Title: The Secret Island (Secret #1)
Summary: Four runaways, Mike, Peggy, Nora and Jack, find a secret hiding place – a deserted island on a lovely lake. They build a willow-tree house, make their beds of heather and bracken, and grow their own vegetables. And Jack even manages to bring his cow, Daisy, and some hens to the island for fresh milk and eggs every day! But one day invaders come to the secret island…
This is my favourite Blyton of all time. I’m not sure what’s so special about it, since it’s Blyton’s standard fare of “some kids and some animals live parent-free for a bit, and really enjoy lettuce”. Maybe it’s the lack of smugglers that makes this so special. Kind of like when fandom quite enjoyed Lost, because it was a bunch of people on a desert island, just trying to get along, before the writers jumped on the wacky bus and stuck two fingers up a plotting, pacing and structure.
Also, I’ve never managed to get past the first few paragraphs of any of the sequels.
[Wing: This is my first Blyton experience, and it is adorable. I grew up reading things like Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and My Side of the Mountain and Black Stallion and the Little House books and Baby Island, which were all about people surviving on their own in the wilderness, at least for awhile. I love stories like that, and this was an utter delight along that vein.]
[Raven: I’ve read a lot of Blyton. Never read this before. Huh.]
So, we start very quickly, no time for a build-up, with three kids huddled together in the field. They are Mike, Peggy and Nora and they are siblings – Mike and Nora are twins, Peggy is a year older, but no actual ages are given.
Nora is crying her eyes out because Aunt Harriet slapped her six times because she didn’t do a good enough job of washing the curtains. Their friend Jack turns up, and then through very clunky dialogue we get the exposition.
The kids’ dad built “a fine new aeroplane”, and mum and dad decided to fly it to Australia and haven’t been heard of since. That was two years ago, and since then they’ve lived with Uncle Henry and Aunt Harriet who are downright cruel to the kids. The kids have had to give up school in order to work in the fields and in the house. Punishments for accidentally burning food or breaking something are to be denied food, or hit. They never get new clothes, and they’ve outgrown most of the clothes they have.
And it sounds dreadful. But from an adult’s point of view, it’s absolutely ridiculous that they’re telling Jack all this as if it’s brand new information to him, since they’ve been friends with him the whole time and would have told him these things as they happened.
Jack philosophically says that the hardships are much harder for the other three, since they’ve known luxury and love, whereas he’s always been beaten and unwanted by his grandfather. Not quite as bluntly as that, but it’s barely sugar-coated. He then adds his grandfather keeps talking about going to live with an aunt of Jack’s and leaving Jack behind.
Mike says if he could, he’d run away and take the girls with him, so they were safe, but they’d be found and brought back. At this point, Jack says he knows a place they can run away to and never be found. He says that he’ll show them this evening at 8pm.
Back with the adults, the three siblings can’t keep their minds on their chores, and are scolded and slapped for not reaching the high standard set by Henry and Harriet. They ask if they can go for a walk after supper, but get told no, because they have chores tomorrow and need to be up early.
The kids get around this by pretending to go to bed and slipping out without the adults’ knowledge – thankfully, the aunt and uncle are going out for dinner. Harsh contrast to the dry bread and cheese the kids were given. For those of you new to Blyton – Wing, mainly – get used to this. Child abuse is pretty standard fare for these books. [Wing: Makes sense, because otherwise, why would the kids be running away to have these adventures?]
Upon meeting Jack, he immediately tells them about the titular Secret Island. I’m wondering why he refused to tell them earlier. The options are equally sad: a) he’s so lonely he wanted to see the kids again after dinner; b) he’s terrified they’d leave without him if he told them about it in daylight when they could run away.
“Are you too tired to walk down the lakeside to a place where you can see the island?” asked Jack. “I only found it quite by chance one day. The woods come right down to the lakeside opposite the island, and they are so thick that I don’t think anyone has ever been through them, and so no one can have seen my island!”
I don’t really get how nobody’s ever seen this island before, but my child-self suspended disbelief because the story is fun. I can only assume that from a lot of angles, it is an optical illusion, and just looks like it’s part of the land behind it, and the trees surrounding the lake either block the view entirely, or dissuade people from getting close enough to see the truth. I still can’t picture it. Can someone draw me a picture? (And if you’re in the mood for drawing, please can you do the cave in The Bully too?)
