The Ship of Adventure - Review

The sixth book of the series originally supposed to be the grand finale of an exciting series. After two highly adrenaline packed stories we are back to comfort zone. This time the story is set in a relaxed setting of a ship. The first third or so is just fun on the deck. The initial conflict is about getting Kiki on board. Then Phillip finds an exotic pet. The descriptions of the ship journey, the various facilities within the ship and islands in Europe they call on, make delightful read. A new character Lucien comes in providing comic relief along with Kiki the parrot and Phillip's new pet. There are no birds for Jack though. Nor are there any of the usual squabbles between Phillip and Dinah because he can't keep a bunch of insects and rodents on his person while abroad a ship. We see Lucy-Ann's ability to bond with people due to her deep empathy.

Even when the excitement starts, it is of the fun kind. There is no real danger facing the children. It is more like some of the stories in the Blyton's other series. A treasure hunt with evil men being competing adult treasure hunters. Only settings are more exciting with the search happening on a Greek island. The children are never all alone and lost and in serious danger. So overall the book has a much cozier feel compared to the earlier books. There are of course no secret passages etc. due to this story taking place most part on a ship. The treasure island has exploration of old buildings to find the treasure.
Some of the things from this books excited my imagination. I was fascinated by the idea of visiting Greek islands. I was so excited to visit an island Thassos many years later. Similarly I was fascinated by the idea of a ship in a bottle. So I got myself one while visiting Amsterdam. It was quite a small one though - not a big one like in the story.

Of course towards the end, we have some fights with the bad men, chases and escape. Phillip's pet plays a key role throughout in development of the story. Kiki plays a negative role. In the end, we have movement in the overall story with an important event happening in the life of the children - something for which grounds were being laid over the earlier 5 books.

From an overall series perspective, this book is a kind of relief after all the action and danger.

The Mountain of Adventure - Review

The fifth book of the series, even the name has a very pleasant air to it. This time Jack, Phillip, Dinah and Lucy Ann go to the Welsh mountains. We are back to the slow relaxed beginning. A jolly vacation feeling prevails. We wonder if we are back to the cozy atmosphere of the first two books. For a third of the book nothing adventurous happens. Phillip acquires two pets – interesting ones though not that exotic. There is lot of descriptions of food and eating. There is fun with Kiki and their Welsh hosts. They are safe and sound with their friend Bill and the mother of Phillip and Dinah – Mrs. Mannering. They look all set to go to a place called Vale of Butterflies on Donkeys. What can possibly go wrong, right? Wrong. In fact, after a slow start, we land ourselves the darkest story of the series.

First signs of mystery show with appearance of wolf like animals. What could they be. As Blyton takes pains to explain in most of her books, there are no such dangerous animals in Britain. Where could they have come from? This is followed by tremors in the ground. What is causing them? Then their Welsh guide starts developing strange incomprehensible fears. “Black”, “Black” – he utters. There has never been such mystery build up in an Enid Blyton book. The mystery is solved in the next few pages, but the answer is not one easy to digest. The men they encounter are no ordinary criminals trying to steal treasures. They are in a different league after. And for the first time, lives are in peril. As I had mentioned earlier, Blyton generally steers away from death in most of her book. Here she dangles the fear of death in front of the reader and how! At one point one can really feel a sense of tragedy though one knows this is a Blyton book and not some story of Genji where the author is going to kill of protagonist in the end of the story. People even had fears that J K Rowling may go that route. But not one will even think such things of Blyton.

For the people enjoying the cozy travelogue kind of feelings, this is not the best book once we got past the first third of the book. If we see, she has been increasing the danger levels from valley of adventure onwards. In valley of adventure, they are all alone in vast unsheltered landscape with burnt houses without even sufficient food. Nobody even knows where this valley is located. This kind of builds a sense of fear arising out of vast emptiness. However, there is not direct imminent danger. In Sea of Adventure, there is direct threat from the elements. Out exposed on an island with no adult company during a sea storm. And after that lost in an array of uninhabited islands with no hope of rescue. Here, humans are the main danger. The dark scary kind of humans you generally don’t see in Blyton’s books. I mean by Blyton’s standards. Nothing compared to Voldemort or some of the villains seen in some of the modern children’s fantasy to say nothing of adult thrillers.

