In this final discussion of my top three Adventures I look at my number one choice, The Valley of Adventure. First published by Macmillan in 1947, it is the third of the series. The first edition dustjacket, by the ever-excellent Stuart Tresilian, looks like this:
My edition is a hardback without dustjacket, and is the 1957 reprint of the first edition:
As with the others in my top three (and the rest of the series) there are already many reviews of Valley: Keith Robinson’s on Enidblyton.net, Anita Bensoussane’s on the Enid Blyton Society site, from where the illustrations in the post are taken and on this site reviews by Fiona and by Stef. So I won’t give a plot summary but, in brief, the children are inadvertently flown to a valley in central Europe where they discover that a group of baddies are trying to recover looted art from the Second World War. This is hidden in subterranean caverns, guarded by elderly caretakers. Because access to the valley has been blocked by bombing, these caretakers do not know that the war is over. Philip manages to escape and alerts Bill Smugs, who flies his men to the valley, captures the baddies and reclaims the stolen artworks.
So here I focus on the positives and negatives of Valley. As regards negatives, that is easy: there really aren’t any. Well, perhaps there is one, but it is picky and is wrapped up inside what is undoubtedly a positive. That positive is that this Adventure has the strongest location in real events of any in the series, and perhaps any in the Blyton oeuvre apart from The Adventurous Four which I reviewed last year. It is set in ravaged post-war Europe (specifically Austria) and relates to a documented historical event, namely the Nazi looting of art. The picky negative is that Austria was not conquered militarily by the Nazis and so the bombing of the valley must have been the work of the Soviet army that liberated Austria at the end of the war, but in the story the earlier looting and the later bombing are depicted as having been by one and the same enemy. That the enemy were Nazis is confirmed by the fact that towards the end Bill says that the baddies – Juan, Luis and Pepi – are South Americans who had gained knowledge of the treasure from the many Nazis who fled there, again a documented historical fact.
Never mind, this is not a history textbook and at all events the baddies are more than plausible. What matters to us is the adventure and unlike other books in the series, Valley gets almost straight into it. The setup is very rapid, just enough to explain why the children are at an airfield and why they have plenty of clothes and blankets. Quickly they are stranded in the valley with only their own resources to rely on. True, the baddies have a huge supply of tinned food for the children to raid and so there is no need to worry on that score – Blyton always makes sure that meals are catered for – but otherwise things look grim.
Another positive is the absence of a negative. In the others in my top three the plot has in part relied on Philip’s taming of animals. Here, although his abilities are briefly mentioned, they do not form part of the plot. This is a real adventure, in which the children have no one to rely on but themselves. That is compounded by the fact that the sense of isolation in the valley is very strong, and the war-damaged buildings make for an eery setting. Again, this is a real adventure. And the nastiness of the villains is tangible, especially in the mistreatment of their prisoner, Otto, who gives the children crucial information. But the crowning glory of Valley is the fantastic description of the network of caves. Some of these give shelter the children and allow them access to a ledge behind a waterfall. Others turn out to house the treasure and its stay-behind guardians:
As in Castle and Mountain it is Philip who is the hero. He hides himself in the baddies’ aeroplane and in some of the best passages in the book finds himself in a remote Scottish village where he reports to an incredulous policeman, thus bringing Bill Smugs to the rescue. As with all Tresilian’s illustrations, this is a masterpiece. Look at the shocked expression on the policeman’s face, Philip’s dishevelled hair from the journey, but also the background detail of the notice about cattle behind the policeman and the Bakelite phone (which he presumably uses to call ‘the authorities’) at his right hand:
This is a densely-plotted, realistic, page-turning adventure. Even when re-read as an adult (as I did in preparing this post) it has genuine drama. But re-reading has also prompted another thought which is how much of my memory of the Adventures is bound up with the evocative quality of the illustrations. I don’t know if this is true for others but for me it seems to be the case.
Anyway, without any caveats at all Valley is by some way my favourite of the Adventure series, which are in turn my favourite Blyton books – with just one exception: the magnificent, yet overlooked, The Land of Far-Beyond which I hope to review in the future. It’s interesting that the other reviewers, mentioned above, all place Valley as their favourite or one of their favourites in the series. Using the same system of public school marking of the era that I used for the others in this review series, it is unquestionably alpha plus.