The Enid Blyton Society
The Children of Kidillin
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Book Details...

First edition: 1940
Publisher: George Newnes
Illustrator: Edith Wilson
Category: Mary Pollock Books
Genre: Mystery/Adventure
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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Reprint Covers
Review by Terry Gustafson
Further Illustrations


Tower House edition from 1946, illustrated by Edith Wilson

Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1951 reprint, illustrated by C. Holland

Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1955 reprint, illustrated by Leonardo
During the war thousands of children were evacuated to the more remote and less targeted places around Britain. The bombing by the Third Reich devastated key areas of the country amongst which included Birmingham, Coventry, Plymouth, Manchester and especially London. It was common sense to evacuate the young people away from the action instead of having to make up beds on the platforms and the escalators of the underground railways. Two such evacuees were Tom and Sheila who were sent from London to live in the quieter surroundings of a village in Scotland. They found remoteness with a capital "R" because they ended up in Kidillin which could bring to mind a cosy little Scottish comunity such as the fictional Tannochbrae — only a good deal smaller. There are just three shops in Kidillin but plenty of hills and streams and heather and animals and the sea is only a few miles away where gulls can be seen rising high over the cliffs in the distance. Tom and Sheila arrive to be greeted by their cousins and hosts — Sandy and Jeanie MacLaren, together with a governess — Miss Mitchell.

The two pairs of cousins fall out almost immediately. Why should this be? Well, for a start, the visitors have brought their dog Paddy and he falls foul of the MacLarens' own dog who's called Mack and this is a bit of a nuisance because one dog needs to be tied up whilst the other is free. A sense of rivalry occurs when the city kids who are not very experienced at hiking and climbing are taken on a vigorous walk in the hills of Kidillin by Sandy and Jeanie. It seems the real reason for this is that they want to show off their superiority as far as fitness and stamina goes and it allows them to be quite scornful of their less fit city cousins. Later on this is balanced by the fact that the Scottish kids are well behind Tom and Sheila when it comes to schoolwork which Miss Mitchell oversees. This is a chance for the Londoners to get back at their cousins and Tom and Sheila are able to indulge in a little bit of tit-for-tat — Jeanie doesn't even know her twelve times table! The atmosphere continues to be strained. Culture-clash raises its head — "You're always boasting about your wonderful mountains and the brown bur-r-ns, and the purple heather-r-r-r but we would rather have the things we know. We'd like to see the big London buses we love and our tall policemen and to see the trains. We'd like more people about, and go to the parks and play with our own friends at the games we know. It's p-p-perfectly horrid b-b-being here — and I w-w-w-ant my m-m-m-mother!" That's Sue expressing herself. This is a turning point and a little shame is brought down upon the MacLaren kids because, after all, their cousins are guests. A change of heart is called for and there is a softening of approach ... friendship is hesitatingly offered and accepted. Even the two dogs become pals after the first few days so life is going to be much pleasanter now.

The children have discovered that an old hut up in the hills has been taken over by two men. When the inquisitive foursome steal a peek inside Sandy discovers some machinery in the back room. What could it be used for? They have no time to find out because the occupiers return and chase them off with threats that they'll set their great big dog on them. Admittedly, the children have two dogs of their own but the one belonging to the men is a nasty looking brute — and it's very large. They clear off smartly and this altercation is the beginning of what turns out to be a mystery which has to be solved.

