The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure part 2

I have now watched the second episode of the eight. Previously we saw the children arrive at Spring Cottage which is beside some sort of military operation, and Jack and Philip have been spied on by a strange man.


PREVIOUSLY ON…

There is a voice over telling us a little of what happened in the last episode. It specifies that Allie has taken her children and their friends on holiday so she it seems like they are trying to keep things simple here and not get involved in the adoption story. It’s a bit of a shame though, as in the book it’s lovely to see how happy Lucy-Ann is being able to call Mrs Mannering Aunt Allie.

The voice-over also asks could there be a connection between the peaceful holiday and British military intelligence? Well, you’d have to hope so wouldn’t you?


YOU’RE A GIRL!

We pick up where we left off with Philip and Jack in the woods, and Philip makes an impressive dive into a bush to catch the person spying on them. Only he has leapt onto a teenage girl.

“You’re… you’re a girl!” he says cleverly. Clearly she isn’t the person that has been watching them though!

“I wasn’t following you, I live ere!” the girl says. The woods belong to her and her mother. Sudden attacks forgiven she introduces herself as Tassie, and quickly tries to dissuade them from going near the castle.

Tassie

She then shows them a “witching tree” and spouts some silly magic stuff. She and her mother are now gypsies who are suspicious of folk who live in houses, rather than country folk who have a cottage of their own. I suppose it “explains” her appearance and demeanour but it’s a bit odd all the same. Later she turns up with a fox on a leash, called Buttons (he is Button in the book) and it’s implied he’s a pet of hers rather than something she’s caught to please Philip.

Tassie and Buttons

Anyway, she’s not allowed near the castle and the boys encourage her to go anyway as she doesn’t have to tell her mother. There’s a strange tie between Tassie and Sam too. Her mother senses Tassie has been hiding, if not from her, then it must be from Sam.

Sam puts food on the table and shoes on your feet.

I’d rather go hungry and barefoot… No-one’s colder than him.

So that’s interesting. I wonder if he’s a sort of step-father to her? And if so, is he actually a baddie or is this just teenage angst talking.


BOYS VS GIRLS

The previous episode had the characters quite true to the book but this episode veers off somewhat.

Firstly the boys want to go off alone with Tassie to the castle, and Philip in particular is quite harsh about not letting the girls come. That’s seen on occasion in the books – mostly when it’s something potentially dangerous – but it seems rather out of place here.

More in-character, especially for Dinah, is the girls then following the boys to meet Tassie as they think they’re up to something.

For some reason Tassie trusts the boys, but upon seeing two girls isn’t at all happy.

Perhaps this is wise of her as Lucy-Ann – or Lucy as they keep calling her for no reason – is a rather annoying girl now. Firstly she is made out to be very silly (asking which part of your feet grow fastest, the toes or the other parts…) and also very useless. She nearly falls on a perfectly flat walk and laughs pretty gormlessly about it too. And then she does fall, part way down the edge of the moat. I mean was she just not looking where she was going? I don’t know why they’ve picked someone so young and made her so hopeless.

How many people does it take to help one girl three feet up a slope?

They’ve also messed with her and Jack’s relationship. In the books Jack loves Lucy-Ann, and Lucy-Ann rather hero worships him. She trails after him a great deal and true, he doesn’t always notice her, but he’s generally very considerate of her and would never speak to her the way Philip does to Dinah.

In this adaptation he couldn’t seem to care less if she’s hurt or upset after her fall. He dismisses her as being ‘fine’ as he wants to carry on to the castle. In a desperate attempt to stick to events from the book, Tassie gets very muddy helping Lucy-Ann when she falls, and is cajoled into coming back to Spring Cottage for fresh clothes and a wash. A bit different for the book where Tassie is always dirty (and barefoot) and is practically attacked with carbolic soap by Mrs Mannering, but you can see they’ve tried to shoe-horn the idea in anyway.


AND A SERIES OF PERHAPS UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

Lots of minor things then happen in the episode.

  • Allie gets a call from someone called Jane, saying that Allie’s mother is sick. This is setting up a situation where Allie will leave the children at the cottage.
  • Sam abruptly invites himself to breakfast at Spring Cottage. The more I see of him the less I like!
  • John from the MOD meeting in the fist episode ‘bumps’ into Allie in the village and asks rather a lot of questions about where they are staying. He also works in a warning about the castle being haunted. Very suspicious.
  • One of Jack’s photos shows a man by the castle walls, so they know it’s possible to get over there.
  • Tassie tells the story of the ‘old man’ in the castle who did away with all his enemies. It came off much creepier in the book, somehow.
  • All five children head back to the castle and confirm that the path is entirely blocked by a landslide (but we aren’t shown it).
  • Dinah decide to sit on and wriggle across a fallen tree over the huge moat and for no reason at all slides off half way…

 

And that is the dramatic ending of the episode! We know she can’t be badly hurt, of course, but what will happen next? They’ve set up quite a few things here.


MY THOUGHTS

A bit more happened in this episode, and you can see all the ways that they’ve tried to be true to the books. Saying that, they’ve spoiled the relationship between Jack and Lucy-Ann (and Lucy-Ann herself!) and been a bit clumsy in trying to force book elements into their production so actually I think the first episode was better.

 

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Famous Five 70s Style: Five Go to Kirrin Island part 1

wp-1486510903961.gifRight so, a long time ago at the beginning of time (for this blog) I had this crazy notion that I was going to compare these TV series like for like and side by side. I did give it a go, however it never really got off the ground because doing the first episode was far too complicated. I mean, the 1970’s Famous Five skipped Five on a Treasure Island all together and used Five on Kirrin Island Again as their first episode (something to do with the copyrights still being tied up with the Children’s Film Foundation who shot the black and white cinematic episodes in the 50s).

Regardless I failed to review them even on the second viewing of the series for the blog, and for that I should be told off and denied any of Joan’s lovely cakes and biscuits (that’s ok, cause I’m on a diet!) Anyway, I think we should start. Let’s see how the 1970s lot managed to make Five on Kirrin Island Again their first episode.


Can book 6 be the beginning?

The initial reaction to this question is one of pure puzzlement –  I mean why would anyone assume that the sixth book in the series could make a decent foray into a world we all love and adore.

Surprisingly Kirrin Island Again does lend itself to an introductory episode. It’s strange but if you take away the familiarity of the Five, any episode could be considered the first one. Richard Sparks was the writer on this one, and I think he managed to create a well balanced episode that introduces all the characters very clearly.

Elements of the first book are visible in this adaptation especially at the beginning where Aunt Fanny is trying to introduce Julian, Dick and Anne to George and the fact that Rodgers the gardener doesn’t know who they are when they arrive, just shows how each adventure could have been the first adventure for the Five.

I only watched the first episode of the two-parter just to be able to look at the episodes properly and deeply. The attention to detail is interesting because there is so much of Kirrin Island Again that can be used and adapted and strangely accurately. I would love to know if it was one of Richard Sparks favourite books while he was growing up, which would account for the accuracy of the details.


The details

There were added details however, back stories on the bad guys, and very much a product of their time. The chap playing Curton is seemingly known to the to the authorities and seems to be some form of double agent because, Johnson knows who is on the other end of the transmitter.

Johnson seems to come from some environmental government body which is why he knows about Uncle Quentin’s work, but turns rogue and decides to make his fortune by stealing the professor’s ideas. According to the books I think it’s something to do with renewable energy, which seems leaps and bounds ahead of the time that Blyton was writing these stories. It’s amazing really how forward thinking she could be!

Once the children start working together the whole episode very quickly falls into the familiar Famous Five format and they begin to work together well as a team. Little things like the adoration of Timmy cements the relationship, and the discovery of tunnels and lunch on the island with Uncle Quentin, all fit into the story very nicely.