Future Dove: Never mind. @ogwnostalgia lent me this. Basically I drafted this paragraph, and resigned myself to never understanding how it worked, then OGW posted this picture, and I thought to myself, “Hrmm, that could be a jut of land or a separate island… maybe that’s what Blyton means.” So here you go, see if you agree with me on this.
And so it was. The little island seemed to float on the dark lake-waters. Trees grew on it, and a little hill rose in the middle of it. It was a mysterious island, lonely and beautiful. All the children stood and gazed at it, loving it and longing to go to it. It looked so secret – almost magic.
And at this moment, they all decide they’re going to run away and live on an island.
[Raven: To be honest, I didn’t really feel the opening. As mentioned above, the exposition seemed very trite and forced. And abrupt! It was all “Aunt Harriet is a rotter; let us decamp to a secret island!” in what seemed like a page and a half. I think I’d have liked a little more Show and not so much Tell here. But spoilers: I did come to like the book in the end.]
Mike has mild reservations about running away, mostly centring on whether the girls could hack living rough, will there be enough food, or what would happen if someone got ill – I’m not sure Wing will be able to take all the sexism in these books. I’m hoping like with Sweet Valley, she’ll either become numb to the pain or she’ll drink herself to a point where she can live with it. (#BestFriendGoals?) No I’m not. I can’t wait for her to go boom.
[Wing: I can’t decide if you’re cheering on my liver failure or my rage heart attack.]
Ultimately Mike decides that they can trust Jack to get things right. Something he doesn’t think of is that they will probably all be much better off starving on an island than starving with abusive adults.
They decide to visit the island on Sunday. Jack has a boat – he found one that had nearly fallen to bits and he repaired it.
The kids manage to pull together a decent picnic, and here comes the food porn. They manage to steal fruits and veggies from the garden – reasoning that if their aunt and uncle fed them properly or paid them for their chores, they wouldn’t need to steal – they have broad beans, peas, cherries, two lettuces and some carrots to go with the bread and butter they were given. Jack rocks up with a cake and some cherries, which he earned for hoeing a garden.
Jack has hidden his boat under a bush, so they have to bail it out and keep bailing as they row, because it’s not perfect.
They land on the island, and it’s beautiful – completely unspoilt by tourists, and the wildlife isn’t scared of them because it rarely sees humans.
They climb a hill and note it would be a good place to spot “enemies” from. They don’t go down the other side, but Jack says there are caves on that side of the island, but he’s not had chance to explore them yet. They find wild blackberry, hazelnut and raspberry plants, but they’re not ripe/growing yet, but it’s a good resource.
They have their lunch and discuss what they will need to bring – food, plates, pans, etc. – and make a plan to drop stuff off at the boat each day, and officially move to the island in a week’s time – from Sunday onwards, they’ll be free.
The kids spend the next week dropping items off – and getting scolded and hit for them being missing – but they don’t care so much because they have something to look forward to.
They really do think of everything, not just food and cutlery, but soap, candles, a lantern, hammers and nails, tins for storage, a sewing box to make their clothes last longer, and games and books to keep themselves amused.
On Sunday, they raid the garden and fill a picnic basket with veggies and eggs – once again, lettuce is featured heavily. [Raven: “The Secret Island is brought to you buy the Campaign For Lettuce Awareness. Remember: It’s Not Just For Rabbits!”] Nora blatantly steals from the larder: a cake, cocoa, currants, rice, and bread, and drops them off.
But bad news, Aunt Harriet says they’re not allowed out because someone has stolen the cakes from the larder. The kids aren’t fussed by that, and run off as soon as her back is turned.
When they meet up with Jack, he worries that the aunt and uncle will search for the kids earlier, but Mike says no, they’ll just make up their minds to whip them twice as hard when they get back.
They make their way to the island, and Peggy is sent off to a spring to get water, while the others start lugging stuff out of the boat. They also have a meal comprising: bread, carrots, cheese and a cake.
Peggy asks where they’re going to sleep tonight, and Jack says under some trees just in case it rains. In the Blyton-verse, trees will keep everyone bone dry. And a nice gorse bush will head off all winds. In reality not even a tent will do this.
