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The Secret of KillimooinReview by Keith Robinson (May 3, 2006)
What a blast! This is, dare I say, even better than The Secret Mountain. By the end of the adventure I felt as dog-tired as the children!
When the girls, Peggy and Nora, arrive home from boarding school, they are greeted at the station by Jack, Mike and Prince Paul, who arrived home the day before. The boys are brimming over with excitement, but Paul demands to tell the girls the news himself: "I've got an invitation for you all," says the little prince to Peggy and Nora. "Will you come to my land of Baronia with me for the holidays?" Well, of course the girls are just as excited as the boys, especially when Paul describes how his land is wild and mountainous and beautiful. They are all to stay with his family at the palace, where they will be wined and dined (well, dined anyway) by servants, and treated to what is essentially the life of Riley.
The reassuring figures of Ranni and Pilescu are back once more, and, after they are all reunited at the aerodrome, they set off in the powerful blue and silver plane destined for that strange and distant (and entirely make-believe) land of Baronia. Paul's homeland is indeed wild and untamed, mountainous and rugged, with many peaceful little towns and villages nestled in valleys of green countryside. Paul enjoys pointing out the landmarks en route—the river Jollu and the town of Kikibora (any reference here to Jack's parrot in the Adventure series?)—and then, finally, they sweep down to a little runway next to a palace that looks, says Nora in delight, like it might have come straight out of a fairytale.
Settling into the palace over the next couple of days is all told very nicely, and the tour really grounds this place in reality. The King is left very much in the background, and the Queen has but a minor role throughout the story, as do Paul's many brothers and sisters. Ranni and Pilescu are charged with the daunting task of keeping the children out of mischief and safe from robber and wolves; as Paul reminds them all, this is a wild and sometimes dangerous terrain.
Then the temperatures soar, and everyone starts to feel decidedly uncomfortable. "It's hotter than Africa," says Jack—and he would know, having been there in the previous adventure! What can be done? The palace is stifling, the electric fans don't do much to help, and air conditioning hasn't been invented yet. But there's a solution. Up in Killimooin mountains is another castle, built by the King the year before, but empty apart from the caretakers. It will be cooler up in the mountains, the Queen explains. And so it's decided, and the next day a procession of five cars and a van head off for the mountains, to Killimooin Castle, which stands two hundred miles away and is reachable only by donkey for the last leg of the journey.
It's quite impressive that, when the roads narrow and the children worry about meeting other vehicles coming the other way, they are assured that the roads have been cleared in advance for the Royal Family. This is quite true to life, and is a small but significant hint at the power Royals have. If only I could call ahead and have roads cleared for me! And when the roads become too narrow to drive on, the enormous party of travelers—the Queen, the five children and Paul's siblings, Ranni and Pilescu, and a multitude of servants—are met by men with ponies, and from there onwards the journey is a slow trek up the hills to the castle that stands about halfway up. (I did wonder, though, how such a castle was even built without service roads leading up to it...)
Killimooin Castle's resident caretakers, Tooku and Yamen, are an interesting couple. They have many stories to tell, although it transpires that they are rather superstitious and gullible. The children scream with laughter, for instance, at the story about the ruined temple on the mountainside, inside which ancient statues come alive and walk at night. And whenever Yamen makes fresh butter, she puts down a saucer of yellow cream for the "brownie that lives in her kitchen"—but, as Nora tries to explain, it's actually the big black cat that drinks the cream.
And then there's the story of the Secret Forest. First seen by the children from the sky while on a tour of Baronia in the little blue and silver plane, this forest is lost within a range of mountains, trapped between them with no possible entry for explorers. The mountains are so steep that no man, not even a goat, can traverse them, or so the children are told. There are no passes between the mountains, no way through at all... and yet Jack could have sworn he'd seen smoke rising from the trees when they'd flown over earlier...
