Summary: The Famous Five are having a wonderful caravanning holiday. And when they discover a circus is camping nearby, they hope there’ll be plenty of entertainment.
But two of the circus performers are strangely sinister. The children soon realise that they’re not clowning around — but can they get help in time?
That title is a lie. They go off in two caravans. [Wing: I appreciate your attention to this detail, a la my annoyance over that whole Smuggler’s thing last time.]
Which brings me to perhaps the most disturbing news of the entire series to date: I THINK JULIAN KNOWS WHAT SEX IS. I mean, at least vaguely. He knows it exists. I think. (He may also be having it with a series of farmers’ wives and daughters.) [Wing: Wait, is this not what we’re supposed to assume with him popping off to talk to the wives and daughters as they travel?]
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Initially, when I asked to recap this book, I only remembered the caravan part (not the significance of there being two caravans, just that they went off without adults in a caravan, which I was enormously envious of). The amount of freedom these kids have is mind-boggling to me. I mean, I am old enough to remember when it was normal for children to leave home in the morning in summer and only go back home for meals and when it got to be dusk, so we were basically away from adults for hours and hours at a time in the summer, but that was with the understanding that we were somewhere nearby. Like, in town, and preferably in the neighbourhood. Not off up the highway to some other town, or parked out in the country somewhere in a horse-drawn vehicle.
I really do love this series. It achieves a strange mix of cozy, meal-driven comfort and outrageous, I-would-never-have-been-allowed-to-do-that adventure.
[Dove: This is one of my favourite stories in this series. This is exactly the kind of thing I’d have loved to do as a kid. I didn’t go camping until I was in my late twenties, and when I did, I loved it. Tiny and I were incredibly resourceful in how to make tea without a kettle.]
[Wing: I was taking a drink when I saw the “Anne should just poison them all” tag and nearly choked to death.]
We open with summer vacation. The Five are lying around in the garden at Julian, Dick, and Anne’s house, which is so weird it felt jarring. I’d kind of forgotten they had a house. I thought they only existed at school and then at Kirrin Cottage.
They’re having a conversation that clearly marks this as either the past or a complete fantasy, and I honestly don’t know which. Did children ever really have this degree of freedom? Or is it something Enid Blyton made up?
‘Daddy said this morning that if we didn’t want to stay here all the hols we could choose what we wanted to do,’ said Anne. ‘I vote for staying here.’
‘We could go off somewhere just for two weeks, perhaps,’ said Dick. ‘For a change.’
Initially they consider going to Kirrin, but George’s father has just begun some experiment and they’d have to be quiet the whole time, so they reject that idea. Then they debate going off on bicycles or doing a walking tour or riding Dobby, the horse.
They all fall asleep in the garden, and while they’re napping a circus procession comes along the road, and Timmy barks at the elephant and wakes them up.
I can remember being really young and reading this part and thinking it was MAGICAL having a circus and an elephant just walking by. That never happened on my street. Now that I’m an adult and know too much about circuses, the elephant just makes me vaguely sad.
There’s a boy with the circus turning cartwheels as they go down the road, because children have too damned much energy. He has two performing dogs named Barker and Growler. Don’t ever let me hear anyone criticize modern children for a lack of imagination ever again.
He lives with his Uncle Dan, the chief clown, and with typical Blyton subtlety (/sarc) we sense that he might be a Bad Guy:
The children stared at the chief clown, and thought that they had never seen anyone less like a clown. He was dressed in dirty grey flannel trousers and a dirty red shirt open at an equally dirty neck.
He didn’t look as if he could make a single joke, or do anything in the least funny. In fact, he looked really bad-tempered, the children thought, and he scowled so fiercely as he chewed on an old pipe that Anne felt quite scared.
Then we find out the boy is called Nobby, and this is from the same author who invented Noddy and two seconds ago called a horse Dobby, and all the world is dissolving into a series of meaningless syllables that are in no way NAMES.
Is Nobby an actual nickname for something? (For that matter, is Noddy?) Or was Blyton just randomly making shit up? [Dove: Don’t quote me on this, but it might be a diminutive of Robert? Oh, wait, how about Norbert? I reckon it’s one of them.]
The dogs bark, the caravans move on, and George has a brilliant idea: they can rent a caravan and go off by themselves!
HOW OLD ARE THESE CHILDREN? [Dove: I believe, assuming this summer holiday is in the same year as the Easter they went to Smuggler’s Top (let it go, Wing) [Wing: NEVER!], that they are: Anne: 12; George and Dick 13; Julian 14.]