On another hike into the hills they have a picnic and whilst looking out to the distant sea they notice a few steamers (ships powered by steam engines) moving across the water. Apparently one or two vessels in this area have been sunk in recent times by German navy torpedoes and as early as Chapter Two Tom had speculated that the two men in the hut might be looked upon in war-time as Suspicious! The little hut still holds their interest — they want to find out what the contraption in the back room is for. The boys leave the girls and go off to have another look but when they go round to the back of the hut to peek in the window they find it's all boarded up so they turn their attention to a stream which gushes out of a hole in the hillside. Tom is interested in this and when he first saw it he had wondered if it would be possible to crawl inside and see where it leads to. Something happens — the dogs spy a rabbit and give chase. Paddy thinks the animal has run into the hole from which the stream emerges so he jumps right into it and disappears. Sandy squeezes in to find him and has to wriggle underwater occasionally when the stream briefly fills the narrow passage but he manages to reach Paddy who's climbed onto a ledge and is waiting to be rescued. The children's interest then extends from the men and their machine to this hole and where it might lead because after Sandy manages to push the dog out to where the others are he discovers a cave further along the tunnel. Unfortunately he has to wriggle back into the open air and join Tom because there's danger — the horrible dog belonging to the two men has sniffed them out. The boys make off and they are fortunate because their own dogs make a stand and confront the larger one and this gives Tom and Sandy enough time to run down the hillside to join the girls. Two onto one wins and the defenders suffer very little damage — just bites to their ears because those are the appendages that enemy dogs generally tend to snap at. The men are peculiar enough for the children to report them to Captain MacLaren, Sandy and Jeanie's father, who has arrived home on 48 hours leave from his duties for King and Country. Nothing much comes of the children's information even though a couple of policemen call and visit the cottage in the hills to interview the two suspicious men.

There is still another trip to the hut because the children's curiosity must be satisfied. This time the men set there dog onto them with intent but luckily the creature remembers what happened last time and is not prepared to tackle Paddy and Mack again. Miss Mitchell happens to be with the kids this time although she's having a snooze on the hillside when all the action takes place. She's not too happy about having one of the men tearing up to her and accusing the children of spying and then saying he'll jolly well get stuck into them if he sees them around again. She's upset enough to forbid the children to go anywhere near the cottage. That's put a fly into the ointment but there's always — The Hole and The Cave and there's even a Pot-Hole which extends far below the ground and is known to Sandy and his sister but to date they've never realised its possibilities.

The holes and the cave and the River Spelter which flows underneath the ground are all combined to produce plenty of excitement which culminates in a solution to the mystery of the strange men and their purpose.
The little episode where Sandy crawls into the water-filled hole reminded me of Tassie and Jack's extremely brave actions when they crawled through a stream right under the wall of a castle that was also located in Scotland (The Castle of Adventure).

The age level this book might cater to could be gauged somewhere between that of an advanced Secret Seven and falling short of the Adventurous Four due to its purely local flavour. The war is a central theme and overall I saw the storyline as being a tad similar in places to one or two other Blyton tales.

A little Scottish fashion in the form of kilts has been introduced to add atmosphere. Sandy definitely likes wearing them, and in the more familiar editions Jeanie's preferred headgear is a tam-o-shanter. A tam-o-shanter could be defined as a round cloth cap a bit like a large floppy beret. Another related touch is where rivers are referred to as "burns" — pronounced with a healthy accent on the "r."

If you are using a bulldozer with a great scoop to dig right down to the bottom of a pile of books in some out of the way place like Hay-on-Wye, don't be put off if you are fortunate enough to be confronted with a copy of The Children of Kidillin by the author — Mary Pollock. This is the name Enid Blyton originally used for the book as well as a few other similar-sized publications and it's not very hard to figure out that Mary is Enid Blyton's middle name and Pollock is the surname she shared with her first partner. The later editions reverted to Enid Blyton.

The years around 1940 embraced the period when Enid Blyton felt that girls were of a less brave disposition and needed protection so the boys were very much in charge. As in some other books by the author, girls are considered not quite resourceful enough to take part in the more thrilling incursions but they are loyal companions and supporters of the boys all the way through. When Tom found he had to take lessons from a woman at Kidillin House he was quite disgusted! "Have I got to learn from a woman? I don't want to learn from a woman!"

Sandy needs to be aware of his dignity when climbing with his friends amongst the crags of the Scottish hill-country. As countless people have over the centuries I wondered what was worn beneath the kilt and one day when gazing idly through a magazine I learnt the truth. There on display was a photograph taken in 1994 when the Black Watch Regiment of Scotland performed its final duties before Hong Kong sovereignty was handed back to the Chinese. A gust of wind revealed an answer to the age-old question so I, together with the good people of Scotland, am privy to what exists within the folds and once again I must warn Sandy to take care! These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.