The Enid Blyton Society
Hollow Tree House
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Book Details...

First edition: 1945
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
Illustrator: Elizabeth Wall
Category: Family Stories
Genre: Family
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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Reprint Covers
Review by Nigel Rowe
Further Illustrations


Frontis from the 1st and 2nd editions, illustrated by Elizabeth Wall

Wraparound dustwrapper from the 2nd edition, illustrated by Barbara C. Freeman
Brief Summary by Nigel Rowe : When Susan and Peter's cruel and selfish aunt decides to put them in a children's home, they decide to run away and set up home in the huge hollow trunk of an enormous tree that they have discovered in the heart of a large wood. With the help of their friend Angela, they furnish their new home and begin to enjoy life away from their cruel aunt. However, things start to go wrong. Angela disappears and the children spot a policeman and search party in the distance...

Full Review (This may contain spoilers):

Nigel Rowe's Review
Hollow Tree House was first published by Enid Blyton in 1945, by Lutterworth Press, and was illustrated by Elizabeth Wall. Rather like The Six Bad Boys, this book deals with what today would be classed as child abuse, and one wonders if children really were treated as they were in this book in the 1940s. Again, as with The Six Bad Boys, we are in the company of dominant female adult figures and weak men. However, instead of any criminal element, the children here are honest, kind and hard working.

I found this book on a second-hand stall in Salisbury Market. At 90p it seemed too good to miss. I have only read it once, many, many years ago, so it was close to reading it for the first time. I had forgotten all the story details, it was only the mental picture of the tree and wood that triggered my memory of it.

The story concerns two children, Peter and his sister Susan. They live with their aunt (by marriage) and uncle, Margaret and Charlie. Margaret is a cruel, selfish and domineering woman, with no love for the children — in spite of the hard work that they put in around the house and garden — and little love seemingly, for her husband. The children have one particular friend, a kind and generous girl called Angela, who in turn has a delightful, but very naughty spaniel, Barker.

A day at the sea is a treat that Peter and Susan's school are having on the following day. All of the children are going, but unless Aunt Margaret coughs up with the necessary money — a shilling each(!) — Peter and Susan won't be going. Needless to say, Margaret flies into a rage and refuses to give the pair the florin required. Nevertheless, their friend Angela gives them the money, and Peter and Susan promise to make some reed baskets for her mother's sale-of-work to raise funds for the local hospital — a cause very close to Enid's heart. When they are spotted by their aunt as they leave on the train, she is furious, and scolds them severely on their return home. She is livid and tells them that they should have given her the money — not spend it on themselves. To try to calm the waters, Peter and Susan give her some seaweed and shells that they brought back from the beach. In a temper, Aunt Margaret throws the lot on the fire!

With the advent of the school holidays, the children decide to keep out of the way, and the friendship between them and Angela develops very well. The three decide to explore the nearby wood; so deep that they take a large ball of string as a guide to find their way out at the end of the day. They walk into the heart of the wood, and find a clearing where an enormous tree stands. It has a large, hollow trunk, which the children feel would make a great, secret hideaway. They return with some simple furniture, a clock, a painting and of course, some food, and make it into the sort of 'home' every child dreams of! They befriend a red squirrel, and vow to make it their special secret. At all costs, Aunt Margaret is not to know of it!

It all starts to go wrong when their weak, lazy uncle oversleeps — his alarm clock is broken. The aunt remembers Peter has one his mother gave him, in his room, and asks him to get it. Of course, as it's in the tree house, he can't. She also finds the painting (belonging to Susan) missing as well, when she searches the bedrooms for the clock, and flies into another rage. She wants to know where the missing items are, and accuses the children of stealing them — which they haven't, as the clock and picture are theirs anyway. In spite of Peter promising to return them tomorrow, the aunt is angry as she wants to know where they are. Peter and Susan are then locked in their rooms as punishment. The uncle oversleeps again, and the children are blamed as they won't say where the clock is. When he oversleeps again, and loses his job, Aunt Margaret is furious and tells him to thank his precious nephew for that. Charlie has a furious row with Margaret, and walks out. He has found a job in the north of England, and in spite of the children pleading with him to stay, leaves home.