Julian suggests they go stay at the lake Nobby mentioned, so they can “bathe” (sorry, that’s too unbearably quaint) and perhaps get to know the circus folk.
Their mother is briefly dubious about Anne’s claim that Julian (and Timmy) can look after them all, but then after the children are in bed Anne/Dick/Julian’s father comes home, and by morning it’s decided: they can go, but they need TWO caravans, so they’ll rent two of those and borrow another horse.
‘And Daddy says he doesn’t see why you shouldn’t have a caravan holiday. He thinks it would be good for you to go off and rough it for a bit. But you will have to have two caravans, not one. We couldn’t have all four of you, and Timmy too, living in one caravan.’
Two disturbing things here:
- Anne’s-and-Etc.’s mother calls her husband Daddy? [Dove: In the UK, this is very common, especially among the middle classes. Most of my school friends’ mums referred to their husband this way.] [Necromommycon: If I had ever heard one of my friends’ mothers calling their husband Daddy there is a strong possibility I would have combusted on the spot out of embarrassment. ] [Wing: My mom never called my dad “Dad” when she was talking to him, but she did often refer to him as “Dad” when talking to us. Mostly things like “your dad will be home soon” but sometimes “Dad said hello” and things like that.]
- Why CAN’T they stay in one caravan? They all shared a cave on Kirrin Island. Is it because they’re getting older? HAS THE SHADOW OF SEX FALLEN ACROSS THE VALLEY OF CHILDHOOD or whatever? [Wing: Oh, I was thinking it was about the size of the caravan. Could four kids and a dog fit comfortably in one for weeks at a time?]
‘You can go next week, when I take your mother up north with me,’ said his father. ‘That will suit us very well. We can give Cook a holiday, too, then. You will have to send us a card every single day to tell us how you are and where you are.’
Yes, why stay at home when your children are gallivanting around in caravans when you can LEAVE THE REGION ALTOGETHER? The cook needs a vacation, damn it, and it’s not like anything could possibly go wrong.
Also, how good was the mail service in those days that sending postcards every day would have been worthwhile? If I mailed someone a postcard every day for two weeks, odds are good they’d all arrive in a clump sometime midway through week three.
‘You will be in complete charge, you understand, Julian,’ said the boy’s father. ‘You are old enough now to be really responsible. The others must realize that you are in charge and they must do as you say.’
Yikes. At best Julian’s going to grow up to be an insufferable arsehole, and at worst we’ve got Fifty Shades of Famous Five looming on the horizon here.
Anne wants to know if the caravans will be like “travellers’ caravans,” and I’m a bit impressed she’s calling them travellers instead of using a slur. [Dove: In the original, she did say ‘gypsy’, which is not considered a slur in England – some traveller organisations actually use that word in their title. Still, the fact that it’s a slur in other countries makes me very hesitant to use it. *glares at the Jurassic Park franchise* It would be nice if some media returned the favour.]
‘No, they’re modern, Mother says. Streamlined and all that. Not too big either, because a horse can’t draw too heavy a van.”
Ah yes, a modern streamlined horse-drawn caravan. Makes perfect sense.
[Dove: I found it very difficult to picture a “modern” caravan that could be pulled by a horse, and the illustrations by Eileen A. Soper are kind of odd to view with a contemporary eye. The caravans look incredibly dated without being charming. I prefer to imagine the above image to the illustration
The caravans arrive and they explore them. There are tanks on the roofs to collect rainwater, which… doesn’t really appeal to me.
‘You must take plenty of jerseys, another pair of jeans each, in case you get wet, your raincoats, bathing-things, towels, a change of shoes, night things, and some cool shirts or blouses,’ Mother said. Everyone groaned.
I don’t know what they’re groaning about; my children pack more than that just to leave the damned house for a night.
There were shelves for a few books and games, so Julian brought down snap cards, ludo, lexicon, happy families, and dominoes, as well as four or five books for each of them. He also brought down some maps of the district, because he meant to plan out where they were to go, and the best roads to follow.
I don’t even know what those first four things are and I’m too lazy to Google them.
They’re well stocked with ginger beer, so that’s good.
The parents give them strict instructions to park near streams so the horses can drink, to boil water before they use it, and to buy milk off of farms, and then the next morning they send them off. Okay then. I guess parenting was less stressful when you could just abandon your kids for a few weeks each year?