Jack finds a place where the girls can sleep, with a spot outside for the boys to protect them (I’m imagining Wing seething here). Nora thinks heather is “as soft as can be”. Other soft things to sleep on in the Blyton-verse are bracken (isn’t this just heather?) and sand. Again, reality says no. [Wing: Well, sand isn’t terrible to sleep on. I’m confused by bracken and heather here; isn’t bracken basically ferns? And heather a prickly little bush with pretty purple flowers? How is that part comfortable? I can see how dry ferns might be soft enough.]
After finding more bracken to pile on top of the heather (must be different plants), they have another meal: bread with shelled peas, and they plan to have hot cocoa and a cake for supper. Jack decides to go fishing tomorrow so they don’t run out of food.
In true Blyton fashion, while the girls are washing the plates like good little housewives, the boys find somewhere perfect to store the food – a willow tree whose roots are exposed, which makes it like a larder with shelves. The girls are left arranging the food while the boys go off to fetch more water. [Wing: None of the sexism in the book made me go boom, but it is annoying as hell. Of course the girls have to cook and clean — and help do all the other chores, too. We never see the boys fucking cooking or cleaning dishes.]
Afterwards, they go for a wander to find a place to build a house in which to live. Jack shows them a willow thicket where the trees are growing very close, but there is a clearing in the centre.
That night, the girls fall asleep immediately, because they are smaller and weaker, but the boys stay up talking. Mike says it’s jolly nice of Jack to take them along, and Jack replies that it’s not nice of him at all, he wanted to do it.
The next morning, these kids put the Lost cast to shame. Jack sets his fishing line up while they bathe in the lake, and by the time they’re dry, there is enough fish for all, which Jack expertly cleans and cooks. [Raven: Wing! Wing! Jack cleans AND cooks here!] [Wing: … that is not the same thing as cleaning dishes and their home, AND he flat out says that cleaning the animals is for boys (despite that awesome rabbit skin blanket later). I’ll give you the cooking, sort of.] And then the girls wash up. (Fishing is so easy in the Blyton-verse. My dad used to fish. I don’t think he ever came home with fish. Ever.)
After breakfast, they set about building their house, and this is the plan:
“Now, this is how I mean to build the house,” he said. “Do you see these little willow trees here – one there – one there – two there – and two there. Well, I think you will find that if we climb up and bend down the top branches, they will meet each other nicely in the centre, and we can weave them into one another. That will make the beginning of a roof. With my axe I shall chop down some other young willow trees, and use the trunk and thicker branches for walls. We can drive the trunks and branches into the ground between the six willow trees we are using, and fill up any cracks with smaller branches woven across. Then, if we stuff every corner and crevice with bracken and heather, we shall have a fine big house, with a splendid roof, wind-proof and rain-proof. What do you think of that?”
So they spend the next few hours doing this, and manage to get the braches lashed together to form a roof by the time they break for lunch (boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, raw carrots and some cherries). They note that they’re tearing through the food stores, so Jack says he will have to row across the lake to raid his uncle’s fields for spuds and maybe the odd egg.
[Wing: I am really struggling to picture the house they build. Anyone got a picture of a shelter built from living willow trees? It’d be real useful about now.]
[Raven: Google-fu brought me this…]
[Wing: Yeah, that doesn’t scream comfortable, waterproof house to me.]
After lunch, Nora tries to snooze, leaving the others to work on the house, so Jack tells her that he’s captain and everyone needs to do as he says. Nora says she didn’t know he was in charge, and her beloved siblings immediately chime in “Ay, ay, sir!” which flattens her protest.
They cut down some trees with Jack’s axe (really?) and drive them into the ground to make walls.
After that work, they’re ready for dinner, but there are no fish on Jack’s line, so they have bread, lettuce and margarine. Jack says he’ll catch rabbits for dinner. Nora’s a bit sad about this, but Jack says that he’ll make it quick and he’ll skin them as “It’s a man’s job, that,” and the girls will just have to cook Little Bunny Foo-Foo. [Wing: OH JACK NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.] He then says that he’s been thinking, and he thinks he might be able to bring a cow and some hens over to the island. [Raven: Hens! Fuck the Willow House, build a Willow Nando’s!]
The next day the kids have fish and lettuce for breakfast, and then keep on building the house, by weaving branches between the posts to make walls. They even leave a gap for a door, which they plan to make the same way as the walls and have it on a hinge so it opens and closes. I can’t even satisfactorily repair my baity copy of Dream Castle, but they can build a house. In a day.
