Friday, December 23, 2005

The Books of Adventure 

I found the announcement of a UK readers' poll in which adults voted for their favorite books for children interesting, since the winner was a series, the 'Famous Five', by a popular but now rather disreputable author named Enid Blyton. She beat series by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I found it interesting partly for the curious fact that Blyton is pretty much unknown in the US, but also because a different series by Blyton, not any of her series that placed in this recent poll, were my own favorite childhood books -- namely, the 'Adventure' series.

The 'Adventure' books, beginning with The Island of Adventure and continuing with 7 more volumes, each title designating a different place -- The Castle of Adventure, The Sea of Adventure, etc. -- concerned two brother & sister pairs who meet at boarding school and go on holidays together, in Wales or Scotland or at an aunt's remote coastal abode, and one way or another stumble into 'adventures', typically involving secret passages, isolation from parental figures, and encounters with criminals of some sort, gun-runners or smugglers or even mad scientists. The books were written in the late '40s and early '50s, and their racial and social stereotypes, not uncommon for the era, have made the books, and Blyton's books in general, anachronisms of a sort, disregarded by librarians and scholars, despite being fondly remembered by actual readers.

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I discovered 5 of the books -- Castle, Valley, Mountain, Circus, and Sea -- at the Reseda public library, and checked them out and reread them endlessly. Something about the Britishness of the books gave them an exotic appeal to me; a different landscape, a different language ("wizard!"). My favorites were The Mountain of Adventure, which had a fantasy element, about a mad scientist ensconced inside a Welsh mountain inventing anti-gravity wings, and The Valley of Adventure, in which the 4 kids are inadvertantly flown to and stranded in a remote European valley where they discover a cache of artworks stolen by the Nazis. In later years I found the first book in the series, The Island of Adventure, that turned up in a US paperback reprint (none of the others ever appeared in the US), and eventually I ordered the whole set from Britain -- via Fantast Medway -- and finally read the two I'd missed, River of Adventure and Ship of Adventure. They were OK, but of course didn't kindle the same excitement of the other books that I'd read at an earlier age.

I've never read any other Blyton, nor been inclined to. But every once in a while, home in bed with the flu, I'll pull down one of the Adventure books for a revisit...
Actually, I also have a soft spot in my heart for Blyton. Especially her "Famous Five" stories have been very successful in Germany and still are to this day. They have been adapted into audio dramas for children and after the original 21 books by Blyton had been adapted, new original stories have been comissioned ever since. There are now well over fifty, and th series is still going strong (if only in audio). But her books are also still doing okay in Germany. There are still numerous editions available and there are new editions still forthcoming! Olaf from Germany
Hey Mark,

First off, glad to see you enable comments again!

Second, is Enid Blyton really unknown in the US?? Good heavens. I grew up in Canada, and she was anything but. She's certainly still revered by plenty of YA and fantasy authors... wasn't it Neil Gaiman who said last year that all modern fantasy authors were working in her shadow? Hmmm... I should go look it up.

- John
I was introduced to her writing as a 8 yr old by a college librarian.
My favorite book involved an elderly couple, a cave behind a waterfall, and lots of danger. Unfortunately, I don't remember the title. Thanks for mentioning her and the titles of some of her books...I'll look for them next time I'm in Canada.
Elderly couple, cave behind the waterfall-- that was The Valley of Adventure, which I mentioned above. The kids board the wrong plane at the airport and are marooned in an isolated European valley...
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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