‘I’m going to drive our caravan,’ said George. ‘Anne wouldn’t be any good at it, though I’ll let her have a turn at it sometimes. Driving is a man’s job.’
‘Well, you’re only a girl!’ said Anne indignantly. ‘You’re not a man, nor even a boy!’
George put on one of her scowls. She always wanted to be a boy, and even thought of herself as one.
Yes, well: it’d be easier to be wholeheartedly supportive of that, George, if you weren’t being such a prick to Anne. Do you really have to turn right around and enforce the worst sexist stereotypes on the next person in line?
By the way, the borrowed horse is named Trotter, so Blyton’s brilliant flights of imagination continue to dazzle us all. “Barker, Growler, Trotter, and everything else can just end in -obby.” [Wing: I have got to stop drinking while reading this recap.]
Julian went to the farm to see the farmer, and Anne went with him to ask for eggs. The farmer was not there, but the farmer’s wife, who liked the look of the tall polite Julian very much, gave them permission at once to spend the night in the field by the stream.
Eeep. That meshes a little too well with my theory that Julian’s old enough to be aware of sex now. [Dove: On this re-read I do dislike how often the narrative has to remind us how wonderful Julian is every time he meets someone new.] [Wing: This is Julian’s summer of sexual awakening, and all those farm families are happy to help.]
Anne makes bacon and eggs for dinner, and then does the washing up, and I want to punch everybody in the face.
Then Julian gets all weird about security:
‘Hurry up, won’t you, because I want to lock your caravan door so that you’ll be safe.’
‘Lock our door!’ said George, indignantly. ‘You jolly well won’t! Nobody’s going to lock me in! I might think I’d like to take a walk in the moonlight or something.’
‘Yes, but a tramp or somebody might…’ began Julian.
Now: bearing in mind that they’ve already faced down kidnappers, smugglers, and spies, why the hell is he suddenly worried about random tramps in the night? BECAUSE SEX, THAT’S WHY. He’s suddenly worried the girls are vulnerable.
George argues him down, anyway, so they don’t get locked in.
[Wing: I should probably save this for later, because it actually comes up in detail, but why the fuck does he have to lock them inside the caravan? He can look the boys’ caravan from the inside, so why the hell can’t they? WTF.]
That night Dobby bumps into the caravan, waking everyone and causing Julian to yell ‘What’s up? Are you girls all right? We’re coming!’ and this is getting tedious already. Calm down, Jules.
Three or four days pass, blissfully.
Blissfully for everyone but Anne, anyway.
‘I like this holiday better than any we’ve ever had,’ said Anne, busily cooking something in a pan.
Something. She doesn’t even know or care what anymore; it’s all just a blur of pans and washing up at this point.
We also find out she’s been doing all the housekeeping and George has never once even made her own bunk. I want to kill them all and free Anne.
‘You’re a very good little housekeeper,’ said Julian. ‘We couldn’t possibly do without you!’
Anne blushed with pride. She took the pan off the campfire and put the contents on to four plates. ‘Come along!’ she called, in a voice just like her mother’s. ‘Have your meal while it’s hot.’
JFC, it reads like some revolting new brand of D/s porn.
Also, executive decision: my family are eating take-out for the rest of this week. If I so much as walk into the kitchen in my current mood I might go on some sort of rampage and burn the house to the ground. [Wing: ILU.]
Ewww, they’re letting Timmy lick the plates clean and then just rinsing them in a stream. I love my dogs, but YUCK. [Wing: Yeah, I’m gagging at that. We don’t even let Monster Dog lick plates, much less then simply rinse them in a stream oh my god. (She gets people food, but not on our actual plates.)]
More farm shenanigans:
Julian went as usual to ask permission to camp, and Dick went with him, leaving the two girls to prepare a meal.
Julian easily got permission, and the farmer’s daughter, a plump jolly girl, sold the boys eggs, bacon, milk, and butter, besides a little crock of yellow cream. She also offered them raspberries from the garden if they liked to pick them and have them with the cream.
That all sounds delicious, but I’m howling with inappropriate laughter over Julian’s massive success with farmers’ wives and daughter. [Wing: Summer of sexual awakening.]
They arrive at Merran Lake, and in the distance they see smoke from a campfire a mile or two further along the lake, which they deduce must be the circus camp. So after “bathing” in the lake and eating ham-and-tomato sandwiches, they set off to get closer to the circus people.
