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Enid BLYTON: The Children of Kidillin (1940)

Review by Michael Edwards

      The Children of Kidillin is one of several short (about half-length) novels Enid Blyton wrote and published under the name of Mary Pollock, which were re-issued in the 1960s paired together in omnibus volumes with the titles Adventure Stories, Mystery Stories, and Dog Stories - this story being the second half of Adventure Stories.
      This is one of several stories Blyton wrote with explicit war-time references, although none of them could be described as war stories, and the war always remains a vague, distant thing. (The Adventurous Four is another, and features children being shipwrecked on a distant island which turns out to be a submarine base. And Five Go Off to Camp has more remote war-time references, and features black marketeers in an illegal trade prompted by war-time conditions.)
      In The Children of Kidillin, a brother and sister, Tom and Sheila, from London, arrive in a Scottish mountain village called Kidillin to stay with their cousins, Sandy and Jeanie McLaren, until the war is over. They are in the care of Sandy's and Jeanie's mother, Jessie MacLaren, and their governess, Miss Mitchell, who also gives the children school lessons - the Scottish boys' father, Captain MacLaren, is away for most of the story, except for a couple of brief periods when he comes home on leave. The cousins have never met before, and at first quarrel a lot until they get used to each other. A little play is made on the conflict between town children and country children that Blyton makes use of elsewhere, particularly Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm, although here is it not a major theme, just part of the background setting. Tom and Sheila bring their dog Paddy, too, and he fights a bit at first with Sandy's and Sheila's dog Mack. However, in due course, they all settle down and everyone becomes friends, children and dogs alike.
      Out walking in the surrounding mountains, the children discover an old tumbledown hut and shelter there from the rain, but are surprised to see that someone is living there - and even more surprised to see complicated machinery of some sort in a back room. However, before they can look any further, and see what the machinery is, two angry men appear and turn them out, theatening to set their large dog on them. (The dog is, rather unfortunately, called Nigger - no doubt changed in later editions of the book. I saw no indication that the dog was black in colour, and suspect the name was chosen simply to convey a rather tough image. But it does give an unfortunate impression these days.)
      When the children go back to examine the hut, they see that a new lock has been installed in the front door, and the window in the back room has been boarded up. Obviously, the men have something to hide. The fact that one of the men is called Carl makes it appear possible he is a German spy, and the police are called to investigate, but don't find anything conclusive. Carl is apparently deaf and dumb, and there is no machinery in the back room of the hut.
      A little way down the hill from the hut, there is a spring where a stream comes out of the mountainside, and the children get the idea that the men may have moved their machinery into a cave behind the spring's opening, which can be reached by wading right through the water and into the hole. However, when they go to explore, they find the men's dog tied nearby, obviously on guard to keep people away. So they decide to go to a pot-hole further up the mountain, which they believe may lead to the underground stream higher up, and may allow them to reach the cave from the other side. The boys climb down on ropes and, after wandering around various tunnels and caves, and seeing a strange underground lake, they finally come to the cave where the men are working, and find out the secret of why so many steamers on the nearby coast have been torpedoed recently.
      The police are brought in, but the spies seem to have escaped; the problem is now to find out where they've gone, or whether they are still hiding somewhere nearby.

      This is not one of Enid Blyton's most exciting stories, although it's interesting enough, and moderately exciting towards the end. However, when the children go into the caves to look for the spies' headquarters, I would like to have seen more direct interaction between children and spies. Perhaps the children could have been chased or captured or held hostage by the spies, or something similar, and they would then have to figure out how to escape, or someone would have to come to their rescue. Plenty of other Enid Blyton stories build their climaxes on such scenarios, and the excitement can build up almost to fever pitch in such emergency situations, especially when all sorts of complications arise to twist the plot ever further. But Blyton seems to have foregone the chance to introduce such goings-on in this story.
      Perhaps the half-length of the novel imposed space limitations which precluded this; but space apparently didn't prevent The Secret of Cliff Castle, also of similar length, from being as exciting as any of Blyton's full-length books. Indeed, I regard that as one of the most exciting of all Blyton's books, and the series of twists in its plot which draw the conflict between children and criminals out to amazing lengths is unexcelled in almost any other Blyton work. Anyway, whatever the reason, the climax of The Children of Kidillin gives the impression that the full potential of the situation was not exploited by the author.
      The characterization is okay, but not outstandingly distinctive. The children seem to be mainly characterized in terms of their Scottish country/English city backgrounds. It is my view that when Blyton writes a whole series of books about a set of characters, she feels into their personality a bit more, and they seem to develop more sense of individuality. In contrast, the characters in her various singleton novels give something of the impression that they are all the same generic characters, with just their names changed each time. This impression could have been what prompted some of them (not including this story though) to be reissued as the Riddles series, all with the same set of characters. Anyway, Blyton's adventure stories are not the place to go if you want to read stories with very distinctive characters or a sense of their development.
      The book has more recently been published separately in a small volume of its own, and the omnibus volume Adventure Stories, in which it appeared in the early 1960s, is probably long out of print now, to say nothing of its original publication in 1940 under the name Mary Pollock.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

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

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