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Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Daisy » 17 Apr 2017, 21:19

:lol: Anita, that's a good way of putting it.
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby sixret » 17 Apr 2017, 23:49

No progress for me. I read 2 chapters of Smuggler Ben and abandoned the book because I was super busy. Will continue reading this week.
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Anita Bensoussane » 21 Apr 2017, 13:10

Well, I've put on my shorts and jersey and boots, tied a bright sash round my waist and armed myself with a sharp knife. Now to do a spot of smuggling!

I must say I enjoyed Smuggler Ben, which is perhaps my favourite of the Mary Pollock novels. The setting sounds idyllic with the thatched cottage complete with library, marigold-lined path, views of the sea and heather-clad moors (like Kirrin Cottage!) and a sandy road leading to the village, with chicory and poppies by the wayside. There are shades of The Secret of Spiggy Holes and, as the story unfolds, also The Adventurous Four. As for Ben, he's a bit like George in Five on a Treasure Island in that he's wary of other children at first and seems rather hostile and secretive but soon learns that it's fun to share - "You lend me your books - and I'll lend you my boat." Like Jack in The Secret Island, he gets called "Captain" by the others. Smuggler Ben is clearly aimed at younger children so it's shorter than the other books I've mentioned and the plot is not as involved. Nevertheless, Enid Blyton packs a lot in and there is much to enthral and entertain.

On the subject of the book being written for a younger audience, I notice that Professor Rondel is described as "someone who is interested in olden times" rather than as "a historian" and that Enid Blyton relies heavily on colour to build up a picture of the area - we have "white gate", "red roses", "orange marigolds", "blue sea", "purple heather", "blue chicory" and "red poppies" in just the first few pages. Perhaps that's why I picture the scene in my mind as an impressionist painting! The adventure does become extremely thrilling and dangerous towards the end but luckily adults are on hand to help.

I'm impressed with the character of Hilary, who is a plucky and adventurous girl. She's said to be always hungry - a trait that is more often associated with boys in children's fiction - and she's the first to get to know Smuggler Ben properly, telling him that she's reading a book about smuggling and adding, "I like anything adventurous like that." Her treatment of Ben and her refusal to hear his secrets unless she's allowed to share them with her siblings show how kind-hearted and loyal she is. She's observant and is the first to remark on the box in the smugglers' cave being too big to have been brought through the small hole - and the first to spot the book Days of Smugglers in the library. She's clever, spirited, capable and full of good ideas. Enid Blyton writes, "She was always the sharpest of the three [siblings]" and Frances says at one point, "Things always happen to you, Hilary."

It's funny how the war is suddenly brought into the narrative partway through yet cakes and tarts are plentiful, scarves and hats can be bought on a whim for dressing up, and running a motor boat for pleasure is no problem at all!

I'll have more to say as others post their thoughts. Looking forward to people's comments.
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Rob Houghton » 21 Apr 2017, 13:30

Haven't finished my reread yet - but as always, the one thing that really grabs me about these books is how economical Enid is with her text - and yet how effective it is. How on earth does she manage to paint such a detailed picture, and create such a real setting and characters in so short a word count?

As someone who has written Enid Blyton follow-on stories, this is the one area where I really am in awe of her. Until you've tried to write a story with a similar word-count to Enid's, its hard to appreciate what a great talent she had for making us feel as if we're reading a much longer book. These are really short, and yet she manages to create something with great depth. her use of colour, is, I agree a very effective technique, and instantly helps us to picture the scene - but its interesting to see how every word adds to the plot - there's nothing superfluous.

I find it hard to do a similar thing even with a 70,000 word-count! :lol:
'Oh voice of Spring of Youth
hearts mad delight,
Sing on, sing on, and when the sun is gone
I'll warm me with your echoes
through the night.'