The circus people are doing circus things: walking a chimpanzee on a rope, exercising horses, leaving an elephant tied to what I hope is a seriously sturdy tree. They see Nobby or Dobby or Lobby or whatever the hell he’s called, and he lets George shake hands with Pongo the Chimp so that Timmy will know it’s friendly. Timmy shakes hands with him too, which is partly charming and partly worries me. Is it actually safe to let a dog near a chimp? Oh well, this is Blyton, not reality.
Pongo attempts to pick Julian’s pocket, which is an interesting skill set for a chimp to have.
They meet Lou the acrobat, who is Uncle Dan’s (the clown) only friend in the circus, and he’s just as unpleasant as Dan.
‘Posh, aren’t you?’ Lou said sneeringly.
‘Not particularly,’ said Julian, still polite.
‘Any grown-ups with you?’ asked Lou.
‘No. I’m in charge,’ said Julian, ‘and we’ve got a dog that flies at people he doesn’t like.’
Timmy clearly didn’t like Lou. He stood near him, growling in his throat. Lou kicked out at him.
The threatening adults in these books are actually creepy. Well done Blyton, I guess. There’s this constant sense of menace, probably because even the supposedly decent adults apparently hit kids, so there’s just no telling how brutal the average crook might be.
They children show Nobby around their caravans. He’s never seen a tap before in his life, so they dazzle him with running water and sweets. Pongo drinks all the water out of the kettle.
‘You’re forgetting your manners, Pongo!’ said Nobby in horror, and snatched the kettle away from him. Anne squealed with laughter. She loved the chimpanzee, and he seemed to have taken a great fancy to Anne, too. He followed her about and stroked her hair and made funny affectionate noises.
So that’s an aspect of Anne’s characterization I’d entirely forgotten.
After Nobby leaves they decide to camp at the lake for the night, and then go up into the hills the next day.
In the night Timmy wakes George, and they listen to Uncle Dan and Lou the acrobat. When they notice the caravans they bang on the sides and tell the kids to clear out, and Lou starts to take off his leather belt, so you see what I mean about the random violence from adults. Timmy rips Lou’s trouser leg and the men leave, chased off but still threatening to “pay you out one day.”
This time Julian insists on locking the girls’ caravan, and George agrees because Anne is scared. I’m thoroughly confused about why they have to be locked in from the outside. Why the hell don’t the doors lock from the inside like EVERY OTHER DOOR EVER? And then as soon as the boys go back to their caravan Julian locks their door from the inside! So are George and Anne in a special girls-only caravan that can only be locked from the outside by a boy? Seriously, what the hell. [Dove: Agreed, this is utterly baffling. Or is there an inside lock and he doesn’t trust them to use it — George out of manly defiance and Anne because she’s such a girl?] [Wing: Oh god, that’s probably it entirely. Fuck off, Blyton.]
The next morning Lou and Dan are gloating as the children leave, and when Nobby comes running up to say goodbye and offers to come along partway with them, Dan “cuffs” him, which I guess is that era’s way of saying “suddenly whacks him across the head.” He drives Nobby away, but the children manage to overtake Nobby on the road and invite him to visit them up on the hill. Nobby offers to show them around the circus camp sometime when Dan and Lou are away.
On their way they see an underground stream emerging from the hill, and are all amazed by this for some reason.
Up on the hill there’s a farm, of course, and the farmer agrees to sell them fresh milk and produce.
His wife, he was sure, would cook for them anything they asked her to, and bake them cakes, too.
‘Perhaps I could arrange payment with her?’ said Julian. ‘I’d like to pay for everything as I buy it.’
I’m trying very hard not to snicker here. [Wing: I failed.]
The children came away laden with all kinds of food, from eggs and ham to scones and ginger cake. She pushed a bottle of raspberry syrup into Anne’s hands when the little girl said goodbye. But when Julian turned back to pay her for it she was quite annoyed.
‘If I want to make a present to somebody I’ll do it!’ she said. ‘Go on with you… paying for this and paying for that. I’ll have a little something extra for you each time, and don’t you dare ask to pay for it, or I’ll be after you with my rolling pin!’
That reminds me a little of my own childhood. When my parents and I used to spend summers visiting little outport towns, my father would always buy fish and lobsters from the young men (teenagers, really, I guess, but they seemed grown up to me at the time), and you’d have to argue them into taking money. And if you stopped to ask for directions or anything, random women were perfectly likely to try to make you take a loaf of freshly baked bread. So possibly I grew up in a Blyton novel?
