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The Mountain of AdventureReview by Keith Robinson (May 5, 2005)
What could be more exciting that a holiday in the lonely Welsh mountains, staying at a farm in a place called Doth-goth-oo-elli-othel-in (as enunciated by Bill) with a donkey each to ride about on? For once, Mrs Mannering (or Aunt Allie to Jack and Lucy-Ann) is determined to stick with Bill and the children to keep them out of adventure.
Look you, now. Whateffer. I've read many complaints about the so-called Welsh lingo spoken in The Mountain of Adventure by Mrs Evans and her husband Effans. (So...is his name Effans Evans then? Unclear on that one.) It's true that Mrs Evans' neverending use of "look you" and "whateffer" throughout all her scenes does get on the nerves a bit, and Effans' broken English makes him sound like he's from a faraway country: "It iss very welcome you are. Will you pleass to come this way?" Then there's Trefor the shepherd, who introduces his brother David. David has been hired to provide donkeys and guidance for Bill, Allie, and the children so they can all ride up the mountain and camp out. Luckily David speaks no English at all, so we're spared further uses of "look you" and "whateffer" as he rides with the group up the mountain.
But things go slight awry. Indeed to gootness, a door bangs shut and jams Aunt Allie's hand. Bill declares a doctor needs to take a look at it (the hand, not the door) so he whisks her off to the hospital at once. Aunt Allie has broken a tiny bone in the back of her hand, and she returns to the farmhouse bandaged up and looking apologetic. Since she has to return to the hospital in a few days' time, she and Bill urge the children to go off up the mountain without them. David will be their guide, so what can possibly go wrong?
Plenty. They set off, heading for the Vale of Butterflies. The weather is beautiful and the views from the mountain truly amazing. They travel until evening, then camp for the night. Another perfect day follows, and they plod on up and through the mountains, finally resting for their second night under the stars. Tomorrow, David assures them by flapping his hands about and speaking in Welsh, they will arrive at the Vale of Butterflies. But when they awake in the morning, the weather has turned and now clouds hang heavily about the mountain. Shrouded in a gloomy fog, David finally admits he's lost his way. The party set up camp for the third night, a little dejected. That night, David hears "noises" and is scared...
On the fourth day they forge on. Now David is very reluctant to continue, but the children don't want to turn back. If adventures could attract certain people with some kind of magnetic pull, this would be the case here! That fourth night is spent at the foot of the very mountain the rest of the story takes place around, amidst the frightening and unusual sound of wolves! On the fifth morning, David sees something and freaks out. He cowers on the ground with his hands over his face and shouts, "Black, black, black!" Moments later he's off, "speeding" down the mountain with most of the donkeys.
The scene is set! Lost in the mountains with no way to carry all their stuff home, a pack of wolves roaming about, a mysterious puff of red smoke from time to time...and to top it all, a mountain that rumbles and shakes on occasion. Jack reasons that David will go straight back to the farmhouse and Bill will immediately come and find them. And so each day afterwards they wonder...will Bill arrive soon? I couldn't help thinking that it took them four days to get there, so even if David hurried home, it would be at least two or three days back and then a further two or three days for Bill to arrive. And I had trouble picturing David—who freaked out and rushed off in a panic—continuing to panic all the way home. Surely he'd stop to think, "Well, you know, the moment I get home, that Bill fellow will make me show him the way back to where the children are..." I somehow couldn't see him being so silly and irrational and feeble-minded as to think he could just go home and forget the whole thing. Didn't he worry about facing Bill and Allie's anger at leaving the children alone on a mountain with just one donkey and no guide?
Lucy-Ann shows true mettle in this book—not once, but twice. The first time is when she raises a stick to protect Philip from the "attacking wolves"—which turn out to be around ten Alsations. She's a brick, that Lucy-Ann!
The Alsations belong to a man who works in the mountain. That's right—IN the mountain. When Philip is taken prisoner by the bad man with the dogs, he seems to vanish into thin air...but upon investigation, Lucy-Ann discovers a curtain of foliage that hangs in front of a crack in the rocky wall. A cave!
To reveal what's going on inside the mountain might spoil things a little for those who want to read the book "fresh-minded" again. But I will say there's a mad "king" and his henchmen, plus a bunch of paratroopers, who are trying out a new experiment that will, to all intents and purposes, change the world! I should think the king is right. If such an experiment ever worked, they would indeed be rich beyond belief and the world would be a different place afterwards. But the whole concept of the experiment lies very much in the realms of science fiction, and this is a sideways step for Enid Blyton's typical boys' and girls' adventure story. Blyton is no stranger to fantasy (look at the Faraway Tree stories, for instance) but to introduce science fiction or fantasy to an adventure book is quite a bold step. Imagine the Five Find-Outers and The Mystery of the Parallel Universe. Of course, the Find-Outers did come across a banshee in their last story, but this was clearly a mechanical device and there was no question of actual paranormal activity whatsoever. Likewise, Jack, Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann don't fully believe in the king's mad ideas about the fantastic experiment, and that seems to work very well. It makes the science fiction element feasible in an adventure book.
It's during an experiment, where Philip is forced to put his life on the line, that Lucy-Ann shows her mettle for the second time in this book. She bravely puts herself forward as a better candidate, thus offering to risk death instead of Philip. Lucy-Ann has come through as a really brave kid, despite usually being the first of the group to crumble at any sign of danger.
There are a couple of small things that lend credence to the mad king's claims—and in doing so lower the credibility of the story slightly. First, there's a feeling of "weightlessness" as the children peer down into the mouth of the mountain far below. Was this purely in their minds, perhaps a feeling of vertigo, or was it supposed to be actual weightlessness? And what is this strange colour the children see as the pit opens up? "Out of the hole in the pit floor shone a brilliant mass of colour—but a colour the children did not know!" Really?
The pace really picks up once Philip is taken prisoner. You have to hand it to Enid Blyton for being adventurous in this book, not just with dumping the kids in a difficult situation but also with taking the risk of having a mad scientist who thinks he's a king and can perform the impossible! But overall it works, and I have to rate this higher than The Sea of Adventure, which I thought was sort of blundering in its structure and plot. I'm not sure I'd rate this higher than the first three books, though. Perhaps in terms of excitement it comes straight after Valley (which is number one), but for a good, solid read with a realistic feel and an explosive ending, I would vote Castle or Island as numbers two and three, and Mountain fourth. At least so far; I have yet to read Ship, Circus and River!
Consistent throughout this series, and including Mountain, is the level of attention to setting and description. And to the amounts of food the children eat! There was one scene where, even as they were trapped inside the mountain, the children found time to eat some of the leftovers on the king's banquet table. Then, a mere few pages later, they're hungry again and return to finish off! I felt quite stuffed as I was reading this book.
Bill comes through for them in the end, as usual—and when he does, he does it in style! The entire ending of the book, where Bill and the children escape the mountain, is very exciting and on a par with those earlier books in this series. And I'm left feeling overall satisfied that the bad guys have been nabbed, even though some of the nabbing is done "off-screen" in an epilogue-style last chapter.
All in all, a very enjoyable romp, if a little silly in places!
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