Brother and Sister Part 3 - Bear's Milk

They were at a bear’s cave. They were greeted by ferocious growls. When they entered, they found a large brown bear huddled in a corner with her cubs. The moment she saw them, she rose to her full height, waving her paws menacingly at anyone who dared approach. Even with Protius and Nejvada at his side, it would be a close fight. The bear would not be pinned down as easily as the wolf had been.

As they stood facing each other, the wolf cub had caught one of the bear cubs' eyes. Curiosity overcame him, and he left his mother and brothers to take a closer look at this strange animal. The two animals pawed each other and rubbed noses. Seeing their brother, the other cubs also wanted to play with the wolf cub and moved towards it. Now the mother bear was standing all alone. The cubs were by Ivanko’s side. He drew out his sword as if to kill them. The bear's attention was now torn between the two ferocious dogs in front of her and her cubs being held hostage by Ivanko. What was she to do?

The dogs took advantage of the bear’s distraction to pounce upon her and pin her down. Ivanko felt sad seeing the majestic creature held down so helplessly as he milked her. He really felt evil doing such a thing to her. But then his sister’s life depended upon it. At least she thought as much. So, he had to do it. Soon he had enough milk for his sister. The dogs let the bears go and they were on their way. As he started to ride, he saw a bear cub running by the side of his horse. It was the same one that had turned the game for him by making friends with the wolf cub. He looked back. The mother bear seemed to have no objection to the cub leaving the family. She seemed completely relieved to be left unhurt and reunited with the rest of her cubs.

He picked up the bear cub that was probably younger than the wolf cub on to his horse and rode home. He wondered if he saw a flash of disappointment on Marya’s face on seeing him arrive home or was it his imagination? There was no reason why she should not be happy to see him return. And if she was to be believed even her own life depended on it. She definitely did not show any happiness. She just quietly took the bear’s milk and drank it. For some time, she seemed recovered.

Then one day, again she was down sick. Ivanko just could not understand what was with her. Why was she behaving so strangely? Why did she keep falling sick and making strange demands all the time? Also, somehow, he did not sense the closeness that had existed between them all these years. What was happening to her? Was the illness affecting her mind in some way?

They had always been so close. Other than being brother and sister, they had been through so much together that they could not but be extremely fond of each other. He remembered how their heart had been in the sleeve as they had fled with the bull. They had feared the demon would catch up with them this time as well and he would not be that forgiving a third time. He would definitely kill one of them. Their worst fears had been realized when they had felt the blue flames from the demon’s horse a while after they had left his place. He had caught up with them again. Was this the end? Would the bull now leave them to their fate and run away like the horse and bumblebee had earlier on?

The bull however had remained calm. “Look into my left ear,” he had said calmly. Ivanko had complied.

“What do you see there?”

“Something that looks like a brush.”

“Take that and throw it between us and the demon.” He had done as the bull had bid him.

The moment the brush hit the ground a dense forest had sprung up. Just like that out of thin air between them and the demon. They were now safe. It would take months for the demon to make his way through the forest. The trees and bushes were so close together that they had to be cut down for one to make his way through it.

But the demon could only be delayed not denied. He destroyed the entire forest and was soon after them. Again, the blue flames could be felt close to the bull’s hindquarters.

“What do we do now, friend Bull? We are done for.”

“Look inside my other ear,” said the bull. “What do you see there?”

“A handkerchief.”

“Wave it in front of you.”

He did as he was told. A huge river came up in front of them.

“What have you made do, bull? We can’t proceed ahead anymore. We are literally trapped between the demon and the deep river.”

“Don’t worry. Wave the kerchief once more.”

As soon as he did it, a beautiful golden bridge formed across the water to an island right in the middle of the water.

They rode across the bridge and were soon on the island.

“Now turn and quickly wave the kerchief again.”

As soon as he waved it, the bridge disappeared. And in good time for the demon was about to climb on to the bridge.

“Now you are safe. For all evil creatures are scared of running water. The demon can’t get to you here on this island.”

They had heaved a sigh of relief.