They make camp in a sheltered hollow with a spring (and a view of the lake), and a rocky ledge that they decide is perfect for sitting on when they eat. They use binoculars (“field-glasses” in Blytonese) and see Nobby and Pongo in a boat on the lake, and decide to arrange to signal each other. Then they spend the hot day reading and drinking fresh spring water, and in the evening go down to the lake to swim and cook off. No, sorry, “bathe” and cool off. On the way there they run into Lou and Dan, who want to know if they’re camping in the hills and try to tell them it’s more pleasant camping down lower near the lake. Then at the lake they meet Nobby, who has no more idea than they do why Lou and his uncle would be walking up the hill (only the women ever go up to buy stuff from the farm, he tells them).
‘I’ve had a bad day,’ said Nobby, and he showed black bruises on his arm. ‘My uncle hit me like anything for making friends with you. He says not to go talking to strangers anymore.’
I sort of doubt Uncle Dan is saying that out of concern for Nobby’s safety. [Dove: Ah, the Blyton-verse, where the appropriate reaction to an abused child is, “Golly, that’s rough. Chin up, old thing.”]
Along the way back to the caravans (they’ve invited Nobby for supper) they learn that Dan isn’t really his uncle, just the man who’d been asked to look after him after Nobby’s parents died. Nobby’s father was a clown, too, but Nobby intends to run away to a different circus once he’s old enough and work with the horses.
Dan and Lou are lying in wait by the caravans, and resume their weird efforts to pretend to be friendly and get the children to camp down by the lake because they want this one particular spot on the hills to exercise their animals.
Anne orders the boys to get ginger beer and water while she gets dinner ready, and Julian and Dick wink at each other, amused when she orders them around because they’re smug little arseholes.
Nobby went to help Anne. Together they boiled ten eggs hard in the little saucepan. Then Anne made tomato sandwiches with potted meat and got out the cake the farmer’s wife had given them. She remembered the raspberry syrup, too — lovely!
Julian wonders if they should move camp after all, because he’s in charge and he’s worried about the others, but they shout him down.
It’s Dick’s turn to visit the farmer’s wife and buy food.
‘Slices of ham I’ve cured myself,’ she said, lifting up the white cloth that covered one of the baskets. ‘And a pot of brawn I’ve made. Keep it in a cool place. And some fresh lettuces and radishes I pulled myself this morning early. And some more tomatoes.’
‘How gorgeous!’ said Dick, eyeing the food in delight. ‘Just the kind of things we love! Thanks awfully, Mrs. Mackie. What’s in the other basket?’
‘Eggs, butter, milk, and a tin of shortbread I’ve baked,’ said Mrs. Mackie. ‘You should do all right till tomorrow, the four of you! And in that paper there is a bone for the dog.’
We’re well into the food-porn part of this series. After he pays her she slips a packet of homemade sweets into Dick’s pocket, too.
Nobby signals them from his boat that it’s safe to come down, so Anne prepares a picnic lunch (poor Anne) and they all go down WITHOUT TIMMY because they need him to guard the caravans. I’m outraged on his behalf.
It turns out Nobby’s asked them down with his uncle’s permission, which would make me so suspicious I’d go back to the caravans immediately. But the Famous Four don’t, they stay and meet the elephant and revisit Pongo. They’re impressed with Nobby’s ability on horseback. Pongo breaks into their picnic lunch and has to be re-caged, even though Anne pleads on his behalf. I imagine spending half her life trapped next to a stove or fire feels similar.
Pongo gets out again and releases all the monkeys.
The children see a “small wagon covered with a tightly-fitting hood of tarpaulin” and Nobby tells them it belongs to Dan and nobody else is allowed to touch it.
When they eventually go back to their campsite they find Barker and Growler gnawing on some raw meat, but Timmy won’t touch it, and neither will Pongo. Then Barker whines once and shivers and falls over. Nobby picks him up and starts crying.
‘He’s done for,’ said the boy, in a choking voice. ‘Poor old Barker.’
Then he picks him up and carries him home, with Growler and Pongo walking behind him, and my heart is breaking for this imaginary child.
[Wing: NO DAMN IT WHY.]
George is sure Dan and Lou left the poisoned meat. She won’t eat dinner, because she’s so upset about somebody else’s dog. Aww, George, I love you again, even if you are sexist and horrible at times.
