The Adventures of Scamp
Review by Keith Robinson (April 1, 2007)
This is perhaps one of the strangest Blyton tales I've read. Writing in the guise of Mary Pollock, the author puts herself in the point of view of Scamp the dog, although in true Blyton fashion the point of view does tend to float around a bit, often resting in the head of Kenneth (Scamp's master) and sometimes even Fluffy (the cat) before returning to Scamp, usually in the space of a few paragraphs. This attempt at delving into the mind of a canine works for the most part – after all, Enid Blyton loves to write about animals and if anyone can tell us what a dog is thinking, surely it's her!
At first we see things from the Hill family's point of view as Flossie gives birth to four puppies. Mrs Hill finds them first, and calls her husband, and together they discuss which of the four they should give to their children, Kenneth and Joan. Mrs Hill suggests they let the children decide, so – after a time – they opt for the "naughty one," and aptly name him Scamp, for the mad little puppy really is a bit of a scamp!
By the time chapter two comes along, we're firmly in the point of view of Scamp himself. In his little doggy innocence he wanders about exploring and playing with his little sister puppy (the other two have already been sent off to new homes), and as part of his learning curve he gets swiped at by Fluffy the cat. It's here we get our first of a taste of a real "doggy conversation" between mother and son. Flossie explains that when cats wag their tails it means they're angry and should be avoided – unlike dogs, who wag them to show that they're ready to be friends:
"When two dogs meet one another, they are not sure at first that the other will not fight," said Flossie. "They cannot smile at one another, as two-legged people do, because if a dog opens its mouth and shows its teeth, it means it is ready to bite! So dogs use their tails as signals, you see. They wag them to tell the other dog that they want to be friends, not enemies."
Scamp heeds this advice and gets along a little better with the haughty cat after that!
Pretty soon Scamp is given a collar to wear, and he hates it. But the dog next door advises him that only grown-up dogs wear collars, in the same way that "men wear collars too, but little boys like Kenneth usually wear jerseys." By this reasoning Scamp is deemed "grown-up" and he finds this very pleasing. Now he considers himself more grown up than his master, Kenneth, and definitely more grown up than Fluffy the cat! But Fluffy, being a cat, knows the truth:
"Just you wait till you see what the collar's for!" the cat says, swinging her tail. "It's just to put a lead on when you go for a walk, so you can't run off whenever you want to!"
This banter between the all-knowing wise cat and the innocent scamp of a dog is very interesting, if a little simple. Basically it's everything a mother would explain to a child, but written from the point of a view of a dog. This doesn't make it necessarily correct, but it's close enough. I liked it when Scamp was taught to sit up and beg, and do tricks for bones. Fluffy, the ever distainful cat, thinks this is very silly, and Scamp admits that yes, it is a bit silly, but at least he gets a bone for it! This proves that dogs aren't completely dumb and have some form of dignity; they just love bones too much to care. :-)
What floored me about this novel is the introduction of Lassie. Yes, Lassie from the movie! In chapter seven, Scamp hears noises coming from the next-door garden. After slipping out through an open window he nips next door and comes across two burglars trying to find a way into the neighbor's house. He knows they're burglars because they have a nasty unwashed smell about them. As he bravely leaps at them, a large collie arrives out of nowhere and wrestles one of the men to the ground, leaving Scamp to concentrate on the other. It's after the tussle, when the police have taken the "robbers" away, that Scamp properly meets the other dog, a brave gal by the name of Lassie. It's too much of a coincidence to assume that this Lassie is not the same as the one we all know from the TV shows, but who copied whom? I did some research and was amazed to find that Lassie goes right back to 1938, a short story in the Saturday Evening Post and later a novel in 1940. It was 1943 when Lassie really became famous, in the movie Lassie Come Home starring Roddie McDowall. The Adventures of Scamp was, rather suspiciously, first published in 1943.
So did Enid Blyton "borrow" the idea of Lassie from the three-year-old novel, or had she just watched the new movie and been inspired to rush home and write a book all about dogs? Or, perhaps she was already partway through her novel when she heard the "news" about Lassie, a new Hollywood sensation, and – tongue firmly in cheek – written the heroine into her own modest little tale as a sort of homage? Perhaps we'll never know, but still, I'm staggered that I've heard nothing about this before. Admittedly it's a small scene, but a scene nevertheless!
Another very interesting little tidbit from this strangely unknown novel is the fact that one of the local policeman is named Mr Goon. Now THAT is not a coincidence. I believe Enid Blyton was having a bit of fun with this book, throwing in all sorts of homages; heck, if she can include Lassie, then why not include Mr Goon from her Five Find-Outers' series, which also began in 1943.
When the circus comes to town, Scamp is far too curious for his own good. Having been taught tricks by his master and mistress, Kenneth and Joan, it's not long before some slightly shady characters from the circus start to take notice. When the circus moves on, Scamp finds himself going with them against his will – drugged and locked up in a cage! The Hill family miss him terribly, and rather shockingly the days turn into three weeks before anything is done to rescue him. One of the other dogs in the circus, Tinker (hmm, perhaps Edgar's dog from Five Run Away Together – it's interesting to note that one of the other circus animals calls him Stinker at one point!), tries to reassure Scamp that living in a circus is actually lots of fun, but Scamp – although reasonably happy – still misses his home and is certain that his master and mistress must have sold him because they didn't love him anymore. This innocence is both simple and powerful; there must have been many a young child crying for the little rough-haired terrier by this time!
But Kenneth and Joan have a plan to rescue Scamp, now that they're sure he's with the circus. A cousin of theirs had mentioned seeing a dog just like the missing Scamp when he visited the circus, and the children put two and two together at once. The circus had left town right around the same time Scamp had gone missing – and now there's a dog who looks just like him, performing in the ring? Kenneth is sure that his dog is smart enough to be a circus dog, and simply knows the circus folk must have kidnapped him.
Enlisting the aid of a friendly circus lad, the "sand-haired, blue-eyed Barney" – familiar, anyone? – Kenneth and Joan go to the circus and, sure enough, are reunited with good old Scamp!
Scamp's many adventures end on a gallant note as Joan goes off walking by herself along the river and gets into trouble – but that would be telling! Suffice to say, this is a light and entertaining read but something very different to the norm, at least as far as I'm concerned. And it's refreshing to see Blyton's touches of wicked humor with the Lassie scene. I'm personally convinced that this was a sort of homage, but I'm amazed it slipped past the editors. Did they not notice? Surely there are copyright issues involved! Mine is a 1955 copy, but I wonder if perhaps later editions altered this text? Does anyone know? Email me and let me know if your copy includes Lassie – it's in Chapter Seven, and in mine Lassie arrives on page 55.
Update: Several readers emailed me to mention that they weren't surprised about Lassie's mention in the book, as such popular characters would surely have an influence on writers of the day. Also, perhaps Enid got mixed up and mentioned Mr Goon and Barney and Tinker by mistake; or pehaps she was just having a little giggle and giving some of her characters a cameo appearance. Actually this review, posted on April Fool's Day, is not quite accurate. The part about Lassie is made up; there is in fact no mention of Lassie at all in this book, and Scamp takes care of the two burglars all by himself. There is also no mention of characters from other books such as Mr Goon, Barney, and Tinker. Just my little joke, sorry!