(E. Blyton, Sunday Times, 1951)



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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Rob Houghton » 21 Apr 2017, 14:35

I don't know whether other people can see it, but G.W Backhouse's illustrations always remind me very much of Alfred Bestall's - especially the girls hair and the way its drawn. :-D

I find some descriptions a bit odd, such as when Enid first describes Smuggler Ben and tells us 'his skin was burnt almost black by the sun' or words to that effect. I can't somehow imagine a Caucasian boy (which I presume Ben is) having skin that is almost burnt black by the sun! For me the description doesn't work, as I don't think I'm supposed to be picturing a black person.

8)
'Oh voice of Spring of Youth
hearts mad delight,
Sing on, sing on, and when the sun is gone
I'll warm me with your echoes
through the night.'

(E. Blyton, Sunday Times, 1951)



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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Julie2owlsdene » 21 Apr 2017, 15:52

I love this book, and have read it many many times as a child and an adult. Firstly to answer your question on the description of Smuggler Ben, Rob, I think that maybe Enid was just emphasizing how dark Smuggler Ben's skin was, not really meaning it to be black. Many of the fishermen down here in Cornwall, especially the one's who live in the small coves have skin that is really dark brown, and weathered with years of the sunshine and the sea mists and winds etc. Even the children seem to inherit this type of skin, the only difference being that the older skin appears more leathery. Even when I read this description as a child, I always thought his skin was just a burnt deep tan.

Some of my thoughts on this great book. I thought that 4 weeks holiday in Sea Cottage for the family, was quite a while, especially in war time as most families couldn't afford a holiday. It was lovely that Hilary says she doesn't want bands, and piers and steamers, preferring the yellow sands and big rocky cliffs. I would have thought that the majority of children would love the piers etc of a bigger seaside town.

Alec says that Ben is 'only a fisherboy', meaning he probably thinks that he is much lower class. :lol:
Also these days I guess Smuggler Ben would be questioned on producing a knife in a threatening manner! Something his grandmother seems to take for granted and doesn't worry about.

The Cove sounds so much like it could be one of the Cornish Coves down here. With a small handful of cottages, one store and fishing nets being mended in the sun. A life that many of the Coves down here still enjoy. Ben comes across as a loner, but then in an isolated Cove such as the one where he lives, he would be. He may even be the only child living there! Even today, in the smaller coves tourists are seen as being unwelcome disturbing their tranquil way of life, and this is how Smuggler Ben felt.

Enid gets straight into the story, which is a great talent of hers, this book not having many chapters, but you don't feel cheated with less chapters, they're all good informative ones, and get the mystery solved just the same as a book with more chapters.

8)
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Daisy » 21 Apr 2017, 15:59

I've noticed that Enid tends to exaggerate a bit in her descriptions of sun burn! I enjoyed reading the story again after a few years and agree with Anita's very enjoyable review of it. I thought pointing out that Hilary was "always the sharpest of the three" was unusually blunt. Usually we draw our own conclusions about characters, but perhaps as this was written for younger children she felt the need to spell it out.
Like Julie, I think the possession of such a knife would be severely frowned upon in more modern times and I wonder if that would have been subjected to the editors scissors - or typex!
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Anita Bensoussane » 21 Apr 2017, 19:54

Rob Houghton wrote:...as always, the one thing that really grabs me about these books is how economical Enid is with her text - and yet how effective it is. How on earth does she manage to paint such a detailed picture, and create such a real setting and characters in so short a word count?

Julie2owlsdene wrote:Enid gets straight into the story, which is a great talent of hers, this book not having many chapters, but you don't feel cheated with less chapters, they're all good informative ones, and get the mystery solved just the same as a book with more chapters.

I too marvelled at Enid's ability to transport us to an enticing setting, introduce us to a collection of engaging characters, pull us into their world and involve us in a tense and gripping adventure in so few chapters. A remarkable feat!

Julie2owlsdene wrote:It was lovely that Hilary says she doesn't want bands, and piers and steamers, preferring the yellow sands and big rocky cliffs. I would have thought that the majority of children would love the piers etc of a bigger seaside town.

I always loved wild, quiet places as a child. I liked to look around me and see no signs of civilisation at all - not a house, a telegraph pole or even a road.