They continue to fill up the gaps by plugging them up with mud and heather, and then Jack astounds them by informing them that the house will continue to grow, even the sticks, as willows have a will to live. They name their house, Willow House, which I find to be breathtakingly imaginative.
The kids have spuds for dinner – not even lettuce – and this makes Jack sure it’s time to head back to the mainland for supplies. Kids, you were gone two days. Although, to be fair, they’re still doing better than the people on Lost, so who am I to complain?
Jack is gone for a long time, during which Nora falls asleep but Mike and Peggy wait up for him. He returns with six hens, some cherries, and news of their beloved relatives. First of all, Jack’s grandfather is moving in with Jack’s aunt – so Jack plans to go back the next night and collect the cow that his grandfather gave to him. Also, he heard his grandfather talking about how everyone thinks Peggy, Mike and Nora have run off, possibly on a lorry, and they’ve been searching everywhere in a 20 mile radius for them.
They put the hens in Willow House and block the door with “sticks and bracken”, the well-known wall-making materials.
The next morning, Peggy makes eggs for breakfast, because the hens have laid – and not escaped. Nora says absolutely nothing about the sudden appearance of hens on the island. [Wing: Don’t hens not lay when they’re stressed? Shouldn’t this be a pretty goddamn stressful situation for them?] [Dove: These are zen hens.]
They finish off the house – the boys even hang a door – and settle down to eat fish, potatoes, bread, beans, cherries, and cocoa.
Jacks says they’ll mostly live outdoors, but the house will be nice when it rains. I’d be like, dude, we just spent three days building a fucking house. I’m living in the house. If we only wanted it for when it rains, why didn’t we make a fucking umbrella? And then Jack would be upset because yet another adult was being awful to him and OH GOD I’M A MONSTER.
The next few days just sum up the chores the kids have (making a hen run in the same way they made the walls for Willow House is a key task, along with creating interior walls for the house), and doesn’t make a single mention of what they eat. What is the point of you being awake if you don’t tell me what you eat? [Wing: Seriously, I’m here for the food descriptions and the survival skills.]
One evening, Jack brings a rabbit, and while they’re pleased with the change from fish, nobody is happy about eating bunnies. There is no mention of what they ate with it. Probably cherries and eggs, or something equally nonsensical.
The same evening, Jack decides to fetch his cow. Mike, despite being present for an earlier conversation when Jack specified that he would make the cow swim behind the boat, asks how on earth Jack is going to fit the cow in the boat. On the plus side, at least it’s not Peggy or Nora asking stupid questions.
Mike and Jack row to the mainland, and find the cow easily. Jack makes a halter from a rope, and then leaves Mike holding the cow – who is named Daisy, but endlessly referred to as “it” – while Jack raids his grandfather’s house. (Side note: I once was the voice of a Claymation cow named Daisy.) He finds a couple of roller towels, all of his clothing and then some beans and spuds from the garden.
It takes the boys a couple of hours to coax a loudly-mooing Daisy to even the edge of the lake, much less swimming along behind. Once she’s on the island, the kids rub her dry with some old sacks and put her with the hens, hoping the familiarity will soothe her ragged nerves. [Wing: Until this point, I did not realise they had built a space for the hens that was big enough to also hold a freaking cow.]
The next morning the kids sleep “very late indeed”, which is later clarified to be around 9:00am. Which to me is not that late. I used to have to be at the bus stop for school every day at 7:30am, and at the riding stables at 6:45am every weekend. On the rare days I didn’t go horse riding, I could sleep until 3:00pm, catching up on sleep. [Wing: 9 a.m. is not late at all.]
They’re woken by Daisy mooing because she wants to be milked. At this point they realise they don’t have a pail, so will have to fill up the pans, jugs, cups, and kettle with milk. (Breakfast is boiled eggs and milk.) They plan to fetch a pail from Mike’s aunt’s farm tonight, and they’ll keep the water cool by insetting the pail in the spring, so the constant water will keep it fresh. Daisy is then taken to the other side of the island, where grass grows, as there’s only heather on this side. [Raven: This entire books is one long litany of petty theft.]
The kids have a lazy morning: the boys sleep; Nora reads; and Peggy mends the clothes Jack fetched last night. [Wing: Not sure how that’s a lazy morning for Peggy, actually.] They plan to have fish and custard for dinner.
In the afternoon they have a walk across the island and take a look at (but don’t go in to) the caves, and they check out where the raspberries grow, and Peggy says they could have raspberries with cream every day. Jack also knows where strawberries will grow in the next couple of months.
They are having a lovely time, hanging out on the hill when they suddenly spot people in a boat heading towards the island. These people aren’t after the kids, because they have a gramophone with them. A gramophone. In a boat. And people have a go at me because I carry an iPod because who does such a thing if they own an iPhone? (People who love music, that’s who. People who literally need their entire music library available to them every moment of the day.)
The kids need to erase their presence on the island, so they need to grab the hens; hide the boat; hide the food stores; and throw the hens in a cave and leave Nora to make sure they don’t escape.
The day-trippers land on the beach, and the kids get close enough to eavesdrop. Suddenly Nora is here – I guess she’s not watching the hens any more – but Mike is not – he was left hiding the boat. Or Nora still is at the cave, but somehow that’s near enough to overhear what’s going down on the beach, which was not my understanding of this island.
The trippers – three men, two women – have a meal and discuss things. First of all, someone hears Daisy and the hens making noise, but are shot down by the rest of the trippers, saying the sound must come from the mainland. The kids feel incredibly smug and superior about how silly these adults are. Someone also notices string, and is like “Ooooh, string doesn’t grow on trees, someone’s been here before…” and, rightfully so, someone else replies, “Yeah, and?”
At this point, the bracken starts moving so the kids worry that someone’s coming for them, so they run inside the cave – ok, so they weren’t in the cave – and, *deep sigh of relief*, it’s only Mike.
The trippers plan to explore the island, but thankfully a massive storm rolls in, and bats come out. Naturally the two women are terrified of bats and demand the men take them home. Daisy moos again, and one of the trippers thinks it’s thunder. Again the kids are smug and amused.
The storm rolls in, the trippers leave, and the kids run head into Willow House to ride out the weather. Mike rocks up and describes the milk as “warm” and I am suitably grossed out. They then talk about how cosy the house is and how not a drop of rain or a scrap of wind is getting through. I am sceptical. I have camped in very awesome tents and still felt many drops of rain.
Peggy makes a meal for them – and, WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? It is not described at all – and then they head off to bed.
The next morning they head down to the lake to bathe and notice what a mess the trippers have left behind: orange peel, banana skins, an empty can, a newspaper and an empty cigarette packet.
The kids are furious because they’ve always kept the beach neat and tidy. Mike says he’ll gather up the mess and burn it, but Jack says keep the empty packets. If anyone else comes to the island, they can put the mess back on the beach and make it look like day-trippers have been here, not kids.
And then it’s breakfast: trout, eggs and cocoa.
After breakfast, everyone is assigned tasks: the boys will fish and milk Daisy, Peggy will do odd jobs (nobody mentions how much sewing the girl does) and Nora will take care of the hens, including checking the run for holes, and it’s trés important, because they need the hens’ eggs.
What do you know? When she goes to check immediately after this conversation she does a half-arsed job about it and the hens escape through a massive hole. When Jack takes Nora to task about her laziness, she sits on her arse and cries for attention. Jack tells her to stop crying and she runs off in a huff. The other three search the entire island for the hens but do not find them. When they sit down for their evening meal – sans Nora, who’s still sulking – they hear the hens clucking and see the hens walking towards them, wanting their evening feed. [Wing: I keep forgetting that Nora and Mike are twins, because Nora acts like such a little kid while Mike acts more like a young adult.] [Raven: Wait, what?! I honestly thought Nora was about six, while Mike was about thirteen.] [Wing: EXACTLY!]
They call out to Nora, who apologises and says she’ll take much better care of the hens in the future. Later, Mike finds an egg in Willow House, so that’s where the hens hid. I like to believe Nora’s “nice heathery bed” is now covered in chicken poo.
On another visit to the mainland, Jack liberates a milking pail and a bunch of seeds (lettuce, radish, mustard, cress and runner beans) and they set about finding different patches all over the island for each seed, so that it won’t look specifically like a vegetable garden.
The kids lose track of days, but sometimes they hear the church bell ringing if the wind is right. They decide to try and keep Sunday as a day of rest.
They finally get around to exploring the cave system, and find a cave that leads through a crack to a passage, to a bigger cave. I’m honestly not sure what the difference is between crack, passage and cave, but the text seems to think it’s important. [Raven: Dove…. what are the cave’s dimensions?] [Dove: Shut up.] [Wing: /dying]
“Look!” cried Nora, pointing upwards. “I can see daylight!”
