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.

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