Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Five on Kirrin Island Again by Enid Blyton, a book review

The recent article in the Guardian, "Enid Blyton's Famous Five get 21st-century Makeover" and the subsequent discussion at Charlotte's Library left me feeling somewhat nostalgic for Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven.

They're a little hard to get hold of at local libraries, but I did find a copy of Five on Kirrin Island Again at the local library sale (for the grand total of 25 cents. Have I mentioned lately that I love libraries?) and happily settled down to enjoy it.

It's a straightforward adventure with clearly delineated good guys and bad guys, a sketchily detailed scientific invention that is impressively full of glass and wire, and a brisk pace that keeps the pages turning. Someone is threatening George's father, trying to steal his inventions. It is up to the Five to find out who, even though they are not supposed to go near the Island and the mysterious tower George's father has built.

Even though it has been years, the characters were still familiar: There is "Little Anne" hanging back timidly, George wishing she were a boy, Julian taking the lead, and Dick being the slightly hotheaded one. Actually, Anne was more adventurous than I recalled--I remember being irritated because George always had to wait behind with Anne; here, she is as involved as anyone.

I found the same qualities in the two books in the Adventure Series--The Island of Adventure and The Castle of Adventure I was able to put on hold at the library: There was a tomboy, a more "typical" girl (though Lucy-Ann seems more determined to get involved than Anne), two boys (Phillip and Jack; Phillip is the animal-lover, Jack's the one with a bird), and an engaging animal, Kiki the Cockatoo. There was also a briskly moving plot, just enough threat to keep the tension going, and a satisfactory happy ending.

There were moments of alienation, but these came neither through the language nor the gender, class, or race differences. They came from being an adult and stumbling over the casual way the Adventure kids were dumped with tutors, left their assigned guardian, and showed up elsewhere without anyone worrying. Suddenly, I was wanting to jump in and tell everyone to start paying attention to the kids. Ah well. No departure, no adventure. See also Vladamir Propp on the fairy tale. See any fairy tale. See most of Diana Wynne Jones. Having seen that, I tell myself, get back to the adventure.

I picked up an Agatha Christie, The Mystery of the Blue Train, at the same sale, and read it immediately afterward. The two share a distinct kinship: Just enough characterization to keep the plot going, and a heavy reliance on "types"(1)  (Christie makes a point of this in the Marple books). Both authors are light on their feet, moving quickly from point to point and relying on plot rather than character. Both also reflect their time period in their choice of word and, yes, gender relations. And, both are fun in small doses.

(1) The Unicorn and the Wasp may be one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, and Christie may be an author I quite regularly return to, but I am not sure quite what the Doctor was thinking when he praised Christie's great and blinding insight into human nature. Perhaps she was deeply insightful, but if so, she kept it for her real life, not her books.

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