Russian Folk Tales Review - Part 1

I have often wondered what a story at is its bare essentials. There are elements such as humor, subtext, character exploration, bringing physical scenes to life, creating moods etc. Often these elements acquire greater importance than the story itself. But still the skeleton needs to be there. Whatever fancy building one tries to build, there still needs to be beams and pillars to hold the building together. When one reads folklore and fairy tales, one can easily see the core story without the additional trappings due to their simplicity. I was introduced to Russian folk stories early in my childhood and really enjoyed these tales. After many years, I am rediscovering these stories and find I still enjoy these stories. As I read them I began to reflect what is the core of the story.

Some of the stories are parables in the tradition of Panchatantra, Aesop’s fairy tales etc. They are a different class. But let us first explore the tales of heroism - a tale where a hero is faced with a challenge and he overcomes it and emerges victorious. There are three to four key types of challenges and there are three to four key ways in which the hero overcomes the challenges. I thought I would explore each of the challenge types and the ways to resolve the challenges.

The first challenge type is a princess or a near and dear one kidnapped by an antagonist and the hero has to rescue them. In the Russian folklore, the usual antagonists are dragons, witches like Ugyr and Baba Yaga, Koschei the deathless etc. The next one is an escape challenge. The hero is held a prisoner often along with the heroine and both have to effect an escape. Then there are quests. Quests can be of multiple varieties – performance of a seemingly impossible tasks, vanquishing of a ferocious monster, capture of elusive beasts, recovery of something that is closely guarded – animals, princesses, magical or other precious objects.

In rescues, mostly physical prowess often helps, either part of the protagonist’s natural physique or enhanced by magical objects. Usually the stories take the form of smiting off of dragons’ heads, one to one melee etc. Modern fantasy describes the fights in visual details making the entire fight itself an entertaining experience. The other way of overcoming the challenge is through the use of intelligence. These are like solving a puzzle and they are difficult for a writer as they have to really think through a series of challenges and solutions to make them interesting to the reader. A third way is the intervention of benefactor – an old man or a powerful being or animals. This intervention would usually be the result of an act of kindness by the protagonist early on in the story. Sometimes the protagonists are also just lucky – a powerful being intercedes on their behalf with no inducements. Most stories fits into this framework.

It would be interesting to go story by story and analyze using this framework and see if the story fits and what other elements are there.

Let me start with the book ‘Folk Tales from the Soviet Union – The Russian Federation’.

The first story is titled ‘Marya the Fair – Plait of Golden Hair’. Here Marya is kidnapped by three dragons – one with three heads, one with six heads and one with nine heads. The hero has to indulge in three arm to arm combats – acts of pure physical prowess. The heroine Marya helps a bit by lashing the dragon with her plaits when the hero is down. The shirt of nettles knitted by his grandmother helps when the dragon attempts to bite him. At the end of the story there is a second challenge with a water carrier claiming credit for Ivan’s feats of bravery. This is overcome by the hero’s intelligence and foresight.

The second story is titled – ‘Marya Morevna’ Here again we have a Marya and Ivan. There is an initial buildup of protagonist getting his sisters married to a falcon, a raven and an eagle and Ivan’s meeting with Morevna. There is also the element of letting an evil loose into the world through one’s curiosity ala a Pandora’s box. Here the one released is Koschei the Deathless, who kidnaps Morevna. From here on the story is one of escape – Ivan tries to steal Marya from Koschei. He fails thrice and is killed the third time. Here he is aided by his bird brothers-in-law who bring him back to life. Then he goes to witch Baba Yaga to seek a powerful horse and now the story turns into a quest. She sets impossible tasks for him to accomplish in which he is aided by animals he has helped earlier. Then the escape from Baba Yaga and the final escape from Koscehi the Deathless where his powerful horse aids him.

