The Enid Blyton Society
The Caravan Family
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Book Details...

First edition: 1945
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
Illustrator: William Fyffe
Category: Caravan Family
Genre: Family
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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Reprint Covers
Artwork
Review by Robert Houghton
Further Illustrations

Reprints


Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by William Fyffe



Title page from the 1st edition



Wraparound dustwrapper for the 1953 reprint, illustrated by Ruth Gervis



Frontis from the 1953 reprint, illustrated by Ruth Gervis
Serialised in Playways Magazine between March 1945 and February of the following year, The Caravan Family is the only book of the series to be illustrated by William Fyffe, who makes the children considerably older looking, and certainly more detailed in expression than the illustrator of the rest of the books, Ruth Gervis. This is not to criticise Gervis's illustrations, which manage to convey an awful lot with only a few strokes of her pen, and are far more suited to the tone of the stories than were those of Fyffe. The stories themselves, aimed as they were at children considerably younger than those that would have read Enid's other family stories, such as The Family at Red-Roofs and House-at-the-Corner, are, I feel, quite unique amongst her writings in that they do not really contain a plot as such, but merely describe a few weeks in the lives of those involved. Again, this is not a weakness by any means, but strength of the series, rather as the journeys in the 'Adventure' books often turned out to be more interesting than the adventure itself.

All of the books in this series are a joy to read, being both simple and entertaining. Though not much happens, Enid manages to imbue the books with such a wonderful 'bygone summer' atmosphere that certain passages simply leap off the page. Her powers of description are second to none when it comes to this series, being able to paint a perfect picture, often with very few words, of what she can see in her minds eye, whether it is hay making at Uncle Ned's farm, or an early morning sunrise over the waters of a canal. The stories read like real 'true-life' adventures, and reading them, one cannot help being utterly convinced that Enid was there at the time.

The Caravan Family of the title, start their lives living with Granny, though Enid gives little detail about their lives up to the point the story begins. One assumes that Granny's house is in the country, and that the three children and their mother have been living there to escape the air raids in London. Enid describes daddy as being 'away for two long years' and again, it can be assumed that he was away either fighting or working in some way for the war-effort, taking into account the year the story first appeared. It isn't long before mummy and daddy start looking for a house of their own, 'A dear little house in the country', but each one they see proves too expensive, and the family despair of ever finding a home of their own., a sentiment with which many a family may well still be able to empathise today! Daddy cheers her up by putting his arm around her and uttering the immortal words, 'Don't give up hope! Why, you may find a home round the very next corner.' Enid makes these words as magical as most children would hope them to be. Instead of letting this idle comment drop, Enid has the children take him up on the sentiment, and everyone, even mummy and daddy, eagerly (and amusedly) wait to see the next house around the corner will be like. This 'house' of course, turns out to be two old gypsy caravans in the corner of a field, and the beginnings of what is surely Enid's most blatant 'wish-fulfilment' series is born.

From this moment onwards and throughout the series, the 'wish-fulfilment' idea is never very far away. This family go through an amazing array of perfect childhood holidays, which most children, even today, would be envious of. They live in a caravan, sail along the canal on a narrow boat, take two cruises abroad, visit a beautiful beach in a perfect cove and live on a farm for six months, and all in the space of only five years! These adventures are, for the most part, undertaken in perfect holiday weather, and the children's parents have a very blasť regard for their children's education, thinking nothing of taking them out of school for weeks at a time in order for many of the excursions to take place. This dream-come-true attitude is a great strength of the series, and lends an excitement and thrust to the books, giving the reader the same sense of escapism that can be found in many of the longer 'holiday adventure' books.

Plot-wise, The Caravan Family is extremely flimsy, save for the very beginning in which the family actually find, clean and move into their new properties on wheels, and half way through when the farmer in whose field they are staying needs to use the field and tells them they must move on. The caravan itself, rather like the Adventure books, seems to be the main 'character' of the first book, and it is the experience of actually living in a caravan that is actually the main plotline of the novel. At only twelve chapters each, any of the books in this series can hardly be expected to be laden with drama, and indeed, that did not seem to be the intention Enid had when writing them. The plot, for want of a better word, revolves around our family and their every day life in the caravans. They have them painted, cleaned up, and eventually acquire two horses, Davey and Clopper, in order that they can become true 'travellers'. The caravans are traditional gypsy vans, with fold down bunks and stable type doors, but also have water on tap (supplied by a tank on the roof). It is interesting to note that in the modern printing of The Saucy Jane Family they also have a television, which seems a little unlikely given the absence of electricity!

Above all, Enid manages to give the series a wonderful atmosphere. Considering the chapters are short, her descriptions are some of the most evocative and affective of all her writings. The Caravan Family is no exception, especially towards the end, where the family go off to Uncle Ned's farm and experience the joys of haymaking. There is a wonderful atmosphere of sunny fields, dappled lanes, and the main focus of the book, the hay harvest, is wonderfully described, so much so that I am sure I felt my hay-fever coming on as I read the passages! Enid describes the hay as it is stood in haycocks all down the field, 'How pretty they looked in the evening sun, with their shadows slanting behind them!' and with just a few short words manages to conjure up a wonderful picture of a summer long gone by.

Another interesting facet of the 'Family' books as a whole is the way in which Enid lets the children develop before our eyes. They are different at the end of each book to how they were at its start. They have learned things, and the things they have learnt help them to develop further as characters. This must be one of the few series where this happens to the main child characters, who so often stay the same throughout a series of maybe fifteen or twenty books. For example, in The Caravan Family, the children, at the books start, are terrified of cows, actually shutting the caravan door so that they don't get attacked (something that the children also did in 'A Caravan Adventure' in Enid Blyton's Treasury 1947). By chapter 10, the children, having become a lot more sensible and used to country living, are actually given a lesson in milking. It is interesting too that of all the children, Mike is by far the worst at milking; one up to the girls! In fact, each book depicts the children going through a 'learning curve' as well as living out their ideal holidays. In 'Caravan' the children learn to be more tidy, to eat properly: — ('Goodness me, Belinda, I wish Granny could see you eating like this, she was always so upset because you played with our food') and even learn to enjoy doing the washing up! They learn to drive a horse, how to harvest the hay, how to milk cows, collect wood for the fire and make butter; surely more than the average child would learn in a few years let alone a few weeks! To top it all, as the first book comes to an end, Mummy announces that she has found the ideal school for the children, '...a fine one too, that teaches gardening and riding and swimming and allows you to keep pets, and has cows to milk and pigs and goats and hens!' It is a boarding school, but the children will be allowed home at weekends to live in the caravans, so that they can enjoy the best of both worlds. It seems that the wish-fulfilment idea knew no bounds!

No sooner did Enid complete The Caravan Family in February 1946 than she went straight on to the next instalment for Playways, The Saucy Jane Family, which began to serialise in March. It is probably part of the strength of these stories that they ran on so swiftly from one to the other. Playways readers, as well as Enid, would have become so familiar with the characters of the family that there could be little room for slip-ups or inconsistencies within the stories, and it goes a long way to illustrate Enid's commitment and skill that she was able to rattle off six very different stories one after the other as she did. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.