Margaret then delivers a bombshell. As Charlie has left, she tells the children she is leaving too, and they are to be put in a children's home. They pour out their troubles to Angela, and she has a wonderful idea: they are to run away — to the Hollow Tree House! After giving it a little thought, the children are thrilled. Angela will bring them food, and hidden in the tree-trunk, they will be safe from any searchers that might be sent out to look for them. They pack up their things, pretending it's for the children's home, and leave in the night to their new home in the Hollow Tree House. No more horrid, unkind Aunt Margaret or going off to the children's home; they are so excited and happy; they sleep the rest of the night.

Angela arrives in the morning, and the three plus dog explore. They find a little stream which leads into a pool. Angela has to leave soon, as it's a long way to the edge of the wood. Peter and Susan are so happy in their new home. They go to bed when the sun sets, and sleep in quite late the next day.

They expect Angela to come, but time goes on and she doesn't turn up. What can have happened? She finally arrives at a quarter to four, tear-stained and unhappy. Barker has chewed up a whole lot of her father's papers that he had been working on for months. He has said that the dog has got to go. Her mother told Angela that Barker had been given hundreds of chances, and he's getting worse rather than better. The perfect solution leaps to the eye. He shall stay with Peter and Susan at the Hollow Tree House! Angela also has news from home.

Aunt Margaret was furious when she had found out that they had run away. Initially she was going to forget about them, shut up house and stay with her sister. However, the Matron of the Home came to fetch them, and said she couldn't just forget about them. The police must be told and they would look for the children.

Angela returns the next day. She has told her parents that she has given Barker to some friends. The children later hear distant noise — a search party is coming! From the inside of the tree, they spot a policeman with some other men. The men find a ginger beer top, and feel that they are hiding somewhere near. One of the men wonders if the children are living in the tree itself as it seemed big enough to have a hollow middle! Fortunately, Barker, who had alerted the men by growling from inside the tree, is pushed out by Peter. The men think it is a half-wild dog, and leave.

The following day, Peter and Susan again worry as Angela doesn't arrive. The weather takes a turn for the worse, and torrential rain falls. They are glad that Angela didn't turn out. Unfortunately she did — she found that the string was broken, and got lost trying to find the tree. She got soaked through and, totally exhausted, went to sleep.

A rescue party is sent out into the woods when Angela fails to return home. Barker hears the shouts, but Peter and Susan think he's just barking at the rain. By chance, Angela's father sees her foot sticking out from a bush and rescues her. She is taken home and put to bed. The next day she has a high fever and is dangerously ill. She talks deliriously about Barker and the hollow tree house.

It all ends happily in true Blyton-style. Without revealing the ending, it is very heart-warming, a fine example of one of Enid Blyton's best stand-alone novels.

It would seem impossible for this story to be at all realistic today, if indeed it ever was. Children could and were treated very badly in times past. Unless a complaint was lodged and followed up, it was very difficult to prove mistreatment of children. Unless there was strong evidence such as bruising or fractures, mental cruelty and abuse could go unpunished. Children were rarely believed if they complained about their elders.

Right from the start of this book, we are subjected to the anger and cruel ways of Aunt Margaret. Her poor, if lazy husband is being admonished for sleeping in his chair. It is difficult to imagine living in such a house, where not only is there anger and resentment, but no love or feeling wanted. One wonders what the children's miserable life would have been like, if they didn't have each other.

All in all, this is a delightful story. It is well constructed and difficult to put down. Happily, all ends well (what other way could there be?) with a very satisfactory and heart-warming conclusion. As with The Six Bad Boys, it suffers from rather a simplistic portrayal of child abuse and the children's way of dealing with it. There was also no satisfactory ending to the whole Aunt Margaret storyline. I feel that she should have got some come-uppance! Okay, she fell off a ladder and hurt her back, but I felt that was a bit contrived. Surely she should have been prosecuted for the way she treated her wards. Anyway, when all things are said and done, this book is a splendid read, and is up there with my favourite Blyton stories.
Illustrations by Elizabeth Wall taken from the 1st edition These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.