The phrase "Secret Forest" is mentioned often throughout this book, and the forest itself later plays a large part in the story. While reading this book I started to wonder if the book wasn't at one time entitled The Secret Forest, and was changed to The Secret of Killimooin for some reason. I found a review by David Cook in The Enid Blyton Society Journal No. 22, in which David says the book was indeed supposed to be entitled The Secret Forest—but in doing so that would have meant the second book standing out like a sore thumb: The Secret of Spiggy Holes versus The Secret Island, The Secret Mountain and The Secret Forest. So, to address the balance, the title was dropped in favor of something that would even things out a little. An interesting little piece of trivia.
This adventure doesn't get started in proper until about halfway through, in the chapter appropriately entitled "The Beginning of the Adventure!" (this on page 67 of 125 pages). Not that it matters; this has been an extremely enjoyable story so far, and one might call it adventure enough living in a castle set high in the mountains, with only donkeys to get about on. There's even a local mountain lad named Blind Beowald, who—being blind—travels about his beloved mountain day and night, playing his flute to the goats. He speaks of robbers lurking about, but has no idea where they live. It's when these robbers spring into action and mug Tooku and Yamen one day that the adventure begins, and when the children, unable to stand being cooped up for long despite the attack on the caretakers, demand to go and see the temple with the so-called "walking statues."
When a mist springs up and Jack is separated from the party, he waits in the cave-like temple and falls asleep. When he awakes he is startled to find a robber—wearing the distinctive wolf skin fur and tail of the stories—standing by the entrance! Jack is even more startled when the robber heads into the back of the cave and sees to vanish. Is there a secret way leading off somewhere? Later, when Jack tells his tale, Ranni and Pilescu decide to root out these robbers once and for all, and they return to figure out where the robber might have vanished too—and behind them, not wanting to miss the excitement, Jack, Mike and Paul watch from the shadows. And then one of the statues mysteriously opens, and robbers spring out and kidnap Ranni and Pilescu!
What follows is a gripping adventure starting in a narrow shaft under the statue, which leads down to underground passages that follow a stream down and down through the mountain. I somehow expected the passages to be there, and for there to be a way down to the Secret Forest, but I wasn't expecting the roller coaster ride that followed—or should that be a log flume? It transpires that the men from the forest climb the long, long passages and bring with them a small boat, towing it up behind as they walk alongside the fast-flowing stream. Jack, Mike and Paul steal this boat and hurtle down through the mountain at terrific pace, nearly bashing their heads against the rocky ceiling on the way. For miles it goes, down and down, and all the while I'm thinking, "These poor robbers—they have to tow a boat all the way up every time they go to mug people on the mountainside?" Eventually the boys are dumped out of the mountain into a river that flows through the forest itself...
(A minor snag, and perhaps the only one that stands out to me, is how Ranni and Pilescu managed to climb down the shaft under the statue with their hands bound by the robbers. It takes Mike, Jack and Paul quite a while to climb down the rope to an underground cave, and Jack himself says, "Goodness' knows how Ranni and Pilescu were taken down, with their hands tied!")
The rescue of Ranni and Pilescu is fairly average, but it's their tiring journey out of the forest that makes this book stand out as one of the greats. At first you're led to believe they're going to continue on downriver and out a simple way, to avoid that long trek back up inside the mountain. But no—that plan is soon scotched, and the journey back up the mountain begins. There's not much ado as far as the robbers and forest people are concerned; in fact, their lives are left largely unexplored while nearly thirty pages are devoted to the plight of the tired escapees trudging back up the tunnels inside the mountain.
The story ends in a fairly Blytonesque way in the style of both The Island of Adventure and The Castle of Adventure, with floods and roof-falls that change things forever.
Baronia is somewhere I'd like to visit, and now there are helicopters in plentiful supply I'd be interested in visiting this Secret Forest myself, perhaps even living there, nestled between the mountains and cut off from civilization. Just so long as there's an internet connection.
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