyton did let down her scruples, especially in the context of Enid Blyton referencing something about animals. I think it is safe to state that she wrote (or typed) many stories about animals or books that had varied types (even as characters). Cats, dogs, monkeys, horses come immediately to mind. No-where did she really seem to emphathize with ill-treatment or killing them.
        Furthermore was it really necessary for the children to eat the bunnies in this book? They were not starving. There was the fish and other food. I would also question the humane killing. How do you humanely kill a rabbit on an island like that? I mean you are going to hurt the thing for sure before they die no matter what….. NO I am against what happened, and more to our point here I think that Blyton really let herself down. If I am not incorrect there were two separate mentions of the rabbit incidents. In the second one the other children actually discuss and ruminate on it….and it is stated that they had no appetite, despite Jack rationalizing it. Blyton seems to have thrown her let-down, and then still seemed to see herself as being fair and impartial on the issue.
        Let me end by saying this….if this incident about the rabbit killing was put out and publicized before anyone could read her other innumerable nature books….I think there would be a definite contrast…and let down to the readers of the same.


        • fiona says:

          I think you – and briefly the children – have the same issue. Bunnies are sweet and cute and it therefore seems more wrong to eat them than some of the less attractive animals (this is also seen in conservation efforts where the cutest and most photogenic animals raise the most money, while the reptiles and insects and less attractive creatures barely get a mention). The children were entirely self sufficient for food and doing a great deal of physical activity so I think actually they would have required reasonable levels of protein in order to remain healthy – more than fish could provide them. As Jack says “you have often eaten rabbit-pie at home.” The difference being you don’t usually see your pie contents running around before you eat them. Blyton covers the killing and eating of animals in her various farm books – Children of Cherry Tree farm and The Six Cousins books spring to mind immediately, and also The Buttercup Farm Family. Pigs, cows, chickens and so on are raised for their produce and inevitably their meat. I haven’t read either title in a while but I believe the younger children in at least one story become sentimental over the farm animals and have to learn the lesson that they are not pets but destined for their plates.


          • Naveed says:

            I have read some of the books you mention for the first time…and very recently. The Six Cousins, the buttercup farm family don’t really deal with the farm animals being raised for their meat. Of course they ARE on a farm (as well as for their produce, as in eggs etc) , but I cant recall Blyton going into this issue–at least in any measure in the aforementioned books. None of the children went sentimental or anything. I have not read Children of Cherry tree farm.

            Yes of course you are right about differentiation between cute animals and others. My own stand is against even the less salubrious ones ending up in the pot. Personally even fish! However the prevailing notions seem to be OK with that….however today (I hope in general) killing bunnies would not be persona grata. At least with many folks, and as you say the cute factor is in play too with these folks….

            Anyway that bunny thing left a bad taste in my mouth…in an otherwise excellent book. I like The secret Island so much that I am trying to obtain an earlier edition (I read it via the 1960s Armada pbk). I have managed to obtain all the rest of the series…the other four books, of which The Secret of Killimooin is my next favourite (I have a 1st edition). That one should really have been titled “The secret of the forest”. Anyway lovely adventure with underground caverns and waterways through the mountain. I also like the fact that Eileen Sopper illustrated that one.


          • fiona says:

            I’m sure that Killimooin has been renamed in recent reprints – to something along the lines of The Secret Forest.


          • Naveed says:

            I believe this was Enid Blytons first FULLY fledged ‘adventure’ books or series? I think we can attribute the titling of that fourth book in the series as ‘secret of Killimooin’ due to this reason. Otherwise she would have made sure it was in synche with the other titling (as she did in her future adventure genre), and something along the lines of “Secret of the Forest” or “Secret of “Secret of the strange forest”. Anyway its a very good story.


  3. Naveed says:

    By the way I am not saying that there were not scenes and episodes of cruelty to animals in Blytons books and stories. But in anything else I have read, such attitudes and behaviour were clearly viewed to be wrong. Here in “The secret island” the bunny slaughter seems to have been rationalized by Jack (and Blyton herself). That is where the let-down occurs.


  4. Naveed says:

    –and to end from myself, I just acquired the 7th impression (October 1949) edition of “The Secret Island” for my collection as well. Very happy with this earlier copy.


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