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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
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
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
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.
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Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.
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This page created on Sunday, 3 December, 2000;
last modified on Sunday, 3 December, 2000.