Julie2owlsdene wrote:Alec says that Ben is 'only a fisherboy', meaning he probably thinks that he is much lower class. :lol:

I was struck by that too, Julie. It sounds snobby. Mind you, Ben in turn looks down his nose at Alec and his sisters, dismissing them as "trippers".

Julie2owlsdene wrote:The Cove sounds so much like it could be one of the Cornish Coves down here. With a small handful of cottages, one store and fishing nets being mended in the sun.

I automatically thought of Cornwall while reading the book. Uncle Ned says of the villains, "They're spies! They've come over from the coast of Ireland. It's just opposite here, you know." Going by what Ned says, the most likely locations would seem to be Cornwall, Wales or South West Scotland. Since Enid Blyton doesn't give any indication that the action is taking place in either Wales or Scotland, I'd go with Cornwall.
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Rob Houghton » 21 Apr 2017, 20:03

I always took the 'he's only a fisher-boy' comment to mean that Ben isn't a man or as old and tough as he pretends to be, but just a fisher-boy. 8)
'Oh voice of Spring of Youth
hearts mad delight,
Sing on, sing on, and when the sun is gone
I'll warm me with your echoes
through the night.'

(E. Blyton, Sunday Times, 1951)



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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Liam » 21 Apr 2017, 20:08

I too was struck by the description of Smuggler Ben as “burnt almost black by the sun.” But I was excited about it. I was expecting Enid to make some profound statement on alienation. It was such a contrast to the idyllic settings of the cottage and landscape, and the privilege of being able to take such a vacation. Then suddenly you are not welcomed, and by someone who seemed to be of a different ethnicity. I was disappointed when it all turned out to be so childish! Of course I was reading the book from an adult’s point of view. I’m sure reading that book as a kid, those implications would never have occurred to me. Still, it was a memorable introduction, with tension and conflict, and recalling George in the FF books as Anita noted.

I thought the children’s mother was too unbothered about the knife wielding kid her children had confronted. Enid, as the writer, knew that the situation was harmless enough, but the reader couldn’t have known that. So there was a certain amount of disbelief about it.

My first thought was that these two examples showed Enid’s raw power as a writer, being able to call up powerful images, but not yet able to control them. But then I decided to look at the date of publication. This was 1943, the year after the first FF book was published, and after three or four of the Secret Series books (Killimooin was published the same year). So that explanation doesn’t quite hold.

I think Julie is right, that it is emphasis that is intended, and such graphic language just shows Enid’s penchant for hyperbole, like ‘eyes nearly popping out of head’, ‘jumping out of skin’, ‘barking head off’, ‘tumbling out of bed’. ‘Black’ is just one of many words used in an exaggerated way.
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Rob Houghton » 21 Apr 2017, 20:18

Liam wrote:I think Julie is right, that it is emphasis that is intended, and such graphic language just shows Enid’s penchant for hyperbole, like ‘eyes nearly popping out of head’, ‘jumping out of skin’, ‘barking head off’, ‘tumbling out of bed’. ‘Black’ is just one of many words used in an exaggerated way.


You are probably right, although rather than 'hyperbole' I would just call it 'well known phrases/sayings'. I can understand her using 'eyes nearly popping out of head' or 'jumping out of your skin' or 'barking head off' as these are all well known sayings - indeed, are really cliches, they are used so often by people, but 'burnt black by the sun' is a phrase that I have never heard in normal conversation. :-)


Even though Smuggler Ben was first printed in 1943 these Mary Pollock books were still some of Enid's earliest 'holiday adventures', and I think Enid was still 'feeling her feet' with plots and ideas that would later become regular features.
'Oh voice of Spring of Youth
hearts mad delight,
Sing on, sing on, and when the sun is gone
I'll warm me with your echoes
through the night.'

