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The Secret of Moon CastleReview by Keith Robinson (May 7, 2006)
Jack, Mike, Peggy, Nora, and Prince Paul are back again in their final (sniff) adventure together. I truly wish there had been more of this series and less Famous Five. In this, the fifth outing for our young adventurers, Prince Paul's father and mother, the King and Queen of Baronia, have decided to come to England to stay for a couple of months. But what sort of place does a King and Queen rent? Why, a castle of course! So Mrs Arnold requests from estate agents particulars for a dozen or so castles to rent.
She discards most of them, and it's these particulars that the children pore over. Not enough furnished rooms, or the owners still live in a portion of the castle, or the contract is for a year's rent... But when the children come across Moon Castle, they can't figure out why their mother discarded it. It sounds ideal—big, but not too big; available immediately; the owners don't live in it, but caretakers do, so it's bound to be well looked after; and it has a tremendous view of the English countryside. Why on earth would Mrs Arnold turn this one down? "Because it sounds so very cut off from anywhere," she says. "It isn't near any town—and the only village anywhere near is an old ruined one with a queer name of Moon." Moon Castle also has no telephone, but apart from these trivial matters the castle sounds ideal to the children, to Prince Paul, and even Miss Dimity (or Dimmy) who has come to stay with them for the holidays. So, worn down by her relentless children, Mrs Arnold agrees to go and view the place—that very day, even though the place is a hundred miles away.
With good old solid Ranni driving the blue and silver Baronian car, and with Mrs Arnold and five children crammed inside, they all head for Bolingblow, the nearest town. There the silly waitress tells them of "queer happenings" such as books flying off shelves and all manner of strange noises. But the children laugh, and onwards they go to Moon Castle, which stands high on the hill at the top of a very rough driveway.
There are three caretakers, a Mrs Brimming and her two sisters named Edie and Hannah Lots. They are uncertain about these strangers turning up at the castle—a stern Mrs Arnold, a huge red-haired man, and five children—and they refuse entry, saying the castle is not open for sightseers. But Mrs Arnold has an order-to-view in her hands, and with a few well chosen (clearly upper-class) remarks, the caretakers reluctantly show the visitors around. Mrs Brimming keeps mentioning that her son, Guy—a clever scientist—"won't be happy about this intrusion"... but Mrs Arnold quite rightly states that the castle doesn't belong to the caretakers or Guy, but to Lord Moon, who would be very displeased indeed if it were found out that his appointed caretakers were causing trouble for potential paying tenants of his empty old castle. And furthermore, Mrs Arnold insists, this Guy fellow had better be moved out by the time they come to stay!
Guy himself, a surly fellow at the best of times, is furious when he bumps into the intruders in the corridor. "What are you doing here? How dare you! Clear out at once!" But after this initial outburst Ranni steps in and calms matters. Guy is clearly not happy though, and the reader knows at once that this man is going to cause a lot of trouble for the visitors throughout the book.
Plans are scuttled by an onset of measles in Paul's family back home, so instead of the Royal Family moving in first and the Arnold family being invited along later, it's decided that the Arnolds can move it right away and the Royal Family will be along in a couple of weeks when the measles are gone. This plans works fine—except that Captain Arnold is due to test-fly a new plane so he can't join them just yet, and Mrs Arnold really wants to be there with him to bring him luck. So the scene is set, and in true Blyton fashion the children move into the castle with only Dimmy and Ranni as guardians—in other words, only the sorts of adults who are allowed to join in with their adventures!
Mrs Brimming warms up a little as the story progresses, and even smiles when the children call her Brimmy. "Brimmy and Dimmy," chants Nora in delight. But all three sisters seem edgy and secretive, and absolutely refuse to find the "missing key" to the tower room despite the children's longing to go and see what's up there. Is Guy hiding up there, locked into his precious tower room where he keeps all his important experiments and papers? Very naughty of him, as he'd already been asked to leave. But, Brimmy assures the children and Dimmy, the tower will be cleared and unlocked before the Royal Family arrives.
Queer happenings have started to occur, such as mysterious sounds of TWANG! and DONG! from the musical instruments in the dining room, although nobody is around to pluck the strings. And a vase falls from a shelf and smashes into tiny pieces... "The old legend is coming true again," says Edie, looking frightened. "Bad things will happen!"
Worse is to come, when the children go to the old ruined village of Moon and find mine shafts. The boys climb down a ladder and come upon a strange sight—a man dressed in odd protective gear, messing around with a fire that glows an "unknown color" (shades of The Mountain of Adventure here, no pun intended). And the boys get pins and needles that last for the rest of the day and all through the night!
What follows is Blyton's familiar scenario of boys sneaking about in the dark, finding secret passages that lead from room to room, and coming across the villains at work on their fiendish plot. Sadly this novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed up to the last couple of chapters, ends a little weakly with the boys easily "wrapping things up" and bringing in the police. I did like the way the strange happenings were described though—no great surprises, but all very neatly rounded off.
Not the best book in the serie, in part because of this weak ending, but in some ways I did find it more enjoyable that The Secret of Spiggy Holes. So, in order of preference for me, the favorite is always going to be The Secret Island, with The Secret of Killimooin second, The Secret Mountain a close third, The Secret of Moon Castle fourth, and The Secret of Spiggy Holes fifth.
All in all, a great series!
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