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The Castle of AdventureReview by Keith Robinson (March 25, 2005)
Unlike the intriguing hook of the first book in the series, The Castle of Adventure seems to start out like a lot of Five Find-Outer and Famous Five books, where a couple of the children are waiting impatiently for the hols to begin. In this case, Dinah and Lucy-Ann provide a decidedly transparent infodump for the readers' benefit: "One more day and then the hols begin," said red-haired Lucy-Ann. "It's a good thing there's only one day between our breaking-up days..." And Dinah says, "I wonder what this place is like, that Mother has taken for the hols. I'll get out her letter and read it again." And Lucy-Ann reads the letter again and says, "Yes, it's a place called Spring Cottage..." And so on.
But once this is over with, the story gets started quickly enough. It's a year since their island adventure, and the children are staying at Spring Cottage on Castle Hill with Mrs Mannering while their real home is "decorated and cleaned." At the end of the first book, it was made pretty clear that Aunt Polly and Uncle Jocelyn would have to move away from Craggy-Tops because the well had ben rendered useless—and besides, Mrs Mannering had come into a bit of money by way of a reward for catching the bad guys, so could afford to buy a proper house. I was sort of expecting a little more mention of the children's new home, but instead we're whisked away to a remote place twenty miles from the nearest town. But that's fine. This is the sort of place adventures happen!
Mrs Mannering tells the children quite firmly to stay away from the castle at the top of the hill because the road up to it fell away in a landslide, and the route is treacherous. But a local "wild girl" by the name of Tassie, who is fascinated by both Philip and Kiki (in that order) and follows them around everywhere, shows them a safe path to the castle. Jack, spotting some eagles, asks very nicely if he and the others can venture up there for a bit of bird-spotting, and Mrs Mannering agrees on the basis that Tassie can lead them safely.
The next thing we know, those inquisitive childen are searching for a way into the castle. Tassie doesn't want to go inside, because what few locals there are say the place is haunted, but of course Jack and Philip are determined to find a way in. The castle backs onto a cliff wall, which forms a very tight passage at its base, and because the cliff wall is overgrown with creepers and vines, it's possible to climb with the help of a rope until the children are level with one of the higher castle windows. By hauling a plank into postion between the cliff and the castle window, they can crawl carefully across. This is dangerous stuff, and I'm surprised the girls didn't worry about it too much. It struck me as odd that Mrs Mannering couldn't bear the thought of children climbing over a landslide but apparently had no problem whatsoever with the idea of them crawling across this plank!
I got the sense that Enid Blyton was writing-on-the-fly as usual, because when they first set off up the hill with a plank, it occurs to them all that they should have brought a rope. But luckily Philip had thought of that, and he apparently had one wrapped around his waist all along. Later it turns out he actually had two ropes round his waist, one to climb up with, and the other to haul the plank up. This is a little irritating to me, and nothing a little editing wouldn't have fixed. I always get this image of Enid pausing in her writing and thinking, "Oh, bother! Well, I shan't make the children return home for a rope—I'll just write that Philip has one already. If only they'd invent word processors I could go back and insert that little detail without re-writing all these pages..."
The children explore the castle and Jack takes it upon himself to stay for a few days up by the eagles' nest, on his own, so he can get some good photographs. This is when the adventure really gets under way. Jack is curled up in a sandy corner in the castle's courtyard one dark night when he realizes he's not alone. Someone is up in the tower, flashing a light about. But Jack doesn't like the idea of investigating too thoroughly on his own, and by the next morning he's put the whole thing down to his active imagination. But no, Lucy-Ann saw the lights flashing from the tower too, from her room in Spring Cottage. And so the adventure gets underway, just as Mrs Mannering heads off to visit an ill Aunt Polly for a few days.
At some point, when the children discover a secret room and three mysterious strangers coming and going, Philip suddenly thinks to himself, quite seriously, "This is an adventure!" I love this official labeling of situations. Only children would think to do such a thing. In the Five Find-Outer books, the children constantly ask themselves, "Is this a mystery? Oh please, Fatty, do say it is!" And likewise, in the Adventure series, the children make a point of labeling dire situations as "an adventure" and not just some slight pickle they've gotten into.
The whole book, much like The Island of Adventure, is peppered with vivid description and atmosphere, most of which seems very realistic as if Enid Blyton was writing from personal experience (which she may well have been). I particularly liked the way the stream flows out of the cliff and down a hole in the courtyard, then under the hill and finally coming back out near Spring Cottage. Button, the little fox cub Philip adopts, finds his way in and out of the castle grounds through this stream, and it takes a while for the children to figure that out. They'd leave him outside the castle, crawl across the plank, and suddenly find him inside. Later, when first Tassie gains access to the castle using this tight underground passage, and then Jack escapes the same way, it struck me that this is a very wet way to travel! Both Tassie and Jack end up soaked crawling through this passage. So how come no one noticed Button getting sopping wet? That would have given them a clue as to how he got in an out. (Later, Button is said to be "scared of water" and hangs around Philip's neck as they find their way through tunnels knee-deep in gushing rainwater...)
