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Enid BLYTON: 8. Three Cheers Secret Seven (1956)

(U.S. title: The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret)

Review by Michael Edwards - also appears on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Appears on Amazon.co.uk (as Three Cheers Secret Seven) and Amazon.com (as The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret):
    Date : 13 January, 2000
    Rating : 4/5
    Heading : Simple but effective mystery with well-prepared-for answer.

      This Secret Seven story is known as "The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret" in the U.S. (where most of the Secret Seven books are retitled), and as "Three Cheers Secret Seven" in the U.K. and English-speaking Commonwealth countries. Although the U.S. titles don't strike me (as an Australian who has seen only U.K. editions) as properly and traditionally Blytonesque, I have to say that they are far more descriptive of the content of the stories, whereas most of the British titles (the ones chosen by Blyton herself) simply allude to mysteries and adventures in general, or to being on the trail, and so on, or else merely congratulate the Seven and say nothing about the actual story.

      In this story, Jack's annoying sister Susie receives a toy aeroplane from a cousin, and she wants the Secret Seven to show her how to operate it. Jack winds it up and launches it - but it doesn't circle round and return as expected; instead it flies right over a high wall and far into the grounds of Bartlett Lodge, a grand mansion which seems to be unoccupied.
      But is it really unoccupied? When two of the boys climb over the wall to look for the plane, they are threatened by a surly gardener called Georgie Grim ("Grim by name and grim by nature") who does not on any account want them to enter the property. In spite of this, they creep in unobserved a little later, and climb up to a high balcony on the house, where the model plane has lodged. And at that point the boys observe clues that seem to point to someone staying in the room at the top of the house, behind the tightly-drawn curtains with just a crack showing. There seems to be a gas-fire alight inside, and pot-plants don't seem to be withered as they would be if the house were truly unoccupied.
      Quite mystified, the Secret Seven investigate, determined to find out who is living inside the house, and why. The surly gardener, Grim, seems to be involved in the strange goings-on at Bartlett Lodge - and yet, for all his bad temper, everyone who knows him attests to his complete honesty. Is it perhaps burglars who are in the empty house, gradually moving out valuables at their leisure? Is Grim somehow involved with them, in spite of his reputed honesty?
      The suspense builds up quite well within the simple terms in which this book is written, and the answer to the mystery, when it suddenly comes, is well prepared for and dramatic. The actual resolution is totally unexpected: you would never guess it ahead of time, and yet it makes perfect sense once you know what it is, and in the end the story is rather touching in the ramifications that flow from this, as the Seven pitch in to help someone who turns out to be in a lot of trouble.

      There's no doubt about it: the Secret Seven stories are rather simpler than most of Enid Blyton's other mystery and adventure stories, and are probably intended for a younger audience than most of the others. However, seen within that context, they are quite effective mystery stories with a few elements of dangerous adventure, although less so than some of the other adventure stories for slightly older children. They are, in Enid Blyton's mystery/adventure stories, at the opposite end of the complexity and sophistication spectrum from the Adventure series, the 8-book series featuring Jack, Lucy-Ann, Philip, Dinah, and Kiki the parrot, which are full-length novels of considerable complexity and excitement, and sometimes incorporating within their international settings quite complex political elements.
      The main problem I have with the Secret Seven books is that the characters do not seem to have much personality, and are not easy to distinguish from each other. The boys are vaguely boyish, the girls girlish - but otherwise they are rather alike, except perhaps that Peter can be distinguished for his occasional bossiness as head of the Secret Seven and his pedantic insistence on the letter of the rules being observed, which sometimes makes him appear a little unpleasantly peevish and petty. But I honestly cannot tell Pam from Barbara, Colin from George, and so on.
      So the Secret Seven books do have relatively thin characterization compared to most of Blyton's other adventure and mystery novels, which are never deep in characterization, but at least give you a feel for the various characters. However, this is probably the unavoidable result of the fact of these novels being so much shorter than most of the other adventure/mystery novels Blyton wrote: "Three Cheers Secret Seven", which is a quite typical Secret Seven book in format, style, and length, is, in the original hardcover edition I read, approximately 110 pages long, with large, well-spaced print and dozens of illustrations - it cannot come to more than about 20,000 words, and is more likely closer to 15,000 - hardly a novel at all, in reality.
      At this length, there is not much room to develop character, and this would be done only at the cost of simplifying the already simple plot even further, and would probably not improve the book as a whole. So, within these limits, the books are probably as effective mystery and adventure stories as you could reasonably expect, with the emphasis more on plot and action than on character portrayal.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

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Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.

More material on this web site related to Blyton

      Book listing for Enid Blyton

      More reviews by myself of Enid Blyton's books

Further links

      Amazon.com customer reviews - under the title The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret

      Amazon.co.uk customer reviews - under the title Three Cheers Secret Seven

    Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
    Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents

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This page created on Friday, 12 May, 2000;
last modified on Monday, 12 June, 2000.