During the night Timmy wakes up, barking at something outside, so the children guess Dan and Lou came back hoping he’d been poisoned.
Julian lies awake hatching plans. The next day he goes to pick up their food (including a ginger cake! If it would cool off a little I’d bake one myself this week).
‘Do the circus folk come up here often to buy food?’ asked Julian, as he paid Mrs. Mackie.
‘They come sometimes,’ said Mrs. Mackie. ‘I don’t mind the women or the children — dirty though they are, and not above taking one of my chickens now and again — but it’s the men I can’t abide. There were two here last year, messing about in the hills, that my husband had to send off quickly.’
When he gets back the others have spotted Nobby and Pongo, each waving red cloths, and for some reason only Julian can work out that this must mean “double danger,” which he suggests might mean it’s dangerous down at the camp but up in the hills as well.
Julian shares the plan he hatched last night: they’ll all pretend to go into town, but he’ll slip back and lie in wait at the camp. That sounds dangerous, but whatever.
First they search the area closely, thinking they must be camped near a cave or something, but when they can’t find anything they do they’re “let’s all talk loudly about going into town for the day” thing, yelling to Nobby to let him know. Dan covers Nobby’s mouth with his hand to prevent him answering, but the children ask about Barker, and the elephant handler tells them he’s very sick but not dead yet.
They all get on a bus so Lou sees them leave, but Julian gets off at the first stop and makes his way back to the caravans. He makes himself a lunch and decides to lie on the roof of one of the caravans, where he can see but not be seen. He has to lasso a rope around the chimney so he can climb up. Julian is tediously athletic. [Dove: Where exactly did he gain a rank in the lasso skill? He’s insufferable.]
Lou and Dan show up and start doing something underneath the caravan, making it sway, and then Lou complains that it’s too hard and they’ll have to move the caravan. Julian’s frightened at first they’re going to push it down the hill, but instead they just shove it aside a few feet and go back to scrabbling around near the caravan’s back steps.
Then, abruptly, there are no more sounds. A bird the kids have been feeding flies back into camp, and then a rabbit pops out of its burrow, and it’s clear the men have disappeared somehow. Julian falls asleep, and wakes up to find the men are back and are shifting the caravan back into place. [Dove: I really hoped he’d get sunburn.]
He watches Lou and Dan eat their lunch and then fall asleep, effectively trapping him on the roof. They have two sacks with them now, that they didn’t bring up the hill with them.
Pongo shows up, with Nobby. Poor Nobby doesn’t understand when Julian waves his arms around, trying to warn him Dan and Lou are there, and he heaves himself up onto the ledge where they’re napping, waking them. Dan yells at him for spying on them and is getting ready to beat him, and Julian’s poised to leap off the roof and try to fight them even though he knows he’ll lose. I kind of like Julian sometimes — not often — and this is one of those times.
He doesn’t get to be heroic this time, though, because Pongo leaps out and bites Lou’s arm and Dan’s leg, and when Lou hits him with a leather belt (what the hell is it with the men in this book and leather belts?) Pongo goes for his throat. Nobby calls him off, and the men flee.
[Wing: Chimps are fierce, y’all. I’d rather face the man with the gun than a chimp dead set on eating my face. Also: Pongo is the greatest.]
Timmy and the others return, and they share bottles of ginger beer and agree Nobby can’t go back.
Then they all push the caravan aside a little and dig down underneath the heather, where they find a set of boards concealing a hidey-hole. Pongo climbs down, so Julian and Nobby go after him, and find themselves in a tunnel. Julian’s torch dies, but they aren’t far from the entrance and make it back easily.
The next morning they go into town to buy torches and matches and stuff. Nobby and Pongo have to stay behind, because Pongo wouldn’t be allowed on the bus, and because Nobby is afraid Lou and Dan will come back Dick offers to stay with him. Okay, fine: I like all of you again, even the boys.
Dan and Lou show up. Nobby’s hidden in one of the caravans, and Pongo is lurking on the roof. Dick politely tells them to leave, since Nobby’s staying with them, and when Dan comes closer Pongo leaps down and attacks.
‘Call him off!’ he yelled. ‘Lou, come and help.’
‘Pongo won’t obey me,’ said Dick, still sitting down looking quite undisturbed. ‘You’d better go before he bites big pieces out of you.’
Dan staggered to the rock ledge, looking as if he would box Dick’s ears. But the boy did not move, and somehow Dan did not dare to touch him.
