I have already ordered the Famous Five (in four parts!) and the Adventure Series and so now I’m going to do another favourite series of mine, the Secret Series. I’m hoping this will be quite an easy one as there are only five books.
THE SECRET OF THE WINNING BOOK
In the other two series I’ve looked at I knew straight away what my favourite book was, but it’s not so clear here. I have two possibilities – the first book, The Secret Island and the second book, The Secret of Spiggy Holes.
Both books are great but they are very different. The first book is really very unlike the rest – in fact I have seen several people say it doesn’t feel like it even belongs to the same series as the others. The remaining four books have strong similarities to the Adventure Series – a group of kids accidentally stumbling upon some sort of danger or mystery which they then solve or escape from. Island is still fairly adventurous but has more in common with something like Hollow Tree House as it is a planned running-away and survival story. None the less it is a marvellous book – I love reading about how they set up their new home, building willow house and maintaining a farm and crops to sustain themselves. There’s also plenty of drama and excitement from the initial running away and then when the trippers come and the men hunting for them. And of course it has that brilliant happy ending when Jack tears into the hotel to tell the Arnold parents their children are safe and well. I may shed a tear now just thinking about it!
Spiggy Holes is certainly the best mystery of the series for me – I love them discovering the long lost secret passage in Peep-Hole and the way that links up to the other passages connecting the old house to the beach. I also love their ingenuity in signalling to Prince Paul and their plan to rescue him. There is also a strong supporting cast in Miss Dimity (a little like Miss Pepper but perhaps softer) and George (somewhat like Alf/James or Andy of the Adventurous Four). There is a strong sense of danger through the book, despite the children having Miss Dimity around and George’s back up at times. George works well because although he is older and tougher than the children he’s probably only in his mid teens and therefore not quite enough of an adult to take charge and take over the rescue proceedings. He’s just happy to lend some muscle.
So that still leaves me stuck – which one is my favourite?
After rather a lot of very hard thinking I have decided to go with Secret Island, and that’s because of the children’s bravery. No doubt they are brave in Spiggy Holes as they try to rescue a complete stranger, but the bravery in Secret Island is different. All four children are abused and mistreated which can easily lead to feeling worthless and like it is deserved. But they rise above it and choose a new path for themselves – knowing they will have to be entirely self sufficient. They cope admirably with supporting themselves on an island and I think they all learn a lot about themselves along the way. They gain new skills and Nora in particular grows up a lot. Of course it’s ironic that they needn’t have survived as long as they did – but they didn’t know that. To them the threat of being found and returned to a miserable life was totally real. They not only make the best of an often cold and lonely existence on the island but they actually flourish.
THE BOOK WITH TWO NAMES
My next favourite is The Secret of Killimooin (see journal 58) which has now been renamed The Secret Forest. This is a quite deliciously creepy tale with fearsome robbers appearing in the mist and then disappearing again. Of course the children crack that mystery and find their way into the robbers’ lair, but then the problem becomes getting out again. We have Ranni and Pilescu along for a good part of the ride and they are a great pair of adults – a little like Bill as they do their best to keep the children (particularly Prince Paul) safe but still respect their determination to keep up and be brave.
THE BOOK THAT DOESN’T EXIST ANY MORE
Not my favourite of the series by some way but The Secret Mountain is still a very good book and I can’t stand the fact that this has simply been chopped out of the series altogether. This is at least partially why Killimooin was renamed I think – as without The Secret Mountain all the remaining books follow The Secret of format. Making it The Secret Forest means The Secret Island is not unusual. But of course they could just have left Mountain in place and Killimooin as Killimooin.
Anyway, Mountain can suffer from the ‘rather like another book syndrome’ as it has a lot in common with The Mountain of Adventure (which came later). They both feature hollow mountains with civilisations inside, both have a flat enough top to be used for insane rituals/experiments and both are found after the initial guide abandons the children.
The Secret Mountain is a little less crazy-seeming perhaps, as it is not high-tech at all, rather it involves a (potentially) ancient cult who worship the sun. Mafumu is great throughout, very brave and resourceful and Captain Arnold’s dagger throwing at the end can certainly rival don’t forget Bill Smugs.
AND THAT JUST LEAVES US WITH…
…The Secret of Moon Castle. It’s strange how the last book in the series is often a least-favourite. With some series that’s because the last book came out in the 1960s when Enid Blyton’s writing powers were starting to wane. However Moon Castle is from 1953 (the same year as Five Go Down to the Sea) which is well within her peak writing years. That is, though, ten years after the previous book in the series. Revisiting the Arnolds and Prince Paul after such a long gap could have contributed to it seeming a weaker book.
It has some strong points, all of Enid Blyton’s books do though! The strange pins and needles the boys suffer are convincingly scary, as is the dark figure in their room one night. The twang-dongs are funny but not overly silly and the Brimmings are mostly decent adversaries (if a tiny bit affected at times). The fact that most of it takes part inside the castle (with several adults round) and only the boys get to go down into the mines (and the creepy abandoned village is not made enough use of) contribute to it being the least favourite for me.