We finish the episode on a cliffhanger however because it is in two parts and, as the first episode you do need to keep the audience glued to their seats. Johnson is parachuted onto Kirrin Island and surprises Uncle Quentin with a gun and a threat. We are left to wonder what will happen next as the credits starts to roll. It will be interesting to see with the next episode how much of the book is once again carried through, if George immediately realises that something is the matter, for example.

If you remember correctly with me, Timmy gets left on the island with Uncle Quentin at one point because he thinks he isn’t alone, but with this being the first episode of the series Timmy is still banned from being in George’s possession and thus is unable to guard his mistress’s father. I can’t remember how the next episode goes, which will be interesting for me because I clearly haven’t watched it enough to remember much about it. Please don’t spoil it for me – I want to be pleasantly surprised.


Conclusion

The long and the short of it all is that the transition to make Kirrin Island Again the starting episode worked really well, and Richard Sparks does very well in working all those details between story one and story six in together. I think this would have received the thumbs up from Enid Blyton herself!

To some extent the changes to the story are necessary, even if they are to just make the whole thing work, but its not as weak an episode as I would have once pegged it to be. Worth another look if you can, and see if there’s anything I’ve missed out!

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Monday #217

We are going to have another TV-themed week here on the blog:

 

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April Round Up

I can’t believe it’s May already – perhaps something to do with the snow and hail we’ve had lately.


WHAT I READ IN APRIL

I’ve been less motivated this month so it hasn’t been a lot:

  • Ramona the Brave (Ramona Quimby #3) – Beverly Cleary
  • Ramona and Her Father (Ramona Quimby #4) – Beverly Cleary
  • Time Train to the Blitz – Sophie McKenzie (audiobook)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • The Treasure Hunters – reviewed here
  • The Mystery of the Phantom Lights (Adventure Island #14) – Helen Moss, recommended here.
  • My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella

Most of what we’ve read to the baby is the same as last month (they say that repeated stories will be remembered after birth) with the exception of:

  • Wanted, Ralphy Rabbit – Emily MacKenzie

And I do have a few things on the go currently as well:

  • The Book of Fours (Buffy TV tie in) – Nancy Holder
  • Hey, Seymour! – Walter Wick
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Other Stories – Roald Dahl (audiobook)

I am reading the whole cannon of Buffy books in order this time and am rather slogging through this one as I remember not really liking it the first time. The Harry Potter is my bed-time listening every night and the Roald Dahl I have been listening to while decorating the bathroom.

I’ve just borrowed a pile of books from the library as well, so at the very top of my very large to-read list are:

  • Why Is This Night Different From all Other Nights? (All the Wrong Questions #4) – Lemony Snicket
  • A Death in the Dales – (Kate Shackleton #7) – Frances Brody
  • Death at the Seaside – (Kate Shackleton #8) – Frances Brody
  • Blotto, Twinks and the dead Dowager Duchess – (Blotto & Twinks #2) – Simon Brett

I had better get reading then as that brings me up to 14 books on my card. (Mere mortals are restricted to ten but as a staff member I can have thirty!)


WHAT I’VE WATCHED

  • One Born Every Minute is back and despite the number of people who have asked if it is wise, I’ve been watching.
  • Hollyoaks of course.
  • Masterchef – did you know that Greg and John aren’t friends in the real world? (Though John has backtracked on his comments a bit since!)
  • Robot Wars which isn’t the same without Craig Charles
  • Which leads me to Red Dwarf – we’re now on the later series which aren’t quite as good.
  • The new series of Taskmaster has started, with new participants. Some of the attempts they made are hilarious and it’s so fun trying to second-guess the participants to come up with the best technique for whatever they’re trying to do.
  • Matilda was trending on Netflix and was perfect for a Sunday evening after having been hard at work painting

WHAT I’VE DONE IN APRIL

  • A lot of stripping paint in the bathroom. We had hoped to just chuck a fresh coat of paint on the wooden panelling but when we sanded it to give some grip a lot of the paint just chipped off… clearly the previous owners didn’t sand the very shiny (pale avocado!) paint before they painted! So we have been covering it with paint-remover and scraping it off for a few weeks now.
  • Framed some Noddy pictures for the nursery. I have yet to paint the frames though – one each in red, yellow and blue.
  • Repainted the walls of the nursery
  • Celebrated Easter with cakes and pin the tail on the rabbit at my Aunt’s house on Easter Sunday

WHAT STEF HAS READ

  • Five Go On a Strategy Away Day – Bruno Vincent, reviewed here
  • Diamonds and Daggers (Marsh Road Mysteries #1) – Elen Caldecott, reviewed here
  • Five Go Parenting – Bruno Vincent, reviewed here

    And her current reads:

  • Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body – Sara Pascoe
  • Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon
  • Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway – Susan Jeffers


WHAT STEF HAS WATCHED

  • One Born Every Minute – Fiona’s encouraged me to watch this for the last couple of years as its one of her favourites and it was ‘good’ story research. She’s still watching as you know, and so am I. I am so glad I’m not the one having a baby.
  • Death in Paradise –  I have just finished re-watching the most recent series on DVD I had reverted to older ones, enjoying the transition of characters.

I haven’t been watching much telly recently, been busy and running around.


WHAT STEF HAS DONE

  • Helping to organise Dad’s birthday – My father turned 60 last month, so organising his birthday party, baking and tidying have all been essential.
  • Golf –  I’ve come to an agreement with my other half. I’ll try his hobby of golf as long as I don’t have to go fishing. So we’ve done mini golf, crazy golf and the driving range. I think I’ve been a very dedicated girlfriend if you ask me.
  • Picnic –  When we had that lovely weather at the beginning of the month, me and my other half took a picnic down to Bourne End, Blyton style. I did get a little burnt, but you know, it was worth it.
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The Saucy Jane Family: How has Blyton’s original text fared in a modern edition?

I’ve been looking for a new book to compare lately – as it has been a weekly scramble to come up with an idea otherwise – and then this rather fell into my lap. Or fell into my Whatsapp conversation, rather. Stef sent me a picture of the Caravan Family 4-in-1 collection which was selling for the princely sum of £2 in The Works. I managed to find a copy in my local store this week so I am all set. Well, almost.

I just have a nagging sense of ‘wrongness’ at doing a comparison of the second book in a series when I’ve always done the first! I know that realistically it is of no importance at all but it still bothers me… but as Stef pointed out in her review this book has books 2, 3, 4 and 6 for some unfathomable reason. So I’m just going to have to live with doing the second book.


THE OBVIOUS DIFFERENCES

The early edition I have of The Saucy Jane Family is actually the first edition published by Lutterworth Press in 1947. It’s a fairly slim book though it makes the omnibus edition look hard-pressed to contain four whole books. The omnibus (or bind-up as it is called on the back cover) is from 2014 and was published by Egmont.

The original is illustrated by Ruth Gervis, both externally and internally. The omnibus isn’t really illustrated – it just has little vignettes of seagulls above each chapter title, and a vignette of a different child looking through a port-hole at the start of each book. These, and the cover illustration, are done by Mark Beech who seems to strive so hard for his work to look like Quentin Blake’s that at a quick glance I am fooled into thinking they are by Quentin Blake. I like Quentin Blake’s work for Roald Dahl – in fact when I see earlier editions with other people’s illustrations I’m quite put out – but I don’t think his style, stolen or original, is really right for Blyton.

Mark Beech’s on the right, and Quentin Blake’s on the left.


CHAPTER ONE: A MOST EXCITING IDEA

Well, this is quite unexpected so far. It’s admittedly a short chapter – just 5-6 pages in fact – but there has been only ONE change made. I was actually beginning to wonder if it had been edited at all! And then finally I spotted a queer, which has now become odd. 

I mean I hate the updating but I was actually beginning to worry that I had wasted time and money here, if there was nothing to report!