Pongo chases the men off, throwing rocks at them, and then comes back looking rightfully proud of himself.
Nobby warns Dick that Lou and Dan are capable of setting the caravans on fire and various other horrible things, but Dick regales him with tales of the stuff the Five have already survived.
The others return with torches for everyone, including Nobby, who blushes and has to be talked into accepting it as a present. Then George gives Pongo her broken torch so he won’t feel left out. Aww.
Anne and George make lunch, and while they’re still eating lunch Julian suggests Anne prepare a picnic for them to take into the hill. I would be tempted to poison him at that point. For the love of God, can’t she even eat in peace without you getting her to start planning the next meal you’ll stuff your face with?
Nobby and George do the washing up, at least.
When they’re ready to explore Pongo won’t go back into the dark tunnel, because it scared him the first time, so they leave him tied to one of the caravans. Isn’t that putting him in danger from Dan and Lou??
Inside the tunnel they find a place where they can climb up foothold that consist of partly-driven nails (I can’t quite picture doing that with a dog). At the top there’s an enormous cave, and then another tunnel, and I’m getting slightly bored.
But then they find sacks and boxes of gold plate, and a valuable china vase, and Julian concludes that Dan and Lou are “thieves in a very big way.” George finds bags of jewellery, and Anne tries it all on, starting with a tiara. Ha.
When they go back (urged on by Nobby, who is worried about Pongo) they find the boards have been put back over the entrance, and the caravan moved back on top. They’re trapped!
Pongo doesn’t come when they call for help, because he’s been knocked unconscious and is bleeding on the ground nearby. Goddamnit, kids, I knew you should have either taken him or left someone to guard him. Tied up, he couldn’t get away or attack when Dan threw a huge rock at his head. [Wing: PONGO NO. There is too much animal violence in this book.]
The children sensibly eat their lunch, and then go back to where they’d seen an underground stream to drink. Then they realize that if they follow it they might be able to get out at the point where it emerges from the hill. So they try that, but the water is too deep and too “rushy” as they approach the hole, so that won’t work.
Back in the cave where they drank from the stream they hear someone approaching (and sneezing), wading up the stream that they couldn’t get down, and it’s Pongo. He’s come too, untied himself, and found his way into a cave he’s afraid of through an entrance he didn’t know about! I guess.
He won’t let them clean his wound, but Nobby assures them that animals wounds often heal up anyway. I’m so disturbed with the level of animal care in this book.
They decide to tie a note around Pongo’s neck and send him back to camp, where he won’t approach Dan or Lou (since he’s afraid of them), which means someone else will find the note and rescue them. I…see a lot that could go wrong here. But we’re three chapters from the end and Blyton was probably tired of all this by now, so I guess it will work?
Nobby sends Pongo off, and he splashes his way back down the stream. What the hell is this note made of that it doesn’t simply dissolve during this? [Dove: Exactly the issue I had. I read it as though he had to be fully submerged to get out of the stream entrance – but that could be me misreading it. Still. Paper and water. Not a great combo.]
The children go back to wait by the first entrance, but when someone eventually arrives Timmy growls, and it turns out to be Lou. He has a gun and threatens to shoot Timmy.
Lou and Dan drive the children back to the stolen-goods cave, and Lou stands guard with the gun while Dan takes load after load to the surface. But then they hear Dan calling for help.
‘It’s Pongo, I bet it’s old Pongo,’ said Julian, thrilled.
Dick makes his way back to the entrance, hoping to help Pongo somehow, because he’s afraid Lou will simply shoot him. Why Dick? I have no idea. The others hide and Dick goes off to have his turn being useful.
But Pongo has hold of both bad guys, and their torches have gone out, so Lou is afraid to shoot in case he hits Dan. This all seems exactly as convoluted and unlikely as the plot of one of those Old Dark House movies featuring an ape.
Dick slips past all of this and up the tunnel and escapes, and covers the hole with boards and some heavy rocks. Down below, the bad guys drive Pongo off (he goes back to the other children) and then try to escape, but assume that somehow the caravan has been pushed back into place and they’re trapped. They go off in a fury to look for the children, wondering if somehow they’ve all escaped.
The children have made their way along the edge of the underground stream, and are almost out of sight when the men arrive — but not quite, and Julian gets caught. Lou and Dan demand that George come down too, because they think she’s the second boy.