Sure enough, a long way up, a spot of bright daylight came through into the dark cave. Jack was puzzled. “I think some rabbits must have burrowed into the hill, and come out unexpectedly into this cave,” he said. “And their hole is where we can see that spot of daylight. Well – the fresh air comes in, anyhow!”
You mean, some poor little bun-bun plummeted to its death after scrabbling around in its burrow and finding a weak spot. Nobody mentions this. I guess bunny death is only sad if you eat them. (RIP Blackavar, yours is the saddest of them all.)
They plan to train Daisy and the hens to sit quietly in the cave in case trippers come back – once again, this is Jack’s bright idea. I have to say, he’s walking the line between survival genius and Pinkie-Pie-wacky-hi-jinks-whimsy.
Their emergency plan is: Jack = cow; Mike = hens; Peggy = stamp out fire, and scatter rubbish from previous trippers to make it look like adults have been on the island; Nora = scatter heather over their vegetable patches, hide their supplies, and take the pail of milk to the caves.
With that sorted, they have a meal of eggs and raspberries.
The weeks skip by an unspecified amount in the next chapter – the fruits and veggies grow, and the kids are able to throw together an egg salad. Pretty much the whole chapter is summing up the passage of time quite quickly.
The kids are now getting fat on the rich cream they have daily, and their skin has tanned deeply. Wing – this is pretty much always regarded as a good thing in the Blyton-verse (whereas “naturally tan” has been assigned to “bad” characters in some of the American YA we’ve recapped). Blyton regards this as very healthy and outdoorsy, which is the best way to be. [Wing: My favourite part of the entire book is here, where one says that they’re as brown as berries:
“What berries?” said Mike. “I don’t know any brown berries. Most of them are red!”
My literal thoughts when I read the summary, Mike. My literal thoughts.]
They practice getting Daisy into the cave and get to the point where she quite likes going in because she likes the turnip she’ll be given as a reward.
It’s now August and the kids quite often sleep in the house when it’s stormy. Again, I’d just be in the house non-stop. They have plenty of wild fruit: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and very shortly there will be hazelnuts too.
On a jaunt to the mainland, the boys find a large cluster of mushrooms too. I would not do well with these kids. While I love the fruit, full-fat milk and mushrooms give me migraines. The kids plan to have fried eggs and fried mushrooms with strawberries and cream.
Next comes the bad weather. Nora decides she doesn’t want the responsibility of feeding the hens when the weather is bad, so Jack says one sentence to her about being a “fair-weather person” and she has an immediate face turn and skips gaily off to do her chores in the pouring rain.
Peggy teaches herself and the other kids how to weave baskets for carrying their fruit about. Peggy, by the way, is my favourite.
They run out of corn for the hens, so Jack goes back to his grandfather’s farm, but there is none, so he tries Mike’s uncle’s farm, but they have a new guard dog.
And that’s basically summer done. The kids sit in the house, instead of by the campfire, of an evening now because of the cooler weather. They run out of candles and they’re already out of corn for the hens, so Jack says he needs to visit a shop. He plans to visit the next village over and sell the wild produce they’ve been harvesting in the baskets they make.
Which is just plain adorable and enterprising of them. This is possibly why I like this book best of all, because they have to make things work, rather than just tripping over a sackful of supplies that will last them for three years – complete with tin opener.
The next morning the kids pick the strawberries and mushrooms, then the boys set off for the mainland. Jack goes into town and Mike stays with the boat. And yay, it’s market day, which will make it easier for Jack to sell his bits. Which he does in a most epic fashion.
He went shopping. He bought a very large bag of flour. He bought wool and cotton for Peggy. He bought scores of candles and plenty of matches. He bought a new kettle and two enamel plates. Peggy was always wishing she had more dishes. He bought some story-books, and two pencils and a rubber. A drawing-book was added to his collection, some nails, soap, butter for a treat, some bars of chocolate, some tins of cocoa, tea, rice – oh, Jack had a load to carry before he had done!
[Wing: These kids have a better hustle than most adults I know.]
When Jack gets back, the kids delight over having new things. They have a meal: rabbit stew, runner beans, baked spud, with raspberries and cream for pudding, and then they have half a bar of chocolate each for a treat.
In the evening, they take it in turns to read aloud from Robinson Crusoe, which was one of the books Jack bought.
I think it’s things like this that make this book more fun to me than any of the other Famous Five books, because in Famous Five, the kids deliberately go off on holiday, never worry about food, and encounter smugglers. In this book, the kids run away because of miserable home lives and set their sights on surviving as best they can, rather than taking down crime rings.
Jack spends the next few weeks going over to the market and selling fruit. As the season changes, he swaps over to blackberries and nuts, which don’t fetch as much money, but keeps them ticking over. One day a policeman spots him and questions him about who he is – he asks if he’s called Mike. When Jack says that’s not his name, the policeman takes a photo out of his pocket and says he thinks Jack is one of the runaway kids. The policeman reaches for him, so Jack throws down his fruit and runs off. He has to spend the day hiding in a henhouse, waiting until dark to return to the boat.
He then utters one of the most Blyton sentences ever:
“Why can’t people run away if they want to? We are not doing any harm – only living happily together on our secret island!”
They get back to the island and Jack tells Peggy and Nora what happened, and eats “a whole rice pudding, two fishes, and a hard-boiled egg” while he talks. That’s an odd way to list the food. Rice pudding is a dessert, so why was it listed first? I googled it, wondering if perhaps originally it was a savoury dish, and only post-war did it become sweet and moved over to a pudding, but couldn’t find much. Admittedly, yes, it was savoury originally, but that was in the 14th century, and then it became sweet. It’s late, I’m ill, my google-fu is probably weak here. [Wing: I didn’t find much on the history of it, but I did find more savoury recipes than sweet recipes, strangely.] [Raven: Is that an imperial or metric rice pudding? There are size regulations for rice puddings, people!]
The next day, everyone’s very sombre about nearly being caught, and Jack sets someone at the top of the hill to watch for anyone who might come to their island. They properly sink their boat to hide it better. They tidy away any evidence that they’ve been on the island (scraps of wool, etc). They move most of their stuff to the caves, leaving only the bare essentials for cooking.
After a couple of days of watching the lake, a boat heads out towards them, so the kids scramble to hide. They bundle themselves and the animals into the caves. Jack makes his way to the entrance so he can peep out. Somehow he can magically hear what’s going on all over the island – which, it was stated earlier on, took two days to explore.
The adults find evidence of the hen yard and the vegetable gardens, but can’t find the kids. They discuss amongst themselves that if the kids were on the island, they’d have seen a boat. One says the boat could’ve been sunk to hide it, but the other says that kids probably wouldn’t think of that. Then they decide to search the caves.
The adults have a look, and decide that they’re nobody in the caves because the kids are in an internal cave that’s hard to get to. Just as the adults are leaving, Daisy lets out a big moo. This frightens the men and they give up searching that cave. As they leave, they say it’s a shame they didn’t find the kids as “There’s such a surprise waiting for them!” [Raven: Mr Nydick, is that you?]
And YAY, the men leave, and the kids are safe. [Raven: I enjoyed this bit. The adults didn’t do a half-arsed job, but were still legitimately outwitted by the kids. Nice work!]
The weather turns bad, and after some leakage in Willow House, some bad storms and Peggy getting a cold, they decide to move to the caves for winter. They bring in heather and braken to make the beds, Peggy brings up sand from the beach to put on the floor (this is not the first time Blyton thinks a cave with sand is delightful and comfortable)), and then they realise they don’t have enough rugs.
Wait. You guys have been sleeping outside for months, but you’ve never once used a rug before? Good lord, you must be resilient. Willow House leaked from the ongoing rain, and you guys were what, just sleeping on top of your “soft heathery bed” with no additional warmth?
But all is saved, because Peggy has sewn rabbit skins together to make a blanket. The kids agree to rotate use of this blanket. [Wing: Peggy is a fucking badass.]
It was very cosy in the cave when the wind howled round the hillside.
I find this hard to believe, because one of the features of a cave is a big wide mouth to let all that howling wind in.
December rolls around and the kids think it will be odd to have Christmas on the island. As they talk about it, Jack decides that he wants to buy them presents, because – once again, they’re used to having nice things at Christmas, whereas he’s not. He plans to buy sweets and oranges, and a doll for Nora, a work-box for Peggy and “something” for Mike, because nobody has any character traits, so the girly one gets a doll, the one who’s done sewing gets more sewing stuff, and Mike’s will be unspecified. A+.
So Jack takes off in the boat, and is gone all day. The others wonder if he’s been caught, but the author says no. Literally:
But Jack hadn’t been caught. Something else had happened – something very extraordinary!
Jack goes shopping, and in one particular shop he gets stuck in a long line and hears two people saying that it’s sad the missing kids were never found, because the parents are quite sick with grief over it. Jack butts in and asks if they mean Peggy, Nora and Mike, and is told yes. The parents are staying at a local hotel, desperate for news.
Jack gets a bus over to the hotel, and then asks a porter where he can find Captain and Mrs Arnold (this is the first time we learn that dad was a captain or their surname was Arnold). The porter is a dick about it, deciding that Jack’s kind of poor-looking, but thankfully Captain Arnold is right there, and speaks to Jack directly.
Jack tells them the whole story, and they tell him theirs, which is that their plane came down on a deserted island in the Pacific ocean, and they’ve been living there for two years.
So Jack brings the parents over to the island to reunite them with their kids, and they have a good old catch up. The parents agree that aunt and uncle “shall be punished” for the abuse they inflicted on the kids.
They stay overnight, and just let the kids take care of them. I always find this odd. I’m 37, but my mother still thinks that because I’m her daughter, that means I’m a child. When I was 22, she bought a washing machine on my chequebook, because she assumed that anything that came through the post from such a grown-up organisation as a bank couldn’t be for me, a mere child. I find it odd that the parents aren’t jumping at the change to parent their kids, especially after two years’ estrangement. [Wing: I think it’s sweet that the parents let the kids show off all they did to survive. The kids were pretty clever about it, and I like that the parents were eager to learn more and let the kids be proud and take care of them to show how well the kids took care of themselves.] [Dove: Sweet, but unlikely. Then again, these parents are awful.] [Wing: Is it unlikely? My parents certainly let us show off the things we’d learned and take care of them when we wanted to try something like taking them somewhere or cooking a new meal or buying dinner or whatever. (I’m sure you can guess which of us was cooking and which was buying.)]
Anyway, dad announces it’s time to go home, and the kids, while delighted to have the parents back, aren’t keen on leaving, as they love the island, and also, what about Jack?
This is dealt with very quickly. The parents will adopt Jack, and they’ll buy the island too. #Sorted
Then off they go – leaving Daisy behind, as it’s too cold for her to swim behind the boat. Given how every morning they say that Daisy moos until she’s milked, I worry about her. I mean, is it painful being un-milked? Poor Daisy. [Wing: It is painful to be left un-milked, or so everything I’ve read has always said. Also, they leave the damn hens behind. Hire a bigger boat! Get your damn animals! WTF, BLYTON!] [Raven: The Captain will send a fisherman. All is fine.]
They head back to the mainland, buy real clothes, sleep in real beds, and have a lovely Christmas, with lots of toys. Peggy asks her dad if the parents are going to fly away again, and gets this answer.
“No, never again,” said her father. “Mummy and I have made such a lot of money out of our flying now, that we can afford to stay at home and look after you. We shall never leave you again!”
How on earth did you make money on that? Your plane went down on its first and only trip. [Raven: Selling the rights to their castaway story?]
But apparently we just accept this nonsense answer, and it all ends happily.
I still love-love-love this book. I know it’s daft, and the kids have a very easy time, compared to actual life, but by Blyton’s own standard, they have a much harder time. In all other “away on an island” style books, the kids either take enough supplies to eat like kings throughout, or smugglers/thieves/bad guys bring over massive amounts of food, which the plucky kids then steal. Instead, these four had to grow their own produce, get cows and hens, they had to work for their food, so they earned my respect.
[Wing: This is adorable and the kids are clever and fun with their survival skills. Very satisfying read. I’m guessing it’s all downhill from here.]
[Raven: I liked this, eventually. It had a weird “isn’t that splendid!” vibe from the author every other paragraph, but that’s Blyton I guess. I liked the parents at the end, telling the kids they can come live on the island unsupervised each summer. The food listing got a little much, all very tolkien-elvish-flower-description, but it does get worse in other Blyton books. In fact, you could say, that the constant talk about lettuce in this book is…*puts on shades* … just the tip of the iceberg. …. YEEEEEEAHHHH!]