The third story is titled – ‘Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka’ – this one doesn’t fit into the framework. It is the story of bad luck when a girl’s brother is turned into a lamb through magic. Then good luck comes in the form of a rich merchant who marries the girl. Again, bad luck strikes when a witch throws her into a river and takes her place. Her brother is the only one who know the fate of his sister but is not able to communicate to anyone. Seeing his attempts, the witch attempts to kill him. But luck favors him, and everything turns out well in the end. This story probably needs a different framework of changes in fortune – the ebbs and the waves in the drama of life.

Brother and Sister Part 2 - The Bull Sprite

All his effort had been of no avail. His sister had not been cured by the wolf’s milk. “Please, brother. It is not wolf’s milk that can cure me but bear’s milk. Get me some of it and I shall be all right.”

“Come on, dear sister. How can you possibly know that? I think I should take you back to civilization and get a doctor to see you.”

“You know we can’t do that, my dear brother. The demon will get us the moment we leave the island.”

“But it’s been so many years. Do you think the demon will still be waiting for us? I think it is time we got back to the world. I think you are homesick. That is what is making you sick. “

“No, brother. I am scared. Let’s not leave this island. It is bear’s milk I need. I saw it clearly in my dreams.”

“Like how you saw about the wolf’s milk? Do you even know how difficult it was to get hold of that animal and milk her? I also feel terrible about the way I treated that poor beast.”

“This time I am sure I have the dream right. Please get me some bear’s milk and I shall be all right. Don’t you love me anymore, brother? Will you watch me die away doing nothing?”

“Ok. I will see what I can do.”

He rode into the jungle followed by Protius and Nejvada as well as the wolf cub.

The dogs caught a scent of a bear and were soon on its trail. He was so glad to have Protius and Nejvada by his side. Nothing could harm him as long as they were there. The two dogs, his horse as well his sword – they were all magical –  gifts from the great bull sprite.

The bull sprite! He had been more of father to them than the father of his blood who had only sold them off to the demon.

The demon had taken them away and kept them in captivity for months. He had let them roam around in his yard for he was sure they could not escape. He had a magical horse which ran like the wind. However fast they ran they could not escape him.

But they had had their first hope when a horse sprite had come that way and offered to help them. “My dears, why do you stay with this terrible demon? He sacrifices small children for his magical rituals. That is how he gains his power.”

“No, dear horse. We are not staying by our own will but being held captive.”

“Come with me then. I will take you away from him.”

They had left with the horse. But hardly had they ridden for a day when demon was upon them. The demon’s horse was breathing fire and the tail of the children’s horse was aflame.

“I am sorry, children. But I will be burnt to cinders unless I go to a river and douse the flames.”

So saying the horse had left them behind and disappeared. The demon had once again seized them and taken them back to his home.

“This time I will let you off lightly but do not expect me to be merciful always.”

He had starved them for two days and given Ivanko a sound whipping. He still winced he remembered how his back had hurt.

A few days later, a giant bumblebee sprite had arrived. “What are you children doing here? The demon who owns this place is dangerous. He will keep you as slaves and work you to death. Come away with me. “

“No, dear bumblebee. We had tried escaping with a horse and the demon had caught up with us. We were badly punished. We don’t want to be caught again.”

“Do not worry. I can fly high. The demon can’t reach us in the sky.”

They had flown for two days when the demon had been upon them. The demon’s horse which now seemed to have sprouted wings and flying right behind them, had let out a stream of fire and the bumblebee’s wings had caught fire at once.

“I am really sorry my children. I can’t be of help to you anymore. I must dive into a lake to douse out the fire or I will surely die. I hope you will understand. I had underestimated the demon’s horse. I am sorry to have got you into more trouble than you already were. But there is nothing I can do.”

So saying the bumblebee had left them to the tender mercies of the demon and flown away. Once again there had been two days of starvation and even more merciless flogging for Ivanko.

“This is the last time I am going to tolerate anything of this sort. Next time no matter what creatures comes and tempts you, don’t you dare try to flee. For if I catch you fleeing, I won’t let you off with small punishments. I will boil you in the cauldron and have you for dinner. Disobedient children are too much trouble for me.”

A few more days had passed, and a bull sprite had passed that way. “What are nice children like you doing in a place like this? Don’t you know this entire land is full of dangerous magic and the demon who owns this place is one of the most dangerous beings?”

