Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Ring o’ Bells Mystery by Enid Blyton

ringobellsThe bookcase in my childhood bedroom contained a huge collection of horsey books, a clutch of Ladybirds, a few volumes of fairy stories, a set of children’s encyclopaedias and a nature book I nicked from downstairs containing a drawing of a cannibalistic fish that scared the bejeezus out of me. It also sported a selection of Enid Blytons, one of which – The Ring o’ Bells Mystery – lodged in my young brain as being one of the best books I had ever, EVER read. I loved it so much that I read it over and over again … even though I knew every twist and turn of the the story by heart.

Then, one day, my father decided that we had Too Many Books in the house and had a massive clear out, getting rid of anything he didn’t consider worth keeping including, to my anguish, The Ring o’ Bells Mystery.

I never really forgave him.

The years passed, I grew up and only occasionally paused to remember and mourn the loss of my beloved book – until the idea of a Mystery Week on Vulpes was mooted, and I suddenly thought: “The Ring o’ Bells Mystery –  there’s got to be a copy of it out there somewhere …”

And of course, there are dozens of them of all shapes and sizes: old ones and new ones and so many in between it became fairly obvious that the book had never been out of print.

Having got my hands on a copy I started to read it with both curiosity and a sense of trepidation, fearing that I was going to find it impossibly dated or – even worse – just plain risible, shattering forever my cosy memories of it. It was after all first published in 1951 when the world was, or at least seemed, a far more straightforward place.

It’s pretty standard Enid Blyton fair: four adventurous youngsters – Barney, Roger, Diana and Snubby – unearthing dark secrets during an endlessly sunny holiday in the West Country. Although I’d devoured it – and indeed all but memorized it – as a child, nearly 50 years down the road my memories of it had become very hazy. All I could remember was that the storyline involved a cottage in the woods, a bell tower, a secret passage and a well – not necessarily in that order.

Enid Blyton’s world was, of course, very old-fashioned and black and white. There were good guys and bad guys and high-spirited children who basically always did what they were told … except when they sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night and indulged in a little light illegal entry, of course. It was also a world of gender stereotyping, untouched by any ideas of sexual equality, so we have Diana first being despatched by her older brother Roger to go and help make the sandwiches and then being instructed – INSTRUCTED mind you – by Barney to stay behind while the boys went off on the Big Adventure in the secret tunnel. She wouldn’t have got away with it today, but then had she been writing it today I don’t doubt that Diana would have been the first down the well, trailing the unwilling boys in her wake … because Enid Blyton knew what children liked to read and – more to the point – she was an extraordinarily good writer.

As a child, I’d enjoyed the story, and that was all I’d thought about. The characters were fun, recognizable and relatable and the (deeply improbable) plot trotted along at a pace designed to hold the attention of its target audience.

It’s only now, coming back to it as an adult that I realize how beautifully written it is.

Ring o’ Bells village is tucked away in a quiet corner of Somerset that time seems to have forgotten. It – and the story – are steeped in history. The past collides with the present. Elderly people confuse the living with the dead, half-forgotten memories surface like flotsam to point the way to the truth and through it all the children run – literally – in hot pursuit of the bad guys.

Enid Blyton’s writing style was funny, punchy and economical. She didn’t waste time faffing around with scene setting at the expense of moving the story forward, but nor did she hesitate to give it the works when needed. At one point, when the bells of of the old Hall are sounded to warn the village of the evil lurking in their midst, she writes:

The sound of the bells went far and wide over the countryside. The jangling leaped out of the old tower and penetrated into cottage windows, and into dog kennels, and into barns. This was no hurried, flurried spell of ringing such as the bells had given before – it was a summons, a warning, a signal of danger!
Dogs barked, cows lowed, dogs fled to corners. Men threw the bedclothes off and leaped out of bed. Women screamed.

Is it any wonder I thought it was the best book in the whole history of books?

Time has treated The Ring o’ Bells Mystery kindly. Because it’s set in an English never-never land of endless summer, horseriding and high teas, untouched by any of life’s ugly realities, it successfully holds its own against the modern world. I should have known of course. There’s a reason a book stays in print for over half a century. It’s escapism in its purest form which children will probably still be enjoying another 50 years from now.

And Roger STILL won’t be making his own sandwiches.

The Edition shown is the one I owned and is long out of print, but readily available via online second-hand booksellers. The edition I read was:
Award Publications Ltd. 2009. ISBN: 978-1-84135-730-0. 276pp.

