Title: The Island of Adventure (published in the US as Mystery Island)
Author: Enid Blyton
Illustrator: Stuart Tresilian
Publication: Macmillan, 1944
Genre: Juvenile mystery series
Plot: In this series launch, Blyton sets the scene with the two pairs of siblings who will feature in all eight Adventure books. Philip Mannering (13) is spending his summer catching up on algebra at the home of one of his teachers when he meets orphaned Jack (14), obsessed with birds, and Lucy-Ann (11) Trent and their insolent parrot, Kiki. Philip, passionate about animals, and his sister Dinah (12) live with a difficult uncle and aunt on the coast when they are not away at school. When Philip heads home to Craggy-Tops, Jack and Lucy-Ann sneak away with him, and Philip’s Aunt Polly and Uncle Jocelyn reluctantly allow them to stay as paying guests at a massive but rundown house on a cliff without electricity or running water. Strange lights on the nearby Isle of Gloom leads to the children’s first mystery together (including caves, secret passages, a dark well and a copper mine) and the acquaintance of Bill Smugs, eventually revealed as a policeman and who plays an important role in the series.
Audience: Children who like mysteries and can ignore gender stereotypes for the sake of a good story
|Borrowing a boat (without permission, of course) to explore the island|
One particularly memorable part of this book takes place in a deep well with interior staples that are used to descend to a secret passage under the sea:
Bill couldn’t reach the first iron staples, so Philip had to fetch a rope. It was tied tightly to an iron post by the well, and then Bill slipped down it, and placed his feet on the first staples.“I’m all right,” he said. “You come along as soon as you can, Philip – let me get down a few steps first – and for goodness’ sake don’t slip.”The girls did not go – and, indeed, neither of them liked the thought of going down the steep cold well-shaft with only insecure staples for a foot- and hand-hold. They watched the two disappearing down into the dark, and shivered.“It’s beastly to be left behind, but I honestly think it’s beastlier to go down there,” said Dinah.
Even as a child I found these characters were one-notes: Jack always excited about some bird; horrible animals always crawling out of Philip’s clothes; Dinah overly quarrelsome; and Lucy-Ann, very babyish and often relegated to housekeeping chores. In this one, the girls get left behind for the big adventure and I don’t recall if that was always the case. Such recognition of Blyton's flaws did not prevent me from enjoying and rereading the entire series and certain phrases such as “fusty musty dusty!” always stuck in my mind.
|Philip meets Kiki the parrot|
Stuart Tresilian was a talented illustrator contracted to Macmillan. Although there is no mention of the war in this book, the 70th edition I am reading states that Tresilian’s home was bombed while he was working on the illustrations. It also quotes a letter from Blyton showing her endorsement of Tresilian’s work: “Let’s get a tip-top artist, one who can really make the characters live.” (obviously, she talked like one of her own characters) She was especially pleased with his depiction of Kiki the parrot.
I think it holds up well, although modern children probably would not have the freedom to explore so widely by themselves and their friendship with Bill (a mysterious single man) would be frowned on. But half of the best books depend on fictional characters being able to have adventures of which their parents or guardians would not approve!
Images copyright to Macmillan