Sometimes when things are cozy, people characters are not brought to fore. Only when things get tough, true characters emerges. Phillip comes out a true hero here showing grit and courage in the face of adversity. Also, his skill with animals almost reaches magical proportions here and that turns out to be the final fame changer. Lucy Ann is another who comes out in good light. She is always the scared little baby who never wanted any adventures. Here, even reader feels, this is a bit too much for children to be involved in. But she manages to show courage when her near and dear are threatened. A generally timid sweet child turning fiercely protective and ready to put herself at peril for her friends.

Other than the exotic settings compared to her other books, one thing about this book is that the children are thrown into situations where they are forced into adventures against their will. In others, the children from the safety of their homes, go investigating and poke around to apprehend criminals. Here the children are just going about their business and adventures seizes them and gives them no escape route. That way this is also the most dangerous series.

Another aspect we see as the series progresses is how relationship between children and Bill evolves. He is a stranger in the first book. In the second, he is just an acquaintance, who will pay them a visit when in the vicinity. In the third, he is taking them on short holidays. In the fourth he is close enough to visit their mother to leave official documents in her safe keeping and to take children on a longer vacation. In this one, he is taking them on a family vacation. This is nicely setting the stage for the sixth book.

So, Mountain of the Book is not the coziest of book. And one wonders how much more dangerous the story is going to get from here. And if they, will they truly remain Enid Blyton books? This was the last one I had read many years after I finished the series. I picked it up at a time when I was under stress and looking for something warmer. So, this did not meet my expectation. But on subsequent readings, I see how this book is special in its own way. It has the travelogue feeling, Philip’s way with animals, children showing character, danger, adventure, mystery.

The Sea of Adventure - Review

The fourth book of the series. This one has an exciting start that kind of reminds one of Sherlock Holmes’ Final Problem. Criminals are out to get Bill Cunningham the detective friend of the children Jack, Phillip, Lucy-Ann and Dina. He is trying to move around town under cover and disappear for a few days. After an exciting start, things ease out a bit as the children journey along with their friends the isles in northern Britain. This was the fun part like a travelogue. We get to see puffins. Jack as a bird lover once again comes to fore; there had been no birds for Jack in the previous story. Phillip of course has his three rats and adopts a pair of exciting pets. The pets don’t play a role in the story though. Also, we see the return of nature as a major antagonist. In the first book, we had the sea flooding in, in the second, there were landslides. However, the third did not have the children contending against the forces of nature. Here the children are stranded in an island with no shelter during a sea storm with nothing but tents to protect them. Actually, the danger feels more real when the antagonist is nature than mere bad men. Because bad men, we know in Enid Blyton’s books do not kill children.
Valley of Adventure, Sea of Adventure and Mountain of Adventure have a good sound to them being closely associated with nature. After Valley of Adventure, it took me years before I finally got to read Sea of Adventure and Mountain of Adventure. So, there was always a sense of excitement about this book. And seas do have a kind of charm about them. And we see the poetic side of Lucy-Ann. For a change, this book does not have any secret passages. While secret passages are exiting, it becomes cliched when you have them in every book. Guess Enid Blyton realized that and decided to keep this story without them. In this book they are in uninhabited isles with limited trees and cliffs. So not much scope for passages of any sort. Also, while not a foreign country, being out in the open sea away from civilization is definitely exciting.
Continuing on from last book where the children were self-reliant, this book takes things further with children actually effecting a rescue rather than being rescued every time. The story has fair amount of excitement. The adventure starts earlier than the first two books and there is excitement around boat chases, hiding from enemies and escape. Of course, luck does play a role as usual. The situations in the book are so dangerous that I guess it is difficult for the author to get the protagonists out of the situations she has put them in without a lucky break or two.
It was overall a fascinating book with a good combination of nature exploration, food and fun, danger and adventure.

The Valley of Adventure - Review

The Valley of Adventure is the third book in the series. This starts differently from the other two books. There is no relaxed fun and slow build up. It has a rapid start with Jack, Phillip, Lucy Ann and Dinah finding themselves marooned in a strange valley in the middle of nowhere with criminal elements for company. They have to figure out a way either to get out of the place or survive there while remaining out of sight of the criminals. This story kind of reminded me of Robinson Crusoe, one of the favorite reads of my childhood. Of course, the children find easier solutions for their food and clothing needs. But the idea of being in the lap of nature separated from rest of humanity is similar. The settings are much more exotic than the other books. They were quite close to their home in the first two books. In this book, they are not even in their own country – they are somewhere in the middle of Europe. That way the exoticism index is taken a few notches up.

Like in the other books, here also we have secret caves and passages. We also have a treasure hunt and we are introduced to a magical place like the caves of Aladdin and Ali Baba. This is one of the specialties of this one. This book however does not have any birds for Jack nor any interesting animals for Phillip. All he finds is a lizard that doesn’t do much except serving to irritate Dinah. Of course, Jack also finds a hen towards the end of the story. But a hen is not exactly and ornithologist’s delight. Talking of the hen, I found all the fuss the children made about the hen kind of strange and inconsistent. The children love the hen so much and fear the criminals don’t kill and eat it. But the children themselves are meat eaters and definitely eat chicken. This is one dichotomy I find in all Enid Blyton books. The characters seem to love animals so much and still eat the very same animals. And she does not even try to explain it in a philosophical way like in certain Native Indian lore.

Unlike the earlier two books, here the children manage to take on the villains on their own might without depending on their detective friend. However, they are aided by luck. While the children do attempt dangerous feats, the danger levels don’t peak suddenly like in the other books. This one maintains a steady pace through and through.

There is of course the usual fun around Kiki the parrot’s mix up of words and phrases. And food and eating as always occupies a place of importance, more so since lack of food happened to be one of the major initial concerns. I think Enid Blyton does a fabulous joy of bringing in food as a relief in the middle of intense scenes. In the real life also, there is a tendency to eat tasty food as a stress reliever. So this works really well.

I have seen it mentioned somewhere that Enid Blyton usually does not mention the war much in her books and also usually does not clearly specify the time the stories are set in. In this one however she mentions the war and that second world war is long over when this story is taking place.

Overall, I think this a more of a pure play adventure story than the earlier books and does not have much of the warmer fuzzier elements. Also, since there aren’t too many people here, we don’t see too much of the children’s character coming out in this one. It is mostly just action. That way it scores on setting and pace but loses out on some of the other aspects. So I would not have this story in running for the best book of this series.

The Castle of Adventure - Review

The Castle of Adventure is the second book of the series. This was the one I read first and got introduced to the series. This book opens at a school. That way the settings are similar to island of adventure. Isle of Adventure started at a master’s house. This one starts at the hostel of the girls’ school where Dinah and Lucy Ann study. They break off a day before the boys and arrive at a cottage Dinah’s mother has arranged for them. Once again it is a remote location away from the hustle and bustle of human activity. This kind of setting is one of the best part of Enid Blyton books. You yourself feel like you are in a relaxed peaceful vacation. The castle on the hill looms ominously in the background but once again it is a slow start with a leisurely beginning where children meet up after vacation and settle down in a new place. We are also filled in on what happened in their lives since the last book and also about the characters for people who are starting with this book. That way people can read this stand alone.
There are parallels between Isle of Adventure and this one. There, the children are led by Jack’s pursuit of Great Auks to the island of Adventure. Here they are led by Jack’s pursuit of the golden eagle. The Castle of Adventure has an even more placid start than Island of Adventure. Here it starts off with curiosity about the Castle that changes into a desire to get in when it is discovered the eagles are nesting inside the castle. Before they manage to enter the castle, they acquire a local girl as a friend and Phillip gets one of this exotic pet that is a special aspect of every book. The pet plays a major role in the story as well like his pets do in quite a few of the books of this series. I won't mention what the pet was because one of the things I looked forward to while reading every book was to discover what the pet would be. I am hoping my review would inspire someone who has not read this one to pick up and read and enjoy.
I liked this story better than Island of Adventure because here the children remain inside the Castle of Adventure for more days. That feels much more exciting. In island of adventure, the children don’t remain so much in the island of adventure. Here also, till half the book, there is no sign of any criminal activity. Like the stories about Isle of Gloom, there are stories about a wicked old man who used to live in the castle, keep prisoners and torture them.
There is the usual Comic relief of Kiki making her funny remarks that sometime make sense in a funny way. Kiki frightens the villains. Kiki in many of the stories works both ways. She flies away and has Jack follow her and gets him trapped. At the same time, she makes human and animal sounds to scare the villains and rescue him as well. I used to like Kiki so much I would pester my mother to get me talking parrot for one of my birthdays.
This book also has secret passages and hidden rooms. There is again pulse pounding action in the last part of the book - tussle with the bad guys as well as fleeing from a cataclysmic disaster.
There is just one surprise in this story and that too a small one. This was one of the reasons I liked to read it so many times – because nothing is lost by having it read it already.
One thing I find about these books though is that the criminal elements seem too soft. Enid Blyton portrays a world where sex and death do not exist. There is rarely any romantic sentiment expressed ever in her book and even the villains usually do not die. Villains always only imprison the kids and at worst whip the boys. That way it is fairy tale of sorts. Real world criminals would kill without slightest compunctions and going to lonely places like castle and islands of adventure carries a great risk of running into sexual perverts. As a child I wanted so much to emulate the children in the stories. But now as an adult, I realize how dangerous it could turn out to be. Like one of my friends told me – he prefers all adventures in dangerous jungles and all in the safety of his bed at home curled up with book rather than actually going to such places and exposing himself to real dangers. While on this point, I also wanted to mention about this talk of not exposing sisters to dangers that comes up often. In a sexless world, what extra dangers would a girl be exposed to that a boy is not? Here what is talked about is dangerous climbing and such which kind of implies women are less suited to physical exertion than men which might not go too well with modern ethos.
The characters begin to grow on us by the time we are into the second book. Jack is easy going, enterprising and sensible. And of course his crazy love for birds which contributed to plot development in both Island and Castle of Adventure. Phillip comes across as a bit more brasher and impulsive as well as dominating, given to tempers and also to teasing sometimes bordering on nastiness. He has that magnetic personality that makes him attractive not only to animals but neglected children as well. Dinah is the sensible no-nonsense girl, not a tomboy like George of Famous Five but still bold and not easily cowed down, not too sentimental, impatient and irritable. She also has a dominating nature that often brings her into conflict with her brother other than his love for animals and insects and her repulsion towards them. Lucy Ann is kind of opposite of Dinah, soft and sentimental, devoted to her near and dear ones and tendency to be easily scared. There is a strong endearing quality to her and the reader immediately feels he wants a sister like her.
This was one of my favorite books during my childhood and was devastated when my mother ripped it apart to pieces.

The Island of Adventure - Review

The Island of Adventure is the first in the Adventure series that feature Jack, Phillip, Dina, Lucy-Ann and parrot Kiki. While every book in the series is a standalone, there is a storyline related to the personal life of the children across the eight books. In this book, Jack and Lucy-Ann meet Phillip for the first time at their tutor’s house where both Phillip and Jack are getting tutored during their summer vacations. It is interesting seeing the beginning of a close friendship. Jack and Lucy-Ann don’t have parents and Phillip has only a mother and a sister Dinah who is with their uncle and aunt.

Jack and Lucy-Ann can’t go back to their uncle’s place as their uncle’s leg is fractured – they have to stay back at the tutor’s place. They don’t want to. That is the first conflict in the story. Phillip comes up with the idea that the two of them can escape and come with him to stay at his uncle’s home Craggy Tops. Craggy Tops is mentioned as an exciting place filled with birds and Jack is an amateur ornithologist. There is a general sense of excitement about the story moving to Craggy Tops. Will they manage to pull off the escape scheme?

