The Enid Blyton Society
The Secret of Spiggy Holes
Back Book 2 of 5 in this category Next

Book Details...

First edition: 1940
Publisher: Basil Blackwell
Cover Art: Harry Rountree
Illustrator: E. H. Davie
Category: Secret Series
Genre: Mystery/Adventure
Type: Novels/Novelettes

On This Page...

Reprint Covers
Artwork
Review by David Cook
Further Illustrations

Reprints


Spine, front cover and front flap from the 1st edition, illustrated by Harry Rountree



Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by Harry Rountree



First 'cheap' edition that came with a pictorial onlay and a glassine wrapper, which was published a few months after the 1st edition. It is internally identical and often mistaken for the 1st edition, which was twice as thick and came in red cloth boards.



1st German edition published by Blüchert Verlag, in 1964,
illustrated by Rolf and Margret Rettich, with the title The Arnold Children Prove Themselves

In Germany the Secret Series and the Adventurous Four became one series,
firstly called 'The Arnold Children' and later 'The Bold Four'
Like most of the child characters in Enid's holiday adventure stories, the Arnold children are sent away to two separate boarding schools along gender lines. Jack, now fully integrated into the family accompanies Mike to his school.

This second story in the series is set in the summer holidays. Captain and Mrs. Arnold are to go to Ireland on a lecture tour, so they arrange for the four children to go stay in Cornwall, where they will join them later. They are to stay 'in a little house by the sea', which is particularly exciting for Jack as he has never been to the sea before. This is also true of the Trent children in The Island of Adventure and probably seems unbelievable to the modern child readers who are accustomed to two or even three car families. Back in 1940 cars were still very much luxury items used only by the rich and important and pony and traps rarely seen today and usually only in rural areas were the norm for transport. Distance was then more relative and the children consider 40 miles to be 'a good distance'.

They set off in the morning on an 'express train' which still takes until 4.30 pm to arrive in Cornwall, which suggests the family live near London and indeed parallels the first journey that Julian, Dick and Anne make to Kirrin in the later Five on a Treasure Island.

During the introductory paragraphs re-introducing the characters, Enid gives a brief synopsis of the preceding book and we learn that Aunt Harriet was in fact the sister of Captain John Arnold. During the train journey we also learn from the children that Spiggy Holes in Cornwall isn't so very far from the 'Secret Island' — indeed it's the 40 miles alluded to above — and later in the book we learn that the lake the island is situated in is called Lake Wildwater and that Captain Arnold, having successfully purchased it has had a boathouse built on the lakeside for the children's use.

The children arrive at the nearest nameless railway station to Spiggy Holes, which is still six miles from their destination. Outside waiting for them to complete the journey is not a car but a farm wagonette. This is drawn by 'a sleepy brown horse', which neatly sums up the pace of life in the area. The wagonette is drive by a 'farm-lad', 'a jolly sort of fellow' who is later introduced as George, who becomes a major ally later in the story. Once the children and their luggage are loaded aboard George 'got up into the driving seat, cracked his whip and off they went trundling over the six miles to Spiggy Holes'.

Enid gives some lovely descriptions of their journey:-
"It was wonderful country that they passed through. The sea lay on one side, far down the cliff, as blue as the sky above. The cliffs were magnificent and the coast was very rocky. Here and there the sea splashed around enormous rocks and washed them with white spray. On the other side were fields and hills. Poppies blazed by the road side and blue chicory flowers shone as brightly as the sky."
Later...
"The children could hear the sound of the waves breaking on the shore far below. They were driving along a high winding cliff road and the sea-wind blew hard in their faces."
The house they are staying in is called Peep-Hole, and is a funny crooked little house with a queer little tower built on one side of it. It's set in a hollow in the cliffs and faces towards the sea. George tells them it is so called because it forms a peep-hole between two cliffs and because from its tower can be seen the tower of the old house set back behind and above it on the cliffs and back in old smuggling times signals were flashed between the two towers. It is a typically remote Blyton location, though we later learn there is a fishing village around the bay called Longrigg and an inland village called Cliftonside, a short bus ride away.

They are greeted by Peep-Hole's owner, Miss Dimity. 'She was a small oldish woman, with neat grey hair, a smiling face and big grey eyes that looked timid but kind.' She has a 'little bird-like voice'. It later transpires that Peep-Hole has belonged to her family for 200 years, but that she only lives there in the summer. The children take to her immediately and nickname her 'Dimmy'. She becomes a recurring character appearing in two further books in the series and indeed is the prototype of the similar Miss Pepper, who appears in the later 'Barney' books series. Enid never gives her an occupation, so we must assume she is a lady of independent means.

The children are given two rooms in the tower for bedrooms, with the boys being above the girls. They each have four windows, one for each side of the room, with views of the sea, the cliffs, overland to the other house and over the roofs of Peep-Hole. In this way Peep-Hole is a forerunner of Craggy Tops in The Island of Adventure.

They go down the steep winding path to the beach and discover many caves in the cliffs. George has already warned them of the danger of being trapped inside the caves by the tide should they go exploring them. Back home Dimmy tells them that the caves are called Spiggy Holes after a famous smuggler called Spiggy, who lived in the old house higher up the cliff a hundred and fifty years ago. He was said to use Peep-Hole as a spy place so he might know when his smuggling boats were coming in.

Of course the children can't resist exploring the old house and Enid again gives us a good description of it. High walls surround it and as it has been empty for twnty years, the grounds are very overgrown. This is particularly true of the long dark drive, which winds its way to the front door under tall, overhanging trees, but is completely overgrown by nettles and thistles. Unsurprisingly the children detour through a side orchard, feasting on the fruit as they go and discover a very solid and strong house built of white stone with an enormous tower on the side of the house nearest Peep-Hole and its smaller tower.

Whilst exploring there the children run into a man and woman who plan to buy the old house and having been forewarned by the children that Peep-Hole is occupied, the couple then visit Dimmy and try to buy Peep-Hole as well. Later they contact George and question him about the coastline and attempt to buy his boat from him. This attempt to buy everything in the area and therefore remove any neighbouring people convinces the children and George that the couple are up to no good. They determine to keep watch and discover their doings. Suspecting that they may be smugglers the children get George to take them out to sea and show them the one off-shore point where the tower windows of both buildings can be seen, where long ago Spiggy's smugglers waited for Spiggy to signal them to come ashore with their goods.

Next they arrange to hide in trees within the grounds of the old house when their enemies arrive to take up residence and overhear much of interest. The couple who are Felipe and Anna Diaz are accompanied by a 'sleepy-eyed young man' named Luiz and the children hear that they will be lighting a signal to a boat and copying the old smugglers, but that their goods are not quite the same. They declare that the old house is 'as safe a place as anywhere in the kingdom' and that the grounds will be patrolled by dogs. The children of course keep watch and realise the existence of a secret passage between the beach and the house, which leads to the discovery that a foreign prince is being held captive.

Having beautifully painted in the background location Enid commences the most frantic action-packed adventure she had thus far written. Like its predecessor The Secret of Spiggy Holes made its debut as a serial in Sunny Stories, but as a story it is in complete contrast to the survival theme of the original book. It must have added many readers to the magazine subscriptions as it is filled with cliff-hanging endings featuring secret passages, rescues, escapes and near discoveries that leave the reader quite breathless,

Towards the end there is a welcome return to the 'Secret Island', but despite the fact that in the next book, The Secret Mountain, the title page refers to it as being the 'third story of the adventures of the Secret Island children', this is the end of references to the 'Secret Island'. Indeed The Secret Island almost becomes the odd one out in the series as from this point on, Paul the little rescued prince becomes a fifth regular child character and the four remaining books can be referred to as the 'Baronian' novels as they are all influenced by the character of Prince Paul and his status within his country of Baronia.

The villains of this book are of interest. The names of Luiz and Felipe and Anna Diaz denote a South American or at least a Hispanic nationality, which echoes the later villains in The Valley of Adventure. However, the countryside of Baronia, which is described in The Secret of Killimooin appears more lush than that of Span, Mexico or South America, so perhaps we should assume the villains are hired mercenaries rather than opposing nationalists. Prince Paul adds to this impression during the children's sojourn on the 'Secret Island' when he is shown to be used to a continental style breakfast and not used to boiled eggs!

There are also parallels in the characters of Mr and Mrs Diaz with those of Madame Tatiosa and Count Paritolen in the later The Circus of Adventure. In both cases the female characters are strongly introduced but become somewhat understated by Enid in later parts of the stories, having however created an impression and a strong sub text of being the real power behind the scenes and definitely deadlier than the male. Enid gives the impression that she has this in her 'undermind' but doesn't fully bring it out and accentuate it.

In The Secret of Spiggy Holes this happens to such an extent that Enid perhaps unwittingly introduces a second Anna into the Diaz household. Described variously as a maid and a cook, this is the servant, who unwittingly allows Jack access to the guard dogs for the purpose of befriending them and later discovers him in the scullery when he falls over a tin bath.

Mention of the guard dogs brings another point of interest. Enid describes them as Airedales, but E.H. Davie draws them as bull terriers. Davie's illustrations were many and varied and mostly excellent, but the children still seem too young as is Mrs Diaz who is portrayed more as a sylph-like fashion model, when she should have been far more Cruella De Vil!

The cover illustration was for some reason painted by Harry Rountree, who would take over all artistic duties for the next book. It's a curious creation as the background to the picture shows a signal light shining from a tower overlooking moonlit cliffs and sea, whereas the foreground depicts the four children looking on from the grass strewn cliff top in daylight!

The previous book ended with Captain Arnold buying the children the 'Secret Island' and subsequently building them a boathouse on the lakeside. Fittingly as a reward for the rescue of his son, the King of Baronia buys the children a motorboat. And as a premonition to the next book both the King and Captain and Mrs Arnold arrive in their respective aeroplanes. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.