“We know. But we are held captive and can see no means of escape.”

“Maybe I can rescue you. Come along. Get on to my back.”

“No, friend bull. We have already tried to escape twice, and the demon has caught up with us. He has a most powerful horse that can even fly. It could catch up with that swift horse and bumblebee so easily. You can’t fly, nor do you possibly run as fast as a horse. We will definitely be caught. This time the demon will definitely kill us.”

“Do not underestimate me due to my physical form. For I have powerful magic and I will not abandon you like the other two. I shall be with you and fight  till then end. I am what they call a guardian spirit and I have made it my life's purpose to aid hapless beings in clutches of vile faerie beings. I shall fight for you even if that destroys me.”

“We appreciate your intention, friend bull. But we fear for our lives.”

The quite Marya, who had hardly spoke so far spoke up. “What life is this, brother that we fear to lose?  Lifelong captivity with a sword hanging over our heads. For all we know the demon may kill us any day even now. Then we will regret not even having tried to escape when we had the chance.”

“But sister…”

“Your sister is right. I at least offer you a chance for life. With the demon, you face sure death or worse. It is only a matter of time. Come with me. I am not of feeble spirit like the horse or the bumblebee. And I have my own magic you will see. Come along.”

Ivanko had needed no more goading.

Brother and Sister Part 1- In pursuit of wolf's milk

“I am seriously ill, brother. I am dying. Only you save me, my dear brother. I saw it clearly in my dream. I need to drink wolf’s milk. Get me some wolf’s milk at once or I will die.”

His sister’s words rang clearly in his ears as he rode into the forest on his steed, his two trusted dogs by his side. The wolf was a dangerous animal. And a she-wolf with cubs was doubly dangerous. And his powerful sword would be of no use against her. For dead wolves give no milk.

But however difficult, he had to do it for she was all he had. And he was all she had. They had never seen another human in the last ten years since they had fled to this island. He had vague memories of his mother and even lesser ones of his father. His father! He grimaced at the very thought of him. Than man who had been away for most of their childhood, had brought trouble as his companion the day he had finally arrived. The foolish old man had sold out his children to a dangerous creature of the faerie. To his credit, he had not even known he had children. Their mother had come to know she was pregnant only after he had left on his journey. The journey had lasted five whole years in which he had made his fortune and he was returning home to his family a man of means. Nothing would have delighted him more than to find the two new additions to his family – a pair of twins – his son and his daughter.

But as luck would have it he had managed to fall into the hands of a magical being – a malicious shape changer. The creature had kept him imprisoned for days. He had tried to tempt it by promising it all his wealth, his home and even his wife. Such was the man. Willing even to sacrifice his devoted wife to save his own skin. Ivanko thought little of this father of his. The shape changer had not agreed. Finally, the demon had made his demands, “You shall give to me that which has newly arrived at your home during your absence.” He had readily agreed, little guessing what the new additions could be.

He had been devastated when he had discovered that the new additions were the two children his wife had given birth to during his absence. He had beat his breast and wept and lamented that he would rather have let his own life be taken rather than make such a deal with the vile creature. But now looking back, Ivanko did not really believe that. After all he was one who had been willing to trade his own wife to save his life. Anyways they had made a weak attempt to save the children by digging behind their house and hiding them inside a hole.

He had acquired a pair of lambs and tried pass them away as the new additions to their home. But the demon was no fool. He had known all too well what the new additions were and had gone about looking for them while Ivanko's father and mother had watched helplessly, hoping he wouldn’t discover the children’s hiding place.

But the demon was a being of strong magic. He had brought all the things around the house to life and questioned them. The broom, the spade, the axe and the chisel. They all had staunchly stood by the couple and refused to reveal the location of their children. But the demon was an extremely cunning creature. “My dear chisel,” he had said, “Your loyalty is misplaced. The people of this house have not taken good care of you. If they had, would they have let that paint come off around that corner. They do not care for you as much as they do for the spade or the broom or the axe. “

The chisel’s head had turned, and it had revealed the location of the children. The demon had dug out the children from their hiding place, seized them and ridden away on his powerful horse. The parents had just watched helplessly. That was the last he had seen of his parents.