Interestingly all the italics (and there are quite a lot of them, including every time Saucy Jane is mentioned) have been left alone – very unusual in my experience so far.


CHAPTER TWO: THE SAUCY JANE

Ahh, this is more like it. Some actual changes to comment on in this chapter!

Like with all the other books I’ve looked at the quaint hyphenation of to-day is done away with (and presumably the same will be said for to-morrow and so on.) Saying that, it seems that all other hyphens have been left alone. Exciting-looking, cabin-part, sitting-space and so on all retain their hyphens when in all the other updatings I have looked at they have done away with a majority of hyphens.

Then we have a question from Mike –

“Why did we build canals, when we have so many rivers?” 

And Daddy’s answer is changed – but at least in a reasonably sensitive and minor way. (Though the more I look at it now the more I think it’s a rather bad run-on sentence!)

“Well, many goods are sent by water, instead of by rail, which is very dear,” said Daddy. “In the old days, when goods had to be taken about all over the country, and the roads were bad, and the railways were only just beginning, to take them by water was a very good way.”

Has become:

“Well, many goods were sent by water in the old days, when goods had to be taken about all over the country, and the roads were bad, and the railways were only just beginning.”

But then Daddy promises to show them barges and so on working on the canals which is fairly unlikely on a modern canal! You’ll see boats on canals now certainly but they’ll all be pleasure-boats and not working ones! (If you like canals and things like that, by the way, I recommend Great Canal Journeys on Channel 4 with Prunella Scales and her husband.)

After that very gay indeed becomes very colourful indeed – I expected that as soon as I saw gay. 

And lastly Is that the Saucy Jane over yonder? is now Is that the Saucy Jane over there?


I’m not sure how many to count this as this time. Four are easy to count but if I go by my ‘rule’ of counting removal of sentences we have only truly lost one. Yet, what Daddy says is significantly different in the new edition. I think I’m going to count it as two as two phrases are clearly cut.

So that make six in total!

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Review: The Pole Star Family

polestarfamilyAs you know last week I got an omnibus of the Family series, tightly and newly bound in a Quentin Blake-esque illustrations, shoulder to shoulder with related stories. So I thought that this week I’d continue with the reviews from this book, and moved on from The Saucy Jane Family to The Pole Star Family. Shall we have a look at what its about?

The Pole Star Family – an overview

Once again we visit Mike, Belinda, Ann, Mummy and Daddy first of all in their caravans at the beginning of the summer holidays and we may have some idea of what’s to come given the title. I don’t think “Pole Star” could be anything part from a ship of some kind. How we get to the ship, at this point, is anyone’s guess, soon though we are told that Granny is ill, and mother goes off to look after her for a while.

Then a whole load of bad luck follows, the children develop whooping cough and don’t really have a summer holiday. Poor old Granny has to go into a nursing home to recover from her mystery illness (we never get told what she had) and the children are very gloomy. When they are getting better, and it’s coming up to going back to school, the children are thought to look very pale and pasty, and Mummy and Daddy want them to have some sun before they go back.

Conveniently Granny has been told to take a warm holiday to finish recuperating from her illness and that she wants to go on a cruise and take the family with her. There is massive excitement from the children as they can’t wait to be back on a boat in the water. Soon the children are trying to pack for cold weather but Mummy tells them that they won’t need lots of warm clothes but light summery ones. Ann and Belinda are amazed that they’ll be able to wear their summer clothes. We find out that they’ll be visiting Portugal, Spain, the Canary Islands and French Morocco, so they will definitely allaboardneed their summer clothes.

So they end up on The Pole Star at Southampton, and the children are so excited that Mike decides he has to be a sailor there and then. The have a lovely time exploring the ship and finding their sea legs. They begin to visit the different countries but the really interesting part is when they reach French Morocco and Daddy takes the family down to a local market and the children experience what its like not to be from England with the sanitation.

Ann immediately comments on and doesn’t like the smell around her and has to sniff Mummy’s smelling salts. The children all adore the market and the things they can get but they also notice that the meat is less than sanitary – there are flies around the raw meat, for example. Another thing that I suspsect may have been quite shocking for people back in the United Kingdom, who were reading Blyton’s book to know that this was happening in the world. Without really looking it up and getting very technical I can’t tell you off the top of my head how much of the population in the 1950s was still living in poverty, but I assume the scenes described would have still been shocking.

Leaving that to one side for the moment, the family do go back to the ship and catch the ship home. They are glad to be back and certainly can’t wait to go and tell everyone at school about their cruise.

An interesting point

After a bit of a think and research from Fiona, (who always comes to my rescue) I discovered that Enid Blyton had taken an almost identical cruise on a similiarly named ship. You can see a little about it on the Enid Blyton Society website in her Teacher’s World letters. Just so you can see, I’ve included an extract from the Society website below:

enidteachersworld

It is interesting to think that perhaps, Enid Blyton was writing about her own experiences on the cruise she was on and wanted to introduce children who wouldn’t get a chance to visit such a places, a look at what the wider world was like.

It’s not unheard of for the author of stories to work their real life experiences into their novels and this is just a brilliant example of how vividly Blyton could paint a picture for her readers of all these wonderful places she’s been and the hardship’s she’s seen. For someone writing for young children, at this time in history that would have been a bit of a break through. Whatever her personal life threw at her, how she behaved or what have you, Blyton could make the children who were reading her books aware of difficulties and morals within the world at her finger tips. The only other author I could readily say who has had that effect on children growing up, would be JK Rowling. Having so many children reading your words, you might as well try and teach them something, and give them something to grow and nuture which is what you get with the highlighted differences between cultures, and povety in The Pole Star Family.

The story

I’ve rabbited on a bit, so I’ll round up. Once again, even though the story is for younger children and nothing major really happens to the family, it has moral lessons and is a good little story. An easy read an almost like reading about Blyton’s own cruise.

Once again you’d probably benefit more from reading it to a young person, but if you want a nice little story to pass a quiet hour this is a good one, of a good series to read.

Let me know what you think below, I’d love to know if you’ve read The Pole Star Family and what you think of it!

 

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Monday #216

Monday again and we’ve got a busy week for you here on World of Blyton. It’s a rather themed week this week, with exception of the April round up. Hope you don’t mind!

Monday#216

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The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure

I have already watched and reviewed the 8 episodes of The Adventure Series made in New Zealand. You may have tried to repress this information (I know I have) but they couldn’t make The Castle of Adventure, as the rights weren’t available. Instead they made The Woods of Adventure… a truly awful episode with plots stolen straight from The Secret of Moon Castle and I wouldn’t recommend anyone watch it at all. You can read my review, if you can bear it.

So anyway, the reason the rights were not available in 1996 is that someone else had made their own adaptation of The Castle of Adventure in 1990. I assume they would have started with the first book, Island, but the rights to that were probably still held by the people that made the TV movie of it in 1982.

This series’ title, the original book and a shot from The Woods of Adventure.


THE SERIES IN SHORT

Filmed in Britain and made by TVS there are eight 25-minute episodes. I suspect there might be a fair bit of padding then, I just hope they don’t add things as ridiculous as the New Zealand lot did.

There are a couple of recognisable names in the cast list –

Gareth Hunt – Bill Cunningham 
Susan George – Allie Mannering (apparently she was extremely hard to work with!)
Richard Hanson – Philip 
Hugo Guthrie – Jack
Rosie Marcel – Dina(h)
Bethany Greenwood – Lucy-Ann 
Eileen Hawkes – Tassie 
Edward Peel – Mannheim 

Both Bill and Allie have been in a lot of things (but nothing I’ve really seen) and Dinah I recognise from Holby City.