10 comments on “The Ring o’ Bells Mystery by Enid Blyton

  1. lizfenwick
    April 24, 2013

    I didn’t grow up with Blyton so I have never read any of her books but you have just convinced that I must!

  2. Sue Moorcroft
    April 24, 2013

    Oh, I had dozens of Enid Blyton books! Including this one. I’m pretty sure I stole it from my brother’s bookcase and added it to my collection.

    Enid Blyton was, of course, the author of the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, the Naughtiest Girl in the School, the adventure series, the mystery series, Mallory Towers, St Clare’s … The list is long. She was an enormous part of my childhood and buying her books took a lot of my pocket money. In fact, when her books (and I suppose everybody else’s) went up, Dad put my pocket money up to match!

    As an aside, the Romantic Novelists’ Association has just made 105-year-old Ida Pollock, romantic fiction author, an Honorary Vice President – the connection is that Ida married Enid Blyton’s husband after Enid and the husband had divorced. Ida is still being published so I wonder whether Enid would be if she was still around?

    Yes, of course.🙂

  3. Liv Thomas
    April 24, 2013

    I’ve been meaning to check out Enid Blyton books for my Kindle – my own favourites were the Adventure series with Philip and Dinah, Jack and Lucy-Ann,, and Kiki the parrot. I read them to my children when they were past The Magic Faraway Tree and The Enchanted Wood, which I would read substituting the names of the children with the names of mine and their friends. Without doubt, it was Enid Blyton who encouraged me to read.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings
    April 24, 2013

    I *loved, loved, loved* Enid Blyton and like you grew up on them – Malory Towers, St. Clare’s, the Adventure books, the Five Find-Outers – and of course this one, although my memories of them all now are hazy. Like Sue, every week’s pocket money went on a new book. But you’ve really made me want to revisit them! I believe I will have to be careful what editions, though, because if I’m correct some of the books have actually been ‘modernised’ a bit???? (Yuk!) Thanks for the lovely review!

  5. Maggie Craig
    April 24, 2013

    What a lovely post. I’m off to buy the book. I read Enid Blyton avidly as a girl and also read her out to my children, although I have to confess to doctoring some of the more sexist sentences! Agree that she was a great writer, who encouraged so many of us to read and keep reading throughout our lives.

  6. Kate Lace
    April 24, 2013

    I can remember being told off at my blue-stocking primary school for reading Enid Blyton, rather than Ann Frank or the Seven Pillars of Wisdom or whatever. And I remember thinking then that I read EB because her books were so readable. I did read Ann Frank (but not TE Lawrence – a bit of a stretch at 10) and lots of other worthy stuff but they never made me read till my eyes ached like the ‘…. of Adventure’ series or the Famous Five or dozens of her others. Sadly it seems to me that even in children’s fiction, just like adult fiction, a brilliantly told, pacy book is never held in the same esteem as something dull with big words

  7. Maggie Craig
    April 24, 2013

    Oh, absolutely Kate! Don’t we get so tired of this literary snobbery and the denigration of authors with the talent to tell an exciting, involving story?

  8. Kate
    April 25, 2013

    A great review, Moira, you pulled out all the reasons I might want to revisit EB. I too was a huge fan of the ‘Adventure’ series, but not of many of the others, though I read the Famous Five addictively one summer because there didn’t seem to be much else around. I never got into the school stories, or the Secret Seven, something about their Englishness. I have no objection at all to Englishness on children’s fiction, but because I was growing up in Scotland the settings and characters in Blytonland didn’t seem to be anything that I recognised, so I lost interest. I do remember the first Blyton that really grabbed me was the Castle of Adventure, which I think may have been set in a Scottish castle, so I could see what she was on about. All through my childhood, on and off, I wondered vaguely what ginger beer was. I was absolutely fine with Scotland being regarded as a holiday destination for the English Blyton children, I spent my holidays there too.

  9. Hrileena
    April 29, 2013

    Oh, I remember reading that whole series of mystery stories, several years after you in the 1990s, and loving it. This is the one with Loopy the dog, isn’t it, to go with the ever-present Loony? yes, it’s never-land, but sometimes in this life, never-land is what one needs.

  10. elle cowan
    September 10, 2013

    maybe its my failing memory, i can only remember a couple of titles other than this one, the rat-a-tat mystery is one and i think the other is rilloughby something or other, but anyway these stories bring back the best parts of being a child for me, loved these stories so much!

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2013 by in Entries by Moira, Fiction: 20th Century, Fiction: children's and tagged , , , , .



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