The dogs’ barking broke his reverie. They were outside a wolf’s den. They had hardly taken two steps inside when a ferocious howl was heard. Soon the wolf herself was before them. He leaped out of her way just in time as she sprung straight for his throat. As soon as she landed on the ground, the two large dogs were upon her. Ivanko went inside and brought out the cubs. The moment she saw Ivanko standing over her cubs, his powerful sword over them, all the fight in her was gone. The two dogs pinned her down and he milked her. Once he was done, they let her go. She rushed to her cubs and the family of wolves pawed each other and howled in pleasure.

“Come on, Protius. Come, Nejvada. Let’s go,” said Ivanko and they set out to leave. As they were leaving, one of the wolf cubs left the family and began to follow them. Somehow it seemed to have developed an affinity for Ivanko. He tried to shoo it away. But it kept following. He realized the cub was intent on being with him. He too felt fondness for the little creature -he bent down and picked up the cub and placed it on the top of his horse in front of him and rode away with him.

The Adventure Series - Review

So, I completed all 8 books of Enid Blyton’s Adventure series back to back. And here is the overall round up. The series has interesting characters, adventure, danger, joy of exploration, friendship, humor, animals and of course food. Let us look at each of the elements one by one.

Talking of the characters, Jack is oldest of the lot at thirteen. In the first book he is projected as a kind of young absent-minded professor of sorts – an ornithologist obsessed with birds to the exclusion of everything else. But he does not keep that image through the series. He comes out as level headed and calm in the face of danger, good natured and pragmatic. He cares for his little sister Lucy Ann but does not openly show all that much affection for her. His parrot Kiki provides comic relief as well as drives the plot in more than one book – getting him trapped by flying away or helping him get free and making him chase her to danger or by making sounds and distracting the villains.

Phillip is the next oldest. He is shown as a spontaneous and person endowed with a magnetic personality attractive to humans as well as animals. He is supposed to have this magical voice that can charm any animal. One of the things to look forward to in every book is what new pet he is going to acquire. His charm also extends to small children of the less advantaged sections of society. Tassie and Oola are two children who fall under his spell in Castle of Adventure and River of Adventure respectively. He shows lot of courage facing up to villains. But along with boldness, comes a dominating nature and a strong temper which get him into trouble. He draws maximum flak from the villains and often gets into squabbles with his sister as well.

Dinah is Phillip’s younger sister. She is often described as a wild cat. She has Phillip’s tuft of hair jutting out as well as his temper and dominating nature. She is generally non-sentimental, bold in her own way and takes command whenever she can. She generally takes charge of the distribution of food like a mother and often makes observations and judgement like an adult. This irritates Phillip, who in turn irritates her with his insects, rodents, lizards and reptiles that she hates. So, we often see squabbles between them that comes down to the level of slapping. Enid Blyton clearly takes Phillip’s part in these quarrels and shows a hint of disapproval of her behavior. But in modern times Dinah would be seen as a confident young girl with a spine, who is comfortable with herself and does not seek a male identity like George of Famous Five. I feel overall Blyton has not done sufficient justice to her. She plays a strong role in the first book. But as the series progresses, she recedes to the background, letting the boys take center stage. Also she is shown as irritable and impatient snapping even at Lucy Ann. She comes across as the least likeable of the four.

Lucy Ann is the child of the group – innocent, cute and adorable. She exercises a charm on most adults. She is extremely passionate and open in expressing affection. She is extremely attached to her elder brother Jack and over the series her affection extends to include the other three children as well as Mrs. Mannering, the mother of Phillip and Dinah and Bill. She is an imaginative child, a poet at heart who goes into raptures at the sight of beautiful scenery and historic places. She is generally a frightened child who is not particularly fond of the dangers the adventures entail. But exhibits great courage when her near and dear are threatened. While she does not play a strong role in the adventure, she leaves a strong impression with her sweet nature.

The children meet Bill in the first adventure and over the series develop a closer bond with him. He is a detective and often the adventures arise out of the children being in his proximity. At other times, you have strange coincidence of children engaging the same criminals he is investigating. This kind of coincidence is kind of difficult to believe. This happens all the time in Hardy Boys as well. The boys and their father Fenton Hardy start out different investigations and it always turns out both cases are the handiwork of the same gang. The children keep saying he is a great detective and all that. But except for a pull with the police department to mobilize resources, he does not come out all that impressive. In four of the eight books he ends up playing into the hands of the criminals and ends up a prisoner having to be rescued by the children. But as a person, he is extremely likeable. He is nice and friendly with the children and one of the adults who actually pays attention to children. He even decides to marry the children’s mother at the insistence of the children – becoming from close friend to father. When I was a kid I really was moved by the gesture. I had never wanted to marry but if at all I married, I wanted to marry like Bill – befriending a bunch of children and marrying their mother, getting a ready made family as Bill calls it.

While as a reader, one identifies with the children and gets really fond of them, if one were to think about it they are probably not children one wants to meet in real life. They are openly hostile towards foreign kids such as Gussy and Lucian except when the new children are subservient like Tassie or Oola. It is not any kids in particular. In general, also you see the children getting defensive at the very idea of other children joining their group.

Now coming to the exploration, this book takes us to a whole lot of places. We start with a nice scenic British countryside by the sea, then a Scottish countryside with a castle in the vicinity, then an abandoned valley in central Europe, British Isles of the north, Welsh mountains, a ship cruise across Europe included visits to Greek islands, an imaginary foreign country and last but not the least a river trip close to Syria. She does not get very descriptive as such and mostly captures the feeling of exploring a new place rather than the details. Where she goes into details are the secret passages and underground caverns. That is an exciting aspect of most of Enid Blyton’s work – interconnected secret passages through mountains and under the seas.

The danger comes both from humans and the elements. We encounter currency counterfeiters, spies, treasure hunting syndicates, gun runners, mad scientists and conspirators planning coups. Most tend to only imprison then. But some threaten their lives. The danger from elements comes in the form of being deserted in a vast uninhabited valley, being caught underground with sea flooding in, trapped under a collapsing castle, being out unexposed in a sea storm, rounded up by dangerous dogs, mauled by bears, floating along a river down a water fall to name a few. This series has maximum danger among all of Enid Blyton’s books.

Food as usual occupies a place of pride in the series. Blyton has this penchant for making bland British food seem like the most mouthwatering delicacies on earth. The less you know of what exactly the food she is talking about is, the more delectable it seems. Just the sound of the items has an exciting feel to them. She does not go descriptive like some authors are wont to and describe how exactly the item tastes and what it is made of. Mostly they are just names and the happy feelings of the people savoring the dishes. In this series, the children are kept amply supplied with food. In most cases the criminals are kind enough to let the children steal their stash of tinned food. And when children bring along a stash of packed food to last them a long journey, like the tins they bring in Sea of Adventure and all the home food in Mountain of Adventure, they manage not to lose the food. In Ship of Adventure, a fellow on a donkey comes and present them with delicious Greek food. This and the exotic local sweets presented by a hotel manager in a foreign country in River of Adventure are the only instances of mention of non-British food.

Through the course of the series Phillip manages to tame beetles, spiders, starfish, hedgehogs, mice, rats, dormice, slow worms, lizards, monkeys, foxes, puffins and snakes. He also encounters a pack of deadly dogs and circus bears. The various animals that make their appearance in this series are one of its specialty. Kiki of course is there in all the books and she is attached to Jack. She brings comic relief with her funny remarks. She both helps and hinders in the adventure while Phillip’s pets help in finding ways through mazes, carrying messages, untying knots and frightening enemies.