As with all adaptations we have some new characters –

Colin Bruce – John Grogan (Mannheim’s co-baddie? One of Bill’s men?)
Richard Heffer – Colonel Yarmouth (Presumably Bill’s boss – Sir George was added to the New Zealand series).
Joan Blackman – School teacher
Terry Bamber – Ticket collector
Brian Blessed – Sam
Richard Ridings – Nico
Corrine Ransome – Rose
Isobel Black – Aunt Jane

These are all, apparently, in all 8 episodes (according to IMDb anyway) but I’m struggling to see who they could all be and how they will fit in. There are another nine characters that are only in one episode, a few officers, one of Bill’s men and some men with only first names.


SO LET’S WATCH THE FIRST EPISODE!

Knowing how long I can go on about these things I think it’s best if I do one episode at a time.


THE START, WITH ALLIE AND BILL

So, this adaptation does not have catchy but cheesy music, just an understated instrumental. What it does have though – is an eagle, flying over a nice big (real) ruined castle. It’s winning points already!

We are introduced to the ‘secret’ military element right away, with a short showing of some anti-tank weapons at a meeting. The speaker tells his audience that it is under testing at a secret location – which of course us Adventure Series experts will know is going to be very close to the castle.

Allie – strangely – is at this meeting and shows off her skill in speaking German before she bumps into Bill.

She seemed surprised to see him there! The two of them obviously know each other, so I can only assume the events of The Island of Adventure have already happened, just not on screen. Bill says it has been two years and asks about Philip and Dinah. I’m surprised at that, really, as you’d think given just how fast and loose various other Blyton adaptations have played with the material they’d have rewritten an introduction to Bill but there you are.

I have to add that Bill is the most un-Bill like you could imagine. Malcolm Jamieson admittedly looks nothing like Bill from the book but he did have a certain James Bondesque look to him (he put me in mind of a less polished Pierce Brosnan). Gareth Hunt, however… my first thought is how much he is like Nigel from Eastenders.

I mean separated at birth or what! Let’s just hope he’s less bumbling-fool and more secret agent when it comes down to it.


THE CHILDREN

They are all at boarding school, one for the boys and one for the girls. Jack and Kiki’s relationship is quickly established – and Jack’s general interest in birds. Philip seems to be portrayed as a bit of a clumsy scatter-brain though – he ‘loses’ their train tickets and accidentally tips a whole suitcase of stuff out. He does have a book on tracking animals though, and Dinah says to Lucy-Ann that Spring Cottage will be surrounded by woods full of animals for Philip.

“Crawling with all sorts of Philip’s furry friends”

“Philip’s good with animals.”

“He’s too good. Frogs in your pockets. Mice in your slippers. Caterpillars down your neck…”


WHAT HAPPENS IN THE EPISODE?

The children take the train from their respective schools and meet Aunt Allie at the station, and she drives them to Spring Cottage.

Philip immediately finds a hedgehog and pockets it, winding Dinah up by pretending it’s a rat. They row a bit and it turns into a physical fight – exactly the sort they would have in the books (well perhaps toned down every so slightly but she does lands a few kicks and smacks on him!).

The castle can be seen from Spring Cottage (doesn’t look quite as good here, but I don’t suppose they were able to get two filming locations within sight of each other) and we see a light flashing in a window – but the girls miss it.

In our first real “padding” Sam (Brian Blessed) turns up and declares himself to be the local rag-and-bone man. He sells them some eggs and stays for a cup of tea.

He tells the children that the castle is uninhabited, and true to Blyton form – that it’s a bad place.

Hangings. Beheadings. Treachery and betrayal. Deceit and devilry.

He strays rather into Robbie Coltrane’s territory at this point! As a gypsy, he had warned the Five about Strange comings and goings in this village. Secrets and signs and threats in Five Go Mad In Dorset back in 1982. 

The two are quite similar, in fact. The picture quality is poor so I apologise but here are some images to show you what I mean (you can just about make out that Sam is wearing a hat in one of them…)

After this the boys decide to explore the garden/woods in the general direction of the castle. They’re being watched by a man with binoculars and the episode ends with a tense few minutes of ‘are we being followed?’.


THE SIDE PLOT

Bill only features in the side-plot thus far – he bumped into Allie at the MOD meeting and she tells him where they’re going to be staying.

Next he’s talking to some military man about someone who’s just come into the country, a man of interest. Unfortunately they lost him. In a wash room.

How can you lose someone in a wash room?

It was the er… ladies.

So it’s now up to Bill and his colleagues to track down this chap, who they firmly believe is planning some funny business with this new secret anti-tank thing.

Of course this all ties in nicely because as we see at least twice, the MOD have a place right next to Spring Cottage and the Castle…


HOW DOES IT COMPARE?

I think I’ll end up comparing this to a) the books and b) the New Zealand adaptation. So far it comes out quite favourably on both counts.

Both Jack and Lucy-Ann have red hair (though Lucy-Ann seems just a shade too young in my opinion). I’ve always seen Philip and Dinah as dark-haired and of course they are blonde like Susan George in this but it isn’t an issue – they look alike even if there’s no tuft of hair to give them their nickname.

It’s certainly more modern than the books, it’s set in the early 90s when it was filmed but that isn’t too intrusive. The train’s modern, the car’s modern but there isn’t a silly palm-pilot cropping up everywhere or anything like that.

It stays truer to the book on characterisation than on plot – but they were bound to add things and chop them about given that they’ve made one book into nearly four hours and have started with the second book. Sam seems a bit of a desperate padding for the story but I will reserve judgement to see how they utilise him later. Bill showing up early makes sense, really, as if that stayed true to the book he’d turn up all of a surprise later and we’d not have a clue what was going on (assuming viewers haven’t read the first book). I suppose the actor was happier having more screen time too!

I’m glad Philip’s animals are going to play a bigger part in the story than they did in the New Zealand version, plus the row between him and Dinah was a nice touch. The ‘banter’ between the boys isn’t from the book but they both act quite naturally for Philip and Jack.

My only niggles so far are around the lack of explanations. So far the viewer has not had the relationship of Jack and Lucy-Ann to the Mannerings explained, what business Allie had at an MOD meeting, who Bill is and how they know him, or that they’ve had a previous adventure. I’m sure they’ll imagine that viewers will have read the book(s) but as a stand-alone adaptation some of that should have been taken into consideration.

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Review: The Saucy Jane Family

A Bit of Background

allaboardAs some of you will know I reviewed The Queen Elizabeth Family last year, so the concept of Enid Blyton’s Family Series was not unknown to me. However I admit ignorance in the fact that I did not know, or at least comprehend which book started the series. I was aware on some level that The Queen Elizabeth Family book was somewhere towards the end of, what I like to call, a mini series, but I couldn’t tell you what order they came in, or even about the beginnings. So when I saw this omnibus edition of the Caravan Family stories in The Works, I thought “Bingo! I can read them all now!”

Alas, I was very wrong. The book contains four stories, The Saucy Jane Family, The Pole Star Family, The Seaside Family  and The Queen Elizabeth Family. I hadn’t realised there were six stories, so for £2, I purchased the book hoping to have a bit of a bargin. However, the first and fifth stories in the series, The Caravan Family and The Buttercup Farm Family  are not included in the bumper edition. How frustrating! I do, however have an early edition of The Buttercup Farm Family on my shelves.

So I started off reading The Saucy Jane Family I assumed it would go through all the introductions to the family and why they lived in a caravan. Gosh, how wrong was I?! And yes, that eye rolling and exasperated sighing you can hear is Fiona telling me I’m an idiot. (Until she reads this, she won’t know I did that either, so it’ll be very loud sighing!)

Anyway to spare you from the blunder I made, I’ve included a link to the series on the Enid Blyton Society Website so you can educate yourself on the titles you need to look for if you wish to take up this series to read for yourself or you children, grandchildren, or small humans in your lives. Which means that now, I’d better get on and tell you about the story itself! Tally ho and on we go!

