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Hurrah for the Circus!

Review by Prabhu Viswanathan (February 7, 2007)

Mr. Galliano, Circus Master extraordinaire – handsome and strong, enormous black moustache all curled and twirled, top hat in hand, plump wife aside – rides into Westsea Town in his glittering carriage. And thus does he lead a cast of characters that ranges from Pretty Pepita, Sticky Stanley and Mr. Tonks to Mr. Wally and Ma Lightfoot.

And then we have Jimmy, who lives with his father and mother in a pretty, yellow caravan with Lotta, his second best friend, whose own parents are away. His best friend is of course Wonder Dog Lucky. Is there any pose she cannot strut? Any trick she cannot perform? With her loving master, Jimmy, she is the crowd pleaser that Mr. Galliano depends upon to pull in the profits at the circus. And thus the show goes on...

But soon it is time to look for other acts. One day Mr. Galliano receives a letter from Roma and Fric, who own six mighty tigers who can sit on stools, jump through hoops and play follow-the-leader – unnatural acts according to a cynical Mr. Wally who prefers his beloved chimpanzee Sammy.

Jimmy, of course, is the happiest boy in the world. He is a magician with animals, and loves them almost beyond comprehension and wants nothing more than to make friends with the mighty creatures. So when the tigers roar into town, he is at their cages almost every free moment he gets. But, to his astonishment, there is one creature even fiercer than the tigers – and that is Fric, the boy who owns the animals with his uncle. Fric only knows that he must control the beasts with fear and discipline, and is amazed (and not a little jealous) when Jimmy begins to demonstrate his magic with them.

So that Jimmy can spend more time with the tigers, he makes an effort to win Fric over to his side. Jimmy must make a friend out of him, but what he gains is far outweighed by what he loses. Fric is scornful of girls, and Lotta is undisputably one... so Jimmy must choose. And rather selfishly he chooses wrong. Lotta grows distant...

But in his desperation to make friends with the tigers, all Jimmy can think about is being with them INSIDE the cage. With the help of a reluctant Fric, he conspires to visit them one night, and spends magical hours in close embrace with big Queenie. The seed of desire is sown, and the boy now dreams about the majestic creatures every waking and sleeping moment.

Lotta, his true friend, discovers what is going on and is torn between fear for Jimmy being with the unpredictable animals, and fear of telling tales... and what's more, angering him.

However, fate is to play its volatile hand. Fric, having been told off by Lotta in no uncertain terms, plots his revenge and tries to kidnap Jemima the monkey, who has been left in the care of the little girl. Frightened, the monkey runs into the tigers' cage, and her squealing begins to disturb the mighty cats. Then Queenie puts out a big angry paw and swipes Jemima to the ground! The monkey lies still.

Fric is too scared to do anything and, perhaps wisely, allows courage to desert him for the moment. But when all the circus surrounds the cages in despair and sorrow, brave Jimmy convinces Roma and Mr. Galliano to allow him to enter the cage. What follows is one of Enid's animal dramas played to poignant perfection, and all is well again.

Or is it! When the show visits and winds up at Greenville, it is time for the tigers to leave. And so does Fric – but not without first taking revenge on Jimmy, despicably kidnapping poor Lucky in the process. In the boy's sorrow, he turns upon Lotta as the root cause of his trouble, for it was her after all who made an enemy of Fric.

I should not, and therefore will not, spoil your reading pleasure by revealing just how courageous little Lotta rescues the dog. And thus earning Jimmy's lifelong gratitude, she is overjoyed when he promises her a reward that will make her happy beyond belief.

This time, all's really well that ends well... and the curtain finally comes down on one large and very happy circus family.

It's one of Enid Blyton's signature animal stories: lots of creatures, lots of love to go around, and courage and friendship and evil plots and pranks. Plenty of strong characters with defined images stride through the tale. The illustrations of E.H. Davie in my 1943 4th impression of the first (1939) edition, are delightful and plentiful, and every incident in the story has a pretty image (attractively black and white) to go with it.

If you are an animal lover, and adore the circus, this book could adorn a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sit back with a pot of tea, and if you have a dog you may even read the story out loud while he lies curled at your feet. Who knows... when you are finished he may even walk on his hindlegs! Or train you instead...!

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