Last but not the least, the camaraderie among the children. The stories are rich with dialogue. The casual flow of banter makes the stories come alive and gives the reader a feeling of being with them and partaking in their fun conversations, their delights and concerns, their opinion and judgement of people they encounter, their plans and the teasing and leg pulling to say nothing of the squabbles between Dinah and Phillip.

This series is definitely one of Enid Blyton’s best books and something no Enid Blyton aficionado should dream of missing.

The River of Adventure - Review

The last books of the series and a close contender for my favorite book of the series. This one is not rich in settings like circus of Adventure where story movies from city to countryside to foreign country to circus to castle. Most of this story takes place along a river. But there is a kind of charm in a row along a river. You know like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. There is a certain peaceful feel to the idea of just relaxing in a boat that is going down the river and excitement around interesting towns that keep coming along the banks.

If Circus of Adventure was Jack's story, this one is Phillip's story. He has this magnetism that makes him attractive to humans as well as animals. He also manages to pick up an exotic pet. The children get out of most of their situations due to this prowess of Phillip. Kiki the parrot does pitch in as well.
The story has interesting settings - in the borders of Syria. Initially story is fun - visiting an exotic place with family. But this is a pleasure cum work trip for Bill - so one knows where the danger is going to come from. The villain turns out not that dangerous. Except for a risk of falling down a waterfall, even the elements don't threaten that much. Guess with Sea and Mountain, Enid Blyton decided to put danger behind her and focus more on fun.

The story ends with exploration of an underground cavern and the final encounter with antagonist as usual.
Some of the things may offend modern sensibilities. For example in the end Phillip compliments the girls that they were as good as boys. During the second part of the story when the children are on their own with native adult Tala, one sees a trace of imperialistic attitude in Phillip. Tala is an adult and ideally should be in charge. But no! English boys only have to be in charge. So Phillip makes a wrong choice going against Tala's advice just to put Tala in his place.

Of course all this was expected. But overall an enjoyable read - the second in the series I had originally read. When I had read it I had been totally puzzled who is Mrs. Cunningham taking care of the kids down with flu in the beginning of the story. In case you are wondering too, read and find out. I have tried to keep my reviews largely spoiler free. I mean this would not have been a spoiler if the book had been read in sequence. But just in case someone reads all my reviews and then starts the series.

The Circus of Adventure - Review

The seventh book has been my favorite one in the series. That has a flip side as well. While I had forgotten some of the events in the other books, I remember this one vividly and even the dialogues came to my mind before they were said. So it was not as enjoyable a read as I hoped this to be.

The series was supposed to originally conclude with the sixth book but guess given the popularity of this series, the publishers wanted more. But still she wrote only 2 more. I don't know why this did not wind up long like Find Outers series or Famous Five. More so since I consider the last two books the best in the series.

This book has it all - quaint English countryside settings as well as exotic foreign setting, lots of excitement without any peril to their lives. Lot of things happen in the story while maintaining a cheerful mood throughout. Jack does his bird watching and Phillip has a lion's share of animals - dormice, badgers and towards the end his biggest conquest yet. His abilities here however seem more realistic compared to what was seen in Mountain of Adventure.

The first part of the story is full of fun and lot of teasing and cozy family setting. A car ride from their city home to countryside, humor around their interactions with foreigner Gussy etc. But right from the beginning it is clear, there is a mystery around Gussy and things soon begin to heat up. That way the mystery begins from page 1. The story then moves to a foreign country and then a circus. A circus is a setting Enid Blyton is only too comfortable with - her famous Galliano's Circus and all that. And then there is a grand rescue and a grand escape from an enemy city where soldiers are looking for them.

One thing though - as it is the girls have limited role to play in the series. In this series, they are totally marginalized. They might have as well not been there, especially Dinah. Lucy Ann has a few sentimental moments with Bill in the beginning. Dinah does nothing except attacking Gussy in the early part of the book. As far as the adventure goes, they have absolutely no contribution. Its all a Jack and Phillip show. Even Phillip is kind of pushed to the background except for one grand act with dangerous animals. This is more or less a Jack story.

Overall a pacy read with lot of interesting elements and events. I really wish I could forget this and read it again as a new story.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces