Set in an unnamed fishing village off the north east coast of Scotland, Blyton’s book follows three siblings, Tom and his younger twin sisters Jill and Mary, who are on late summer holidays with their parents. Their older friend, Andy, is the son of a local fisherman, and the four of them are planning a day trip with Andy’s father’s boat, lent with permission. On their day outing, a storm sweeps the boat off course, and the four children are shipwrecked on a small island chain. From there, the adventure becomes very ‘of its time’ (the 1940s) when the children discover that the enemy (Nazis) are using the chain as a supply and staging point.
The thought that I kept having while reading this was how much freedom these kids have. Four children, none older than early teens, and their parents were content to let them take a boat out together with no supervision, all in the days before cell or satellite phones- wild! Also, I’m not sure if children were more industrious and practical back then, or if that was only Enid Blyton’s fictional children, but these kids are amazing- they could sail, build a lean to, start a fire, repair a boat, come up with all sorts of plans. Maybe these are the skills that I could have learned if I hadn’t spent my childhood watching TV? [This initial section of the book reminded me of Gary Paulson’s hatchet, which I thought of as my own survival guide when I was a kid. Not sure that I could actually follow that guide but reading books like this made me think: I could build a lean-to! I could start a fire without matches!].
I will note that some of the gender stereotypes have not aged well- it is always the girls who are making dinner; the girls decorate the island shack; the girls remain on the island while the boys go off and solve problems, etc. It isn’t all quite this bad- Blyton does make her twin heroines plucky and inventive- but these are points that have become problematic.
Finally, I really enjoyed the whole ‘take down the Nazis’ plot. It seemed semi-realistic (right time and place; the children’s goal was to escape and tattle, not to blow things up) and was a refreshingly straightforward villain for our heroes. Because this was written in 1941 before Nazi atrocities were widely known, and because our point of view was that of the children, Blyton’s treatment of the enemy didn’t go to any really dark places. A nice light Nazi hunting read for the youths?