The Saucy Jane Family

This is a relatively short read from Blyton, same as The Queen Elizabeth Family book, and the-saucy-jane-familycondensed into a book with three other stories, under 60 pages in length. I managed to read it quickly and without much brain power needed, which is why I think it’s better for younger readers to enjoy. Make no mistake, I’ll be reading and enjoying these with my little nephew (Fiona’s baby) when he’s old enough to sit and listen to Auntie Stef go on and on about Enid Blyton, like his Mummy does; however, as its been mentioned before looking at these stories with an adult’s eye does make them seem rather simplistic.

Nevertheless the Caravan Family stories do make for sweet reading. The children don’t necessarily have ‘adventures’ in the sense of the Famous Five, Secret Seven, or Five Find-Outers but they do have delightful experiences with different aspects of living quarters and different lives. I get the feeling that Blyton might have used these to highlight some of the different houses, experiences and lives that people had. A lot of children wouldn’t have been aware of how different some of the experiences of others could be, and it was a good way to show them that people had different kinds of lives.

Ann, Belinda and Mike are not much older from the first book, according to reviews I’ve read but about a year seems to have passed. From The Queen Elizabeth Family book and a leap back in time to this one, they don’t even seem to have changed at all, even in moving forward and ‘ageing’. Anyway, so we get told that the children, along with Mummy and Daddy will have to leave the caravans for the summer so that they can be cleaned, repainted and repaired. They try to book in to go down to the sea, but everywhere is fully booked. Mummy luckily then has a letter from ‘Auntie Mollie’ who is leaving her house boat for a while and asks if they would all like to come and live on it while she’s not there.

It’s never really explained where Mollie goes, she just does, and the family get on the bus and go and look at the house boat and decide that yes, they want to live on the boat for the summer. Once this has all been arranged, the move in is fairly quick, things are packed, the horses summer planned – one horse to work on a farm and the other to stay in a handy field in case the boat needs moving. At this point I would like to point out that Blyton seems to like using the name ‘Clopper’ for horses. I must have read that not only in the Famous Five, but also in some other book that’s written by her. The name crops up everywhere. Does anyone know if she ever had a horse called Clopper, or imagined one when she was living in London? If you do know, I’d love to hear from you! Or even if you just have your own opinion to give me – bung it in the comments below!

The short chapters make for easy reading, and there is always a little excitement per chapter. Things like getting to go on a canal boat, and through a hill; learning to swim, falling off the boat and needing to be rescued. All these little things are very interesting and, for someone who loves the proper adventures, a little dull, but good for keeping littler children interested.

Mike, Ann and Belinda are rather two dimentional characters, with not a lot to flesh out their personalities, or anything like that. There are some ‘normal’ emotions in there, fear, for example when Ann doesn’t want to learn how to swim, but mostly they are just there to tell the story. God makes one of his minor appearences in the story (I say appearence, he’s mentioned) when Ann prays to him to make her braver. It was a long time into my Blyton reading career that I realised that she had worked at a Sunday school when she was a teenager.

Unsurprisingly though, what I don’t know about Enid Blyton could probably fill several books without question. Now I know of this, and am a former theology student, I can see the links to religion and think more deeply about them when I come across them in her books and I wonder about the time she was writing them and the influence from the church during that time on her society around her. That’s probably not as interesting to you as it is to me, so I’ll move on, but it’s interesting to note how something like a belief in God can shine through so clearly in someone’s work, especially when you know that its there.

Summary

Anyway I’ve rambled – I’m sure Fiona will tell me off now, but its just something I tend to find interesting. The Saucy Jane Family is an interesting little story, with very few faults. The language doesn’t even seem to have been changed that much either, however without an original to compare it to, I can’t really comment. Maybe Fiona can? That aside, once I got rid of my ‘adult’ head while reading this for the first time, the story is just a nice little stroll down the memory lane of society and history. Probably perfect for inviting children to ask questions about different parts of life, and history, rather like Ann, Belinda and Mike. The fact that these questions are posed and answered allows some fact taking as well and learning, which given Blyton’s job as a teacher is possibly what she was aiming for.

Needless to say, its a lovely little story and I’ll try and bring you some more reviews. Lets hope I can keep my ‘childish’ head on for those! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’ve love to hear what you think!

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Monday #215

It’s May now, and I’m not quite sure how that happened! It has been pretty cold the past few weeks here but I’m hoping that will start to change as we creep towards summer.

Here’s what we’ve got coming up this week:

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If you like Blyton: The Adventure Island series by Helen Moss

Stef has already suggested this series for fans of Blyton and has reviewed the first book in the series – The Mystery of the Whistling Caves.

But that’s not going to stop me from repeating the suggestion (after all we have both reviewed/suggested Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John and Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens). The difference is I’m going to look at the series as a whole – well, the parts I’ve read anyway.


THE ADVENTURE ISLAND SERIES

There are fourteen books in the series, which I think is now finished as the last one came out in 2013.

1. The Mystery of the Whistling Caves
2. The Mystery of the Midnight Ghost
3. The Mystery of the Hidden Gold
4. The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece
5. The Mystery of the Cursed Ruby
6. The Mystery of the Vanishing Skeleton
7. The Mystery of the Dinosaur Discovery
8. The Mystery of the Drowning Man
9. The Mystery of the Smugglers’ Wreck
10. The Mystery of the Invisible Spy
11. The Mystery of the King’s Ransom
12. The Mystery of the Black Salamander
13. The Mystery of the Secret Room
14. The Mystery of the Phantom Lights

The ones in bold are the ones I have read, so half the series. Much like Blyton’s books it is suggested that you read these in order, but each does contain a stand-alone adventure so you don’t have to read them from 1-14. Phew, because I’ve skipped several books due to just not owning them!


THE BASIC PREMISE

The series starts with Scott and Jack Carter who are coming to stay with their aunt on the island of Castle Key during the hols. (They don’t actually call them hols, mind you, it just sounds more Blyton-y if I do!) They are Londoners through and through to begin with, sure they will miss the hustle and bustle and have nothing to do on a boring old island.

The island differs from the typical Blyton one – it’s a fully inhabited one with a couple of shops and places to eat for a start. There are plenty of wild areas though, moors, beaches and a half-ruined castle so it’s not a total loss.

Anyway, the boys soon realise they are all wrong about Castle Key. It all changes for them when they meet Emily Wild and her dog Drift and fall into an adventure – and then, thirteen more of them over more holidays.

A map of Castle Key appears at the front of every book


EMILY, DRIFT, SCOTT AND JACK

Scott is the older brother, he is thirteen to Jack’s twelve, while Emily starts out as twelve and ages to thirteen so she is probably just in between the boys.

Emily, whose parents run a B&B in the island’s lighthouse, is obsessed with spies, smugglers and detectives. She longs to be a detective herself and is well kitted out to investigate anything odd that comes her way, with a torch, map, notebook, recording device, camera and anything else you could think of to hand.

She is bossy like Julian, bold like George and rather like a less annoying Fatty as she leads the detective efforts. Drift acts as a Buster or Timmy depending on what the situation calls for, he can sniff out a track or fend off an enemy.

Being the older brother Scott thinks he’s too cool for a lot of things but always manages to be drawn into the silliest sounding mysteries. Jack on the other hand, is often desperate to show he can keep up with the others in the crime-busting department, even if his ideas for investigating can sound daft at first.

I’m not sure which Blyton characters I would describe as their parallels. Jack has a sort of Bets-like role at times, being the youngest but he’s not nearly as young as she is, and Scott often acts like Philip in putting down his younger sibling and scoffing at his ideas. Both boys can be likened to Dick, I suppose, as they are quite jokey, brave and energetic.