‘You come on out,’ said Lou, threateningly. ‘I’m going to show you two boys what happens to kids who keep spying and interfering. Nobby knows what happens, don’t you, Nobby? He’s had his lesson. And you two boys are going to have yours, too.’
Dan called to him, ‘There ought to be another girl there, Lou. I thought Nobby said there were two boys and two girls. Where’s the other girl?’
‘Gone further up the tunnel, I suppose,’ said Lou, trying to see. ‘Now, you boy — come on out!’
Anne began to cry. ‘Don’t go, George, don’t go. They’ll hurt you. Tell them you’re a…’
‘Shut up,’ said George fiercely. She added, in a whisper, ‘If I say I’m a girl they’ll know Dick is missing, and will be all the angrier. Hang on to Timmy.’
There is absolutely no point whatsoever to this scene except to show George being brave and defiant, and I love it. But really, it’s pointless otherwise. If Lou and Dan were going to shoot Timmy and Pongo they’d just do it; they wouldn’t pause to beat children.
Lou grabs George, but Julian kicks the torch out of his hand at that exact moment, and now they’re all in the dark again.
Lou shoots at Timmy even though he can’t see him, but misses. Timmy knocks Lou down, and Lou loses the gun. Meanwhile Dan switches on his torch just in time to see Pongo coming for him, hits poor Pongo in the face, and runs.
But! Dick is back, with four burly policemen. He woke the Mackies up and used their phone to call the cops. Excellent.
The police take the bad guys and their stolen goods away, and then Dick announces that he’s hungry.
‘Got anything, Anne?’ asked Julian.
Oh my god I’m actually going to reach into a book and murder one of these boys. [Dove: I swear the next book is even worse for Anne.]
Anne makes sardine sandwiches and opens tins of peaches. Then everyone goes to bed, and in the morning they’re woken by Farmer Mackie and his wife, bringing baskets of food and radiating concern.
An Inspector and another policeman show up, and Anne serves them bread and honey while they fill in the gaps: the goods were stolen and stored for a year or two, then sold in Holland (where Dan and Lou sometimes performed).
After the police leave Mrs. Mackie brings a telegram from Julian’s father, and now the children have to COME HOME AT ONCE. Amazing. It’s almost like parenting, if you squint.
Julian goes up to the farm to phone his parents, and when he comes back he has good news: Nobby can stay at the farm, living there and working for Farmer Mackie. He can even keep Growler.
Nobby goes back to the circus camp to return Pongo, and when he comes back he has Growler and Barker with him! The circus lady who’d been caring for Barker has cured him, and so Nobby and his two dogs are going to live together on the farm now.
The Famous Five wave goodbye and head home in their caravans.
I’m exhausted, somehow. It felt like everything was slow and relaxing and nicely paced, and then they went down a cave and it turned into a Scooby Doo episode or something.
The food descriptions are really heating up, though, which I enjoy.
I really expected Nobby to be allowed to keep Pongo, and was disappointed that he couldn’t.
One of the things Blyton did in this book that I really liked (and wish now I had quoted) was to underline a couple of times that although Nobby’s life looks extraordinary to the other children, to him it’s just normal. There’s even a point where Anne remarks (after the monkeys escape and the elephant splashes people) that it “isn’t a bit like real life,” and Nobby looks at her in amazement because to him this is real life. I like that little thread of awareness that other people’s realities, no matter how odd to you, are just life to them.
[Dove: This is one of my favourite Blytons. I’m not sure why. Kid!Dove always wished they’d go on a pony trek, because then it would combo two things I loved: these books and horses. This was as close as they got. I actually find Anne adorable. I always loathed her as a kid, but as an adult, I find it endearing that she takes such pride in taking care of the others (I go on about this in great length in my next recap), and I really want to thump the other three every time they think it’s funny. Necro is right about the pacing in this though, it’s all dreamy and hazy, and “golly, isn’t summer grand, pass me a raddish, would you?” and then they get under the caravans and everything kicks off.]
[Wing: Seriously, the weird pacing switch threw me. I was really enjoying the slow summer feel of it all, especially with the circus animals just randomly hanging out with them suddenly, and then shenanigans. Shenanigans that were far too similar to the past couple books, really. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but the whole hidden treasure/smugglers/secret passages thing is getting kind of boring. Switch it up a little, Blyton.
Thank god the dogs all lived. Sad that Pongo had to go back to the circus, though a chimp on a farm is probably not a good idea either.]