Once that move to Craggy Tops gets settled, we start getting glimpses of Craggy Tops – the exotic house on the cliffs isolated from rest of civilization, secret underground pathways running through the cliffs and the mysterious island called Isle of Gloom. The main source of conflict is the house hold helping man Jo-Jo who seems to be at odds with the children and intent on spoiling their fun. We also start getting to know the protagonists better – Jack is a responsible sensible good-natured boy who is crazy about observing birds. Phillip is also similar to Jack, but he is extremely fond of all manner of insects and animals. While Jack mostly likes to observe, Phillip tames animals and keeps them about his person. In this book, no animal plays a major role, but we come to know of Phillip’s interest in mice, beetles, star fishes, snails etc. And he is a tease, especially with respect to his sister Dinah who doesn’t like insects, rodents, reptiles and the like. Lucy-Anny is the typical devoted young girl, who is petite and affectionate and loves her elder brother to distraction. Sharply in contrast to the relationship between Lucy-Ann and Jack, we have that between Dinah and Phillip. Dinah is very different from Lucy-Anny – a no nonsense type who is not particularly sentimental, impatient and liable to fly into rages. They also have a bond but keep squabbling with each other. That is the bunch.

Till half way through the book, there is no sign of any crime whatsoever. There are suspicious signals being exchanged between the sea and the cliff on which their house is located. There are continuous conflicts with Jo-Jo. The children befriend a mysterious man who claims to be a bird lover. He mentions the possibility of an extinct bird ‘The Great Auk’ being present in the area. Jack gets a notion that the bird may be there on the Isle of Gloom and children start trying to find ways to reach the island. That becomes the focus of the story.

Meanwhile there are lot of happy moments of picnic lunches, visit to the town, sailing trips with the stranger etc.

When they finally reach the island, they discover human presence on the island and ancient mines. That is when the mystery really starts. From there the story proceeds rapidly. The children visit the island and explore the mines and get trapped in the mines. Then there is the discovery of secret paths. Secret underground paths through rocks, under the sea and running through ancient houses – this is a standard trope of sorts in Enid Blyton stories. It is quite exciting for someone reading about them for the first time. Especially it was for me who even before I read Enid Blyton books used to imagine secret passages under the staircase, under the cots, the loft and all other dark mysterious places. I guess Enid Blyton knew about this favorite fantasy of children and pandered to it.

The end turns out very exciting with criminals gaining focus, a couple of surprises and lot of danger and action. The surprises of course lose value during re-reads. But Enid Blyton stories like those of certain other authors does not rest on the surprises alone.

Finally, the story ends with some happy developments in the personal lives of the children. After all the heart pounding action, we end with a warm fuzzy feeling.
This book tells a really interesting tale in itself but somehow this book is found not to have sufficient sheen if it is read after the following books in the series. The settings get more and more exciting book after book and the earlier books seem rather mundane compared to the later books. Also, some surprises, especially those pertaining to the personal lives of the children are surprises no more for those who have read the other books. That was one of the reasons I did not find this book all that exciting the first time I read as I read this as the third in the series after Castle of Adventure and River of Adventure. However, there was some positives also of reading it after the others. If you have already read books in the series, you see the children together and you have grown fond of them. So, it is exciting to be introduced to them when they first met each other.

If you are in the right frame of mind and are able to indulge in absolute suspension of disbelief, you will be into the story and the experience will be that of sheet ecstasy. However, if you start thinking about it, cracks will begin to show. For instance, in quite a few instances, the children are aided by luck. Also, in this story, it looks as if the criminals may have been caught even without the children’s intervention. If you are one, who likes to see their protagonists achieve success entirely through their exertion and intelligence, you may be left a bit disappointed. There are other aspects I want to touch upon. There are also other endearing aspects such as comic relief provided by the antics of Kiki the parrot that are a common thread throughout the series. But I will cover them in the reviews of one of the other books of the series.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces