The Books of Adventure

I found the announcement of a UK readers’ poll in which adults voted for their favorite books for children interesting, since the winner was a series, the ‘Famous Five’, by a popular but now rather disreputable author named Enid Blyton. She beat series by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I found it interesting partly for the curious fact that Blyton is pretty much unknown in the US, but also because a different series by Blyton, not any of her series that placed in this recent poll, were my own favorite childhood books — namely, the ‘Adventure’ series.

The ‘Adventure’ books, beginning with The Island of Adventure and continuing with 7 more volumes, each title designating a different place — The Castle of Adventure, The Sea of Adventure, etc. — concerned two brother & sister pairs who meet at boarding school and go on holidays together, in Wales or Scotland or at an aunt’s remote coastal abode, and one way or another stumble into ‘adventures’, typically involving secret passages, isolation from parental figures, and encounters with criminals of some sort, gun-runners or smugglers or even mad scientists. The books were written in the late ’40s and early ’50s, and their racial and social stereotypes, not uncommon for the era, have made the books, and Blyton’s books in general, anachronisms of a sort, disregarded by librarians and scholars, despite being fondly remembered by actual readers.

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I discovered 5 of the books — Castle, Valley, Mountain, Circus, and Sea — at the Reseda public library, and checked them out and reread them endlessly. Something about the Britishness of the books gave them an exotic appeal to me; a different landscape, a different language (“wizard!”). My favorites were The Mountain of Adventure, which had a fantasy element, about a mad scientist ensconced inside a Welsh mountain inventing anti-gravity wings, and The Valley of Adventure, in which the 4 kids are inadvertantly flown to and stranded in a remote European valley where they discover a cache of artworks stolen by the Nazis. In later years I found the first book in the series, The Island of Adventure, that turned up in a US paperback reprint (none of the others ever appeared in the US), and eventually I ordered the whole set from Britain — via Fantast Medway — and finally read the two I’d missed, River of Adventure and Ship of Adventure. They were OK, but of course didn’t kindle the same excitement of the other books that I’d read at an earlier age.

I’ve never read any other Blyton, nor been inclined to. But every once in a while, home in bed with the flu, I’ll pull down one of the Adventure books for a revisit…

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