I've been reading these two books over the past couple of weeks for The Heart of a Child challenge run by Becky at Becky's book reviews. The reason I chose these two, The Valley of Adventure and The Castle of Adventure, both by Enid Blyton, is because they're two books I grew up with as a child. (These are not the actual copies I hasten to add.) Ours was not a reading household, we were a rare thing in those days (the 1950s and 60s), a one parent family, and there just wasn't the money for buying books. These two belonged to my brother and I have to admit I covetted them. This envy lasted a year or so until my reading level was good enough to cope with them, I would have been eight or nine I suppose, and then my brother let me have them as he was by then too old for them. And thus started my childhood love affair with the books of Enid Blyton, particularly this series of 'Adventure' books involving the characters of Philip, his sister Dinah, Jack, his sister Lucy-Ann and Jack's parrot, Kiki.
This story starts with the children excited about going for night-time trip in Bill Smugs' plane. Bill is a policeman they are friendly with who has recently learnt to fly. Due to a mix-up they end up on the wrong plane, shots are fired outside on the tarmac, the plane takes off and the children, hiding behind some crates, quickly realise they've been taken off by criminals who don't know they're there. When the pane lands they manage to sneak off and see that they've landed in a remote valley surrounded by mountains. They head upwards and find themselves a cave near a waterfall to hide out in. They spy on the criminals, pinch their food and generally make a nuisance of themselves until things take a more serious turn when they discover the criminals have a prisoner. They're ill-treating him and thus the children eventually discover what actually *is* going on.
This second book starts with Dinah and Lucy-Ann waiting to go home at the start of the school holidays and looking forward to seeing their brothers. The children all live with Phillip and Dinah's mother who has hired a cottage in a hilly region (my guess was Wales but they didn't actually say) for the holidays. When the children arrive they're excited to discover a castle at the top of the hill but disappointed when they're told not to go near it because it's too dangerous; there has been a landslide and the place could collapse. Of course, that doesn't put them off! Jack's eagerness to find an eagle's nest takes them to the castle which seems impregnable until they eventually find a way in helped by Tassie, a local urchin. It's a creepy place, made even creepier by the fact that they soon realise the castle is occupied when they had been told it was abandoned. Jack gets permission to spend a couple of nights up there trying to photograph his golden eagle family and that's when the adventure really begins.
It was fascinating reading these two books after what must be almost 50 years. I read quite a lot of YA fiction now and it was interesting to compare modern books for children and ones written 60 years ago. A couple of things quickly became apparent. Firstly, how much more freedom children had in those days. These children were aged 11 to about 14 and wandered willy-nilly all over the place, unsupervised, all day and sometimes at night. They also had an unmarried male friend of mature years and no one thought anything of it. I fancy they would these days. The other thing I noticed was how much more interesting the boys were than the girls. Blyton gave the two boys hobbies such as bird watching (Jack) and a fascination with animals (Phillip). The girls apparently did nothing. Did Blyton prefer boys to girls? I believe she had two daughters so I find that hard to believe. But it did seem to me that the boys definitely played the major role and the girls were almost 'allowed to tag along'. I tried to remember her other series which I also read avidly but only The Famous Five came readily to mind. One girl in that who played a major role in adventures was 'George' but George was a girl who very definitely wanted to be a *boy*. So make of that what you will.
Of course none of this was apparent to an eight year old discovering adventure fiction for the first time. I devoured Enid Blyton books like there was no tomorrow; talk about escapism from a hum-drum life! And now my grandaughter is reading them and it's great fun chatting to her about exactly these books because she clearly loves them too. I am glad though that Enid Blyton is not all she reads, we all make sure she reads a variety of authors because I really don't want her getting the idea that boys have all the fun and are somehow *better*.
All that said... I *did* enjoy my trip down memory lane with Enid Blyton.