THE ADVENTURES

The adventures/mysteries that they have are quite far and ranging in subject. Stolen treasures, a stolen super-car, a mysterious and possibly faked dinosaur skeleton, a missing movie star, hidden gold at the end of an old treasure map, lights flashing on the moors at night… and those are just ones that I have read!

Generally they lean more towards Five Find-Outer tales, as they often form a list of suspects to interrogate or follow and they do more investigating than adventuring – though there is are a decent number of secret passages and night-time prowlings.

The Mystery of the Phantom Lights has struck me as starting out the most Blyton-like. Jack experiences a phenomenon very much like the one the girls do in Five on a Secret Trail, while camping on the moors. Well, he was returning from a toilet break behind a gorsebush (he thinks to himself that suitable facilities are rather lacking on the moors – something the Five never seemed to worry about) and at first puts the lights down to UFOs but it still had a brief Blyton-feel to it.

And that brings me to…


MODERN THINGS LIKE TECHNOLOGY

Unfortunately you can’t get away from the fact that these books are set in the 2000s and 2010s. The kids use mobile phones (though remarkably scarcely for the most part, as their main use is alerting each other to developments – the 3g on Castle Key probably isn’t great), play computer games and use the library computers to research things.

There are also plenty of very modern references to movies, games, events and all sorts.

Saying all that I don’t think the tech overshadows the story. The children aren’t constantly taking selfies or anything like that, but they do make use of tech instead of wading through piles of paper research.

Food is another important theme – they, especially the boys, get through a lot of it. Rather than egg sandwiches and ginger beer, it’s mostly pizzas with every imaginable topping washed down with a can of Dr Pepper or Coke though. It’s the same in spirit, especially when Aunt Kate brings out her home made cakes. (Some of her recipes can be found online even.)

A mix of modern research and old-fashioned baking

Their police contact, DC Hassan is a modern-day Inspector Jenks and often appears in the last chapter to tie up loose ends – though he can have a slightly Goon-ish air to him if he is present in the middle of the book, he does get a bit shirty when the kids ‘meddle’ even though they always produce results.


SO WHY THESE BOOKS FOR BLYTON FANS?

So far I perhaps haven’t entirely sold these books to you. Mobile phones, Coke and pizzas I hear you cry. Well, yes… but you’re going to find those things in most children’s book set in the 21st century – unless you’re delving into a magical realm like that of Harry Potter, or a dystopian world like in The Hunger Games.

The books are fairly innocent as well, though perhaps not quite as innocent as Blyton’s. There are a few references to crushes though little time is wasted on the notion, and a few adults have a boyfriend or girlfriend but it’s not an important point. The kids themselves never date or get romantically involved – there is of course potential for either Scott or Jack to fall for Emily but thankfully that’s entirely avoided.

Modern nuisances aside, I think these books are fairly Blytonian. You’ve got your small group of kids tumbling into mysteries and resolving just about everything without much adult help. There’s plenty of fresh air, they walk or cycle all over the place, they have the odd picnic or camping session and most importantly they have a lot of fun.

Oh, and as a bonus – they’re illustrated!


So what have you got to lose? Give them a go!

 

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Review: Five Go on a Strategy Away Day

strategyOnce again I’m going to bring you a look at the Bruno Vincent’s attempts at making Enid Blyton’s Famous Five into modern-day grown-ups. I believe I’ve looked at the last in the series by this point, but by the looks of Amazon, we can expect more later this year. However, let’s have a look at this offering before we get on to the next round of “Grown-Up” Famous Fives we can expect.  Fiona, as you may remember, has already done a review of this book, but just to be annoying I’m sticking my oar in and looking at it as well. Fiona’s review –  which is much more detailed as to the actual content of the book –  can be found here.

 

The concept

I won’t deny that if anything this was the book that I really expected to have me laugh out loud. I could imagine the Famous Five breezing the tasks with a wonderful happiness that they had in all their adventures and this was just an adventure the adult world had provided.

Alas, I was seriously wrong. I don’t think I laughed once. At least not in a laugh out loud, ‘oh so tongue in cheek’ manner that Five Go Parenting provided me with.  The Famous Five for a start are barely recognisable as themselves. Vincent has taken the worst traits the Five ever were seen to be blessed with and blown them up into massive dominant personality traits. Not only did the Famous Five get a huge personality shift, the Secret Seven also received a damning personality switch and the two groups of Blyton’s heroes have become enemies. Peter, Janet, Barbara and co have become little oily oiks, who look down on the Famous Five, for one reason being that they have a dog for a member. George helpfully points out to them that no one can ever remember the names of all the members of the Secret Seven. (Point agreed with this Blytonite right here!)

Anyway, the story starts with a hung-over Julian attempting to get his team, who just happen to be George, Dick and Anne, not to mention Timmy (dogs in the office can increase productivity you know!) to the hotel where their training day is taking place.

Throughout the day, friendships are tested and the bonds between the five are frayed and challenged by the tasks set out by their cousin Rupert, who has popped up again just in case we had forgotten all about him. Home truths are dished out and questionnaires provide the Five with personality labels, which has been something they longed to avoid.

Eventually they stumble across some insider trading, spy type plot, which cousin Rupert is up to his elbows in once again, but as Fiona pointed out, the Secret Seven manage to foil an even bigger plot because the Five sabotaged part of their team building hike. Not something I think the Five deserved, but I suppose you could now bring up the question and debate of who was better, if you really wanted to.

The long and the short of it

The book, I believe is the shortest of the Famous Five Grown-Up Series with only 104 pages of story. It certainly feels slimmer in your hands than any of the others, and has shorter chapters as well, one or two whole pages on average I’d say.  A lot is crammed into such an overall short story, Vincent tries to put in a lot of the managerial strategy nonsense and, although I read it quickly, never seem to have a satisfactory finish to them. Rather a mess I thought.

Also, the brains that seemingly blessed the Five in their youth seems to have deserted them good and proper. They can’t seem to work together to get through the tasks they are set, without sniping at each other and causing offence. The picture depicted on the front cover is one of the exercises where Julian has to lead the team, blindfolded, only with their instructions from the others (they’re supposed to be avoiding ‘mines’ (they’re made of paper!))  This is hampered by the fact that the others can’t use ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘forward’ to help him. Once their “coach” has told them to stop using compass directions, which seems perfectly allowable to me, they descend into riddles, confusing poor Julian no end and Timmy manages to ruin it by bounding in and stepping on all the paper mines, effectively blowing the Five up. It’s hardly Timmy’s fault! It’s a long part of the book which realistically isn’t funny, but depressing. The Five were bright young things, and now seemed to have turned into useless layabouts. It’s not funny.

Eventually they do come to work together, which is nice, and to be honest towards the end they begin to feel more like the Famous Five we love. However hard to believe that they are our old friends, when throughout the book Julian is described as having a hangover, because he went out the night before and is paying for it. I suppose it’s to signify the Five being grown up, but its distracting because its part of the reason the Five aren’t getting on as well as they should do!

What am I trying to say?

What am  I trying to say? It’s not a brilliant book, or story for that matter. The characters are barely recognisable as themselves and it’s a rushed book, where too much is happening compared to some of the other books where things have taken so long to kick off as it were.

These books seem to be a real mix of fast and slow, and Five Go on a Strategy Away day  is just as another one in the series of bad parodies in the guise of nostalgia. I don’t like always being negative about books but this series was a particular drag. The only one that felt like it was worth reading was Five Go Parenting that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

Please let me know if you have read them, and what you think? However from what I have read, I’m not alone in my opinions. Still it would be nice to see if anyone out there actually likes these books, and tell me why!

Posted in Books, Bruno Vincent, Enid Blyton, Other Authors, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Monday #214

The last monday in April is upon us! Next week will be May! Where is this year going?

Anyway I hope you like your blogs for this week!

Monday#214

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The Treasure Hunters reviewed by Fiona

The Treasure Hunters is a title I never read as a child – despite having it as part of a 2 in 1 volume. I had read The Boy Next Door, the first book but somehow never made it to the next one! I didn’t even realise I had owned it until looking up my childhood editions of books. So I ended up reading it for the first time as an adult, an experience which can often lead to disappointment. Thankfully that was not the case here – I thought this was a good read.


THE SCENE IS SET

It’s not a very long book so Blyton doesn’t waste much time at the start. Within the first chapter we establish that Daddy has to take Mummy away for some good sea air, so the children are to go to Granny and Granpa’s for a while. The eldest two, Jeffrey and Susan, have been to Grayling’s Manor before but because of chicken pox John has not. So John’s lack of knowledge allows a few descriptions to be given for our benefit. (At first it sounds like Granny and Granpa never see the children but later it’s explained that they normally come to visit the children instead of the other way around – which does seem strange later when you experience Grayling’s Manor and its perfect-for-children grounds).

There’s also a letter brought up, from Granny. In it she writes about her heartbreak at this possibly being the children’s last visit – as they are about to have to sell the big house.


TREASURE

The Greyling’s Treasure is quickly brought up, and even if it hadn’t been in the title you’d guess that the children were going to turn into treasure hunters. This magnificent treasure has been lost for many a year and would perfectly solve the money problems allowing Granny and Granpa to keep their home. The money problems are attributed to ‘bad luck’ and losses, because of the lost treasure. But saying that Granny and Granpa have lived in what must be reasonable luxury for many years as they still have several maids and a gardener – plus the house is never described as shabby or in any way that suggests they haven’t maintained it well.


GREYLINGS MANOR AND GROUNDS

The house is a pretty typical Blyton one – study, dining room, kitchen, secret passage… The secret passage is not so secret now but it leads from the dining-room into the back of the cupboard in Susan’s little attic room. Susan’s room is an odd one – rather round and entered through a low door from the boys’ bedroom. It reminds me of the room found in the first Biff, Chip and Kipper book. The door to that was hidden under wallpaper in the bedroom, and, like Susan’s room, contained a doll’s house.

The grounds are extensive, and beyond the well maintained gardens are a wood, a farm and cottages. The children get a slap-up meal in the farm-house while hunting for their road with four bends. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s go back to the treasure map.


MYSTERIOUS FINDS

In the woods the children find a large pond, and mysteriously, there are marble steps leading down to it. As they say, there would only be steps if people had used it and had a building or something nearby. But there’s nothing to be seen at first. Then after some hunting they find that there is a building – a sort of brick summer house – entirely overgrown with brambles and ivy. As it’s on Greyling’s land (though this isn’t clearly established for the reader until later) they feel quite justified in hacking away not only the overgrowth but also the door to get inside.

An extremely grand ‘summer house’

Granny, after, gives them permission to use it as a playhouse. In one of those lines that makes modern readers cringe Susan cleans it all up because she is the girl. Blyton redeems herself slightly as John volunteers to help scrub the floor – as he likes doing that.

Jeffrey maintains the boy/girl status quo however and does all the chopping and ‘man’s’ work, he’s also the one to have pockets full of useful things like candle-ends, matches and so on.

Above on the left is the first edition illustration of Susan doing the cleaning, and on the right Barbara Freeman’s version from my copy which also features John.

Anyway, gender issues aside, the next hurdle is a blocked chimney. (It seems to be summer or at least warm so I’m not sure why they need a fire… but anyway.) Using a broom they clear away a bird’s nest and assorted rubbish, and then a heavy box!

The next bit is reminiscent of Five on a Treasure Island. Both involve a mysterious old box – one that can’t be opened until it’s thrown out of a window and the other which doesn’t reveal its contents until Susan drops it onto the floor and a secret compartment opens. Both are first suggested to contain treasure – well, possibly an ingot, or some small broaches – but both only contain a treasure map. In the Kirrins’ case this is a details dungeon plan with ingots marked on it, in the Greylings’ case it seems a bit less useful as it just has local features.


MR POTTS AMD MR EPPY

Our next old favourite Blyton plot is that of the seemingly genial man who is really working against the children. They crop up fairly often – is not dissimilar to the men buying the island in Five on a Treasure Island to find the treasure first, and it has likenesses to the Hennings in Five on Finniston Farm too – but in this instance it’s probably most like the scenario in The Ship of Adventure.

Both involve a treasure map which gets divided – the Greylings’ map falls into two so that Mr Potts only sees half (and the children keep the other half safe) while the Mannering/Trents deliberately (and somewhat sacrilegiously) cut their ancient map into quarters to keep it from Mr Eppy’s prying eyes. Therefore in both books our pretending-to-be-friendly chap only has part of the information he needs. Both maps get well-hidden by the children, and despite their enemies best attempts at ransacking their rooms, are not found.

The other reason that Mr Eppy and Mr Potts are alike is that the adults in the situation like and trust them. Aunt Allie is happy to have Mr Eppy keep an eye on the children when she is called away and Granny and Granpa take the children to visit Mr Potts’ house and have lunch there. This makes it harder for the children to avoid their enemy – though Jeffrey has a genius plan whereby be makes a fake tracing of the other half of the map and allows Mr Potts to get a hold of it.


X DOES NOT MARK THE SPOT

As I’ve said above the Greylings’ treasure map seems a bit useless. I know X marks the spot is one of those movie clichés, but you need a bit more to go on, surely? The description in the text is fairly vague, it just references the features and the illustration in my copy doesn’t help!

 

As you can see there is a winding river, clearly it’s a river as there’s a great round pond in the middle of it! It’s actually frustrating how long the children believe this is a road for, but I suppose it pads the hunting out a bit more. Then there are some trees, a bit of a hill, and a strange little building. It does not suggest any direction to start from/go in or where along it the treasure is hidden. In fact it suggests the building is near enough to the pond that it would be foolish to go via the trees!

Saying all that if you look at the first edition’s illustration, it does look more like a road and the word treasure is over the building which helps a bit. But the order of four bends, trees, hill, building doesn’t work.

But anyway they set off – and after finally working out that they need to follow the river they make their way past their summer house (again with the map from the first edition this makes more sense, with my edition you’d surely start at the pond and cut out a lot of travel.)

They find the three trees, though one has been cut down, and then eventually discover the building – whatever it was – has long become a ruin. This is slightly Finniston Farm-y again, though there are some stones lying around to show the rough outline of the building rather than just a grassy indent.

Here though, they are stumped. There couldn’t be stairs up to the building – it’s on flat ground – and the map clearly shows lines laid out like stairs. Then they twig that the stairs must lead down from inside the building…


THE FINAL HUNT(S)

The children head back with spades the next day and uncover a trapdoor in the middle of the building. They need a rope to get down, though, and it’s lunch time so they have to beat a hasty retreat – not before they spot Mr Potts and his friend snooping around though. Through sheer bad luck they have ‘followed’ the fake map and heard the excited voices of the children.

Mr Potts intends to come back first thing the next morning to find the treasure so all the children have to do is find it that afternoon! Only it isn’t that simple – they’re sent to their rooms for the rest of the day as a punishment for being late for lunch.

As with all Blyton’s good characters they refuse to outright lie. They have promised to stay in their rooms for the rest of the day but said nothing about the night. This is a very good example of indirect dishonesty, which is apparently ok! They know fine well that Granny does not mean it is acceptable for them to go out at midnight but they believe that by following the precise wording they are not technically doing anything wrong. The children do the same earlier in regards to the map.

“Do you know where it is?” he said very suddenly, wheeling round on Susan.

Susan had no idea where Jeffery had out the map. She shook her head. “No,” she said, I don’t know where it is at all.”

“Do you?” asked the man, staring at John. John went very red. Like Susan he had no idea where the half was but he couldn’t help blushing.

“I don’t know at all where it is,” he said.

Mr Potts turned to ask Jeffrey – but that sharp boy had slipped out of the room. He wasn’t going to tell an untruth – but he was jolly sure he wasn’t going to tell the truth to Mr Potts either!

And again, later, when Mr Potts assumes the spades are to help the farmer with, they run off and ignore him, pretending to save a hen from Rags the dog rather than answer dishonestly.

Anyway – they sneak out at midnight and head down the trap-door and find the treasure. That’s just fine and dandy until Mr Potts also turns up and chases them all the way down the underground tunnels and right to the farm where the tunnel ends. (Never fails to amaze me how many busy, working farms have huts/sheds/chapels with trapdoors that are easy to open yet have remained undiscovered for a hundred years…)

It’s a nice bit of tension to end with, but as this book is probably aimed at slightly younger readers the children end up safe with the farmer and his wife.

The next day Granpa sends Mr Potts and his lawyer off with some choice words (but no sword wielding like in Finniston Farm) and we can relax in the knowledge that the Greylings’ home is safe.


A COUPLE OF BLOOPERS?

There were two little things I noticed that didn’t seem quite right. Firstly, they look at a picture of their great-great grandmother and comment on her blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, ‘old family pictures’ sounds like photographs rather than paintings, and of course photographs wouldn’t be in colour!

And later, a definite mistake! Jeffrey goes back to cover over the trap door with branches etc, and that’s when he sees Mr Potts has found it too. He observes him briefly then sneaks off again – yet when they go back at midnight they the move the branches etc that Mr Potts has put back, yet it was never put there in the first place!


FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite several of its elements being reused in more famous books The Treasure Hunters still stands up well by itself. It is strong enough to be enjoyed by an adult on first reading, but simple enough for younger children to love it too. It’s not very long or detailed perhaps, and the danger is limited to a brief portion at the end but there is enough intrigue with Mr Potts looming in the background from time to time – and of course there are the obligatory gratuitous food descriptions interspersed with the treasure hunting.

And of course you can’t fail to love the end where they celebrate with ice-creams and Granpa fills the priceless Greyling’s cup with iced ginger-beer! (I only hope he washed it well first.)

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If you like Blyton: The Marsh Road Mysteries: Diamonds and Daggers by Elen Caldecott

marshroad1As you know we are always on the look out for books and authors to recommend for you to try, especially if they are reminiscent of our favourite author, Enid Blyton. Of course for Fiona and I, working in libraries we have a high chance at being able to spot some more obscure titles that we wouldn’t have necessarily known about.

This book, Diamonds and Daggers by Elen Caldecott is one of those. The second one in the series happened to pass over my counter one day and I decided to look deeper into the series. Not only did I discover the Marsh Road Mysteries, but also another mystery book to review as well at a later date.  However, it’s time to take a closer look at Diamonds and Daggers and whether it deserves to be on our ‘If you like Blyton’ list.

What’s it about?

Well when we’re looking for a “like Blyton” book often the main ingredient is that of children solving mysteries. This is where authors like Helen Moss and Lauren St John come in with their adventure books. Elen Caldecott is the same. We’re introduced to a group of three children Piotr, Minnie and Andrew, who live on Marsh Road and have been friends for a long long time. They make up three fifths of our core group. Slightly later on in the book we’re joined by twins Flora and Sylvie who are  very much like chalk and cheese, however identical – it’s nice for an author not to fall into the trap of “boy and girl twins who looked identical”. There has to only be so many times you can use that one without people pulling it apart! I’m sure all you avid Enid Blyton fans know as well as I do about the ongoing debate on how non-identical twins can look exactly the same. Yeah I don’t understand how it could occur either.

Anyway when we get to Marsh Road, there is excitement in the form of a Hollywood movie star called Betty Massino who is coming to make her British stage debut, and the even bigger excitement is that her expensive diamond necklace is stolen. Piotr’s dad is part of the security team in the theatre and because he left his post around the time of the diamonds being stolen, suspicion falls on him. Piotr, whose parents come from Poland, is under threat of being moved away from his friends and back to Poland as his father feels cast aside and disrespected by the English who all label him guilty. Piotr, Minnie, Andrew, Flora and Sylvie all join forces to prove that Piotr’s father did not steal the diamonds from Betty Massino.

In the spirit of the Famous Five, and other teams before them, the Marsh Road detective agency power up, and set their brains to the case. The have a log book where they record all their leads, such as conversations with their suspects, and pictures of things that might be relevent to their investigation. They also shun all help from adults, believing that they will be told to stop and not interfere.

Needless to say the well oiled team of children manages to stop Piotr being taken back to Poland – oh and the diamonds are found and the bad guy sent to prison. How Blytonian is that? Huzzah for child detectives!

The differences

Diamonds and Daggers stands out from the other books we’ve reviewed for many reasons but I think it has the closest resemblance to a Blyton adventure story to date. The staunch loyalty of the children to one another makes it worthy of any Blyton novel. Minnie and Andrew are not going to give up their friend Piotr without a fight, even if that means doing some pretty daring things to keep him, which shows how strong their bond is.

Flora and Sylvie join the other three later on in the book, but it is Flora who really glues the twins to the other three. Her kindness, level headedness and complete difference from her twin make her likeable and a champion to the three friends. Sylvie is a bit of a drama queen, and given that she is starring in the play with the Hollywood star, Betty Massino, you can well believe it. The fact that twins are so different really does make a difference from the standard Blyton twins, who largely get on. Flora and Sylvie are more like Harry and Guy Lawdler from Five on a Secret Trail and possibly like Connie and Ruth from The Upper Fourth at Malory Towers. The thing about these twins is that they work together while being totally separate people with different ambitions in life which makes them feel more like real people.

Caldecott does a wonderful job at making these characters real, making them three dimensional. The crisis that Piotr goes through on his investigations, especially when he worries that his friends will think he is “as bad as his dad” when he accidentally pinches a good luck card from Betty Massino’s dressing room, make him more like a real person, with ‘modern day’ anxieties about real things. He is very worried about being made to move to Poland and leave his friends behind, as he keeps saying to his parents;

TMRMDiamondsandDaggers1

It’s a good point really, because he was born in England (I assume) he is a first generation to be born in England he doesn’t feel the ties with Poland that his parents do. Hense why he is so insistent to stay in England.

Minnie and Andrew are also have their three dimensional sides as well. They don’t want to lose Piotr, so will do everything for him and trying to keep him in England. However, Andrew, for example, is a young career for his mum. Her illness isn’t mentioned too much but we know she has physio and he has to be at home at certain times to look after her. He may be a bit dippy but he is caring and seemingly mature for his age.

Minnie on the other hand likes to organise things in her mother’s salon, and is very worldly-wise. She knows about the ‘protection’ of the local gangsters when the others aren’t aware of such things. She’s a very down to earth young lady even when it comes to the huge Hollywood star in her hometown.

Summing up

Diamonds and Daggers is like looking at a modern Famous Five or Five Find-Outers and Dog, it honestly is. There is something wonderful about this novel, Elen Caldecott manages to make wonderful three dimensional characters and the story surrounding them is very strong and well done.

Just a common thing that comes up on the reviews on Goodreads is that the book was not long enough and I happen to agree. The ending feels like a bit of a rush, but it is all satisfactorily tied up and sorted out.

I really recommend this book as an “if you like Blyton’ read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one to see what happens to our new Mystery Solvers. Nice one Elen Caldecott!

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Monday #213

My niece turned three this weekend (where has the time gone?) and so I have celebrated that and Easter with much cake. I’ve yet to crack open my egg so I still have something to look forward to!

Coming up this week:

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