It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if your childhood hasn’t involved reading copious amounts of Enid Blytons, planning midnight feasts and running secret societies, then you have only half lived your glory days. Blyton, who would have turned 121 on August 11, continues to rule children’s reading lists even five decades after her demise. We all know of the adventurous Famous Fives and the Secret Sevens and the naughtiest girl in school with a heart of gold; we have all wished to chance upon the Enchanted Forest and be whisked away on adventures on the Wishing Chair, but have you read these lesser-known series?
The Secret series, the first volume of which — The Secret Island — was published in 1938 was Blyton’s first full-length adventure series, featuring Peggy and her younger twin siblings, Mike and Nora. It preceded the Famous Five series and marked the adventures of the siblings and their friend, Jack, in escaping their cruel uncle and aunt, and later, in figuring out the mysterious goings-on in places such as the Cornish coast (The Secret of Spiggy Holes), the imaginary kingdom of Baronia (The Secret Forest, formerly known as The Secret of Killimooin) and The Secret of Moon Castle. The third book in the series — The Secret Mountain (first published in 1941) — partly set in Africa was discontinued, possibly for the politically incorrect depiction of its people.
A pair of siblings, their orphaned cousin, a circus boy with an irascible pet monkey, Miranda — what else does one need for a series of rollicking adventures set in scenic British countryside? Written between 1949 and 1959, the alliterative six-part mystery series featuring siblings Roger and Diana Lynton, their cousin Snubby and his spaniel Loony, and, Barney the circus boy, is another Blyton gem that is now hard to come by in bookshops. Yet, The Rockingdown Mystery, The Rilloby Fair Mystery, Ring o’ Bells Mystery, The Rubadub Mystery, The Rat-a-Tat Mystery and The Ragamuffin Mystery were vintage Blyton involving everything that made her books special — children, animals, adventures and lots of meringues and macaroons for the times in between.
Apart from her adventure series, Blyton also wrote a large number of farm stories that focussed on the harmonious co-existence of man and nature. Three of those books have been gathered in a single volume — On the Farm — featuring the Children of Cherry-Tree Farm, The Children of Willow Farm and More Adventures at Willow Farm. Rory, Benjy, Penny and Sheila get a taste of farm life when they stay with their uncle and aunt at Cherry-Tree Farm. They participate enthusiastically, feeding the farm animals, going for long walks and making friends with the loner Tammylan. Eventually, when their parents buy Willow Farm, their kinship with nature continues on their own turf.
The contrast between city and farm life is heightened in Blyton’s two-part Six Cousins series. When city-bred siblings Cyril, Melisande and Roderick come to stay with their country cousins because a fire burns their house down, sparks fly. The city cousins feel they are too good for the hardy twins Jane and Jack and their sister Susan, while the country cousins find them to be affected and snobbish. How they smoothen out each other’s rough edges and settle down in amicable solidarity forms the gist of the story in Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farms (1948). In Six Cousins Again (1950), Cyril, Melisande and Roderick move to their own farm, Holly Farm, eager to carry out all that they have learned at their uncle’s place. But running a farm is no child’s play. Soon, Holly Farm runs into trouble and it will take all their effort to restore order.
For the longest time, Blyton’s circus series, beginning with Mr Galliano’s Circus (1938) offered young readers a ringside view of what goes on behind the splendid display in the marquee. When the famed circus comes to Jimmy Brown’s town, he is excited like everyone else. But he can’t afford to catch a show because his father, a carpenter, has been out of work for over a year. But, as luck would have it, Jimmy finds a way into the circus and a friend in Lotta, a young performer. Over two more volumes — Hurrah for the Circus! (1939) and Circus Days Again (1942) — the adventures of Galliano’s circus continue. This is one of Blyton’s most exciting series that did not involve mysteries, magic (well, almost) and boarding school shenanigans.