The whole thing with Jack hiding in a gorse bush (his "hide") and taking photos of the eagles in their nest is nicely done, and Enid Blyton shows her knowledge of Golden Eagles by describing them very well. The reader can certainly imagine himself hiding in that gorse bush peering through a camera lens! When the strange men get too close, and the eagles attack them, I was mentally urging Jack to use his noddle and snap a few pictures—and he did! So hurrah for him!
These pictures turn out useful when Jack finally escapes through the underground passage where the stream runs and heads back to Spring Cottage. There he finds Bill Smugs, mystified that everyone seems to have vanished. Blyton throws in another convenience here; apparently Jack has made himself a small darkroom at some point, and has all the stuff necessary to develop the pictures. It transpires that Bill is after a man with a long scar across his chin and neck! Yay—another scarred bad guy, who goes by the nickname Scar-Neck!
All in all, this is a very good successor to The Island of Adventure, although perhaps not quite as good. And I found it a little coincidental that the children happened to run into Bill Smugs, who happened to be after the same men the children had spotted at the castle. But this is a minor quibble. And the ending of this book—the thunderstorm, and the destruction!—is superb, even more exciting than the ending of the previous book!
The Castle of AdventureReview by Heather from Australia (June 14, 2005)
The Castle of Adventure is another of Blyton's gems in my opinion. The ruined castle provides a beautiful backdrop to this story. It has an air of mystery from the beginning because of the villagers' superstitions, and fits well with the picturesque locations that make the settings for this entire series. In fact, the "forbidden" feel to the castle is very similar to that created for the Island in the first book.
It's nice in this book to hear a little more from little Lucy-Ann. Her love of Jack really starts the adventure when she notices a second flash from the castle in the middle of the night. Of course she immediately thinks it is her beloved Jack putting her mind at ease by signalling to her a second time. This sets Jack's mind to work, and so the mystery begins. With Jack always somewhere in the vicinity she manages to get through the adventure with few dramas, relying on Dinah's decisions when the boys aren't around rather than making her own choices. Through the ordeals of being shouted at and threatened by Scar-Neck and his gang she holds herself together courageously.
Phillip and Dinah behave very well throughout the adventure, and their signature squabbling is kept to a minimum while they are locked together each night in an underground room. Dinah calms herself considerably compared to the first adventure, and bravely takes care of Lucy-Ann throughout their "lockdown" in the castle. But it is Jack who really shows his bravery and mettle this time around, keeping his cool while noticing drips of water on the floor, and finally almost running into the bad guys in the dark. Despite all this, he manages to sleep that night (albeit well hidden) and wait for the others to arrive. Personally, alone in the dark in a ruined castle where an evil insane man reputedly dwells, after a tussle with a group of bad guys, I don't think I would be so rested.
I fell in love instantly with Tassie, the little wild girl. Her innocent hero-worshipping of Phillip and Jack, and her preoccupation with shoes that she never wears is endearing. I loved her exclamation after having her first bath: "How often do you have to do this? Once a year?" And yet she shows unexpected courage in climbing through the tunnel made by the spring to get to the children, after also following Button the fox cub around for the whole day. She then leads the girls down the mountain in the storm, constantly urging them to continue because she "knows" that a storm is approaching. Tassie's knowledge of the nature surrounding her, and her ability to find her way around is very similar to Jo, from Five Fall Into Adventure. And the thing she wants most in the world, when asked what reward she would like: three pairs of shoes that she will admire, but never wear.
Bill Smugs begins his first "coincidental" appearance for the series, just as Mrs Mannering suddenly disappears from the picture. Blyton has no compunction in simply removing and installing characters whenever she sees fit, with no warning and very little explanation. A couple of paragraphs is spent describing the childrens' meeting with Bill, and little more than a line is used to dispose of Mrs Mannering. However, when Bill does appear he immediately takes everything in hand and the mystery unravels. The thrilling conclusion is in my opinion the best part of the book. The sting on the bad guys in the middle of their meeting, the torrential rain and subsequent collapse of the castle, the trek through the rock tunnel to the secret military "farm" on the other side of the hill and the recapture of the escaped Scar-Neck make the last few chapters of the book impossible to put down until the final word is read.
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