(E. Blyton, Sunday Times, 1951)



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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Liam » 21 Apr 2017, 21:04

Even though the examples I used were all well-known phrases or idioms, I was referring to the impossibility of them all. Eyes don’t pop out if head, you don’t jump out of your skin, or even nearly so, etc., as ‘black’ was not meant in a literal way. Enid also used the phrase ‘black as thunder’ a few sentences down. This ‘black’ is even less literal. How is thunder a color? Obviously it’s a feeling that ‘black’ is supposed to convey in that case. :)
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Julie2owlsdene » 21 Apr 2017, 21:23

Another thing I noticed more this time, was when the children were in the cave and they got caught by the tide, Ben said I hope your mother won't be worried about you, and they replied that she was out tonight. I wondered where she would go? Especially as she was on her own. It's not as though there would be a cinema in the small cove? Then when they finally got in, she was back. So I also wondered whatever the time was?

Just a small thing I know, as Enid often used the excuse that the parents were out etc, so they could get on with whatever the adventure was.

8)
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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Rob Houghton » 21 Apr 2017, 21:28

Liam wrote:Enid also used the phrase ‘black as thunder’ a few sentences down. This ‘black’ is even less literal. How is thunder a color? Obviously it’s a feeling that ‘black’ is supposed to convey in that case. :)


'black as thunder' refers to the dark black thunder clouds that accompany the storm. :-D

I still think 'black' is odd in this instance of describing sunburn. Enid would usually say 'as brown as berries' etc.
'Oh voice of Spring of Youth
hearts mad delight,
Sing on, sing on, and when the sun is gone
I'll warm me with your echoes
through the night.'

(E. Blyton, Sunday Times, 1951)



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Re: Readathon - Smuggler Ben and Cliff Castle

Postby Lucky Star » 21 Apr 2017, 21:46

Like others I was struck by the simplicity and utter effectiveness of Enid's descriptions in this book. Using only a few short sentences she paints a vivid and colourful picture of the idyllic little world the children have entered.

There is a lot of wish fulfillment for children present in this book. Early on Mother says "You can do what you like" to the kids and they then proceed to do so. An ideal situation for any child particularly in wartime where things must have been tightly controlled a lot of the time. The children go off by themselves all day, row boats etc, all dreams for children.

Having said that I could scarcely believe some of the attitudes towards safety that Enid displays. The children scramble up and down cliffs, get cut off by tides, attack a collapsing tunnel roof deep underground; it's a wonder they survived at all. :lol: Granted this is Enid adding to the childish excitement of the story but what a collection of dangers she conjured up. I was also surprised at the mother being so casual about renting a boat for her kids to go to sea in. Given that they didn't know the coast and were unused to the sea I would have rated it a very foolish thing indeed to give them a boat.

The "He's only a fisher boy" comment struck a jarring note for me too. It sounds extremely snobbish to me and I think it unfortunately reinforces the stereotype that Enid's characters were snobs and elitists. There's also some good old wartime patriotism on display later when Alec thinks to himself "Spies - well now they knew what British boys and girls could do".

Like others I also saw similarities between Ben and George Kirrin. An only child in a seaside village who owns a boat and dislikes others at first but then discovers the joy of friends? It's very familiar and given that it was written not long after Five on a Treasure Island I wonder if George was still rootling around somewhere in Enid's undermind. There are also shades of Jack from the Secret series in the "Captain" title awarded to Ben; but when he says "You've got to obey my orders" I couldn't help thinking he more resembled Peter from the Secret Seven. :lol:

Lastly there is a most unrealistic touch towards the end. Uncle Ned awakes to see the children slipping out the door and promptly goes after them hoping he can join in their prank! Really? An adult wanting to join children's pranks in the middle of the night? And despite his intention to join in fun he apparently brings with him a loaded revolver! A handy touch for the furtherance of the plot maybe but very unrealistic in my view.

Nevertheless I always enjoy this book. It's a simple and clear little story joyfully told and as someone interested in WW2 home front history I find it's nice to see Enid writing a story about what was happening around her. Even if it is probably unrealistic it shows clearly what she thought children would like to read during those dark times.
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