All About Barney
Article by Keith Robinson (June 22, 2006)
Barney, or Barnabas Hugo Lorimer, is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Blyton's various mystery and adventure books. The "R" Mysteries are often referred to as The Barney Mysteries—not bad for a character who doesn't usually appear until at least a third of the way through! Described with corn-colored hair and very tanned skin, and with curious blue eyes set wide apart, he's around fourteen or fifteen and travels from place to place with his monkey, Miranda. When Snubby first meets him, Barney is described with a curious accent, a sort of American twang, yet with a Spanish or Italian lilt as well. This aspect of Barney is never fully explored beyond the vague mention that he's met a lot of people.
He first appears in The Rockingdown Mystery as the other children, Roger, Diana and Snubby, are out walking, and the four become friends and remain so throughout the rest of the series. Barney tells the others he is looking for his father. Having grown up with his mother working at various travelling circuses and fairs, and believing his father to be long dead, it must have come as a great shock to be told by his dying mother that in fact his father is probably still alive somewhere. He was actor, she said—acted in Shakespeare plays—and she ran away from him when they'd been married just three months. "He doesn't know anything about me," Barney explains to his new friends. It transpires later in the series that his mother might have been shamed into leaving thanks to her husband's mother, who clearly didn't like her son being married to a mere circus girl. There is also mention that Barney's mother didn't like living in a proper house after years travelling about in a caravan, but we'll never know for sure whether this was a contributing factor in the failed marriage.
Oddly, some of these little details don't match up very well. Barney's mother was Tessie Lorimer, and her marriage to Barnabas Martin lasted only three months before she ran away. Perhaps she still felt something for Barnabas, but couldn't stand to be shamed by other members of his family. This sounds like a marriage that she wanted but couldn't have. It's not surprising, then, that she named her son Barnabas, although she retained her own last name—hence the mouthful of a name, Barnabas Hugo Lorimer (the name Hugo appears to have no particular meaning). One detail that doesn't quite match is that, in The Rat-a-Tat Mystery, Mr Martin's mother (Barney's new-found grandmother) is described as a friendly old thing, and not the battle-axe she was fourteen or fifteen years ago. Perhaps she mellowed over time, but still, I would have thought Barney would feel some resentment towards her for effectively splitting up the family.
Another detail that doesn't fit is that this grandmother, Mrs Martin, owns a monkey—and her own long-dead mother owned two monkeys before her. Owning pet monkeys apparently runs in the Martin family, but how exactly does this fit with Barney owning one? Clearly he didn't grow up with his grandmother, or his father, or anyone else on his father's side of the family, so he had no "pet monkey" influences there. Did he perhaps inherit a genetic desire to own a monkey? His father shows no desire for a pet monkey himself, but they say genes skip a generation... Still, it makes you wonder what Barney's poor mother felt when her fast-growing son announced one day that he wanted a pet monkey, or perhaps came across one on his travels with the circus and felt a need to make it his pet. Poor Tessie Lorimer must have seen her husband's features in her son, but her hateful mother-in-law's tendency to keep monkeys. How that must have hurt!
In The Rubadub Mystery, the character named Dummy once travelled with Tessie Lorimer. Much important information was gleaned from Dummy, such as Barney's father's name, and the fact that he lived in Cherrydale. A phone call to Miss Pepper's friend in Cherrydale reveals that there is indeed a Martin family, and that's how Barney's father is eventually found. However, Cherrydale isn't mentioned in following book, The Rat-a-Tat Mystery. Now, all of a sudden, the Martins live in New Wendleman. Another of those silly little inconsistencies.
Still, all works out well in the end. Throughout the first four books, Barney's nomadic lifestyle and various jobs keep him on his toes and make him a stronger character, but when he finds his father and begins a new life in a comfortable home, he's clearly happier and more relaxed... but still he pines for the old life, the fun of the fair, being on the road, roughing it from place to place. His father tells him he can go off anytime he likes and enjoy that lifestyle again, and Barney agrees—but he says he'll always return home to his father, now that he has a family.