The Enid Blyton Society
The Secret Mountain
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Book Details...

First edition: 1941
Publisher: Basil Blackwell
Illustrator: Harry Rountree
Category: Secret Series
Genre: Mystery/Adventure
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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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



1st German edition published by Blüchert Verlag, in 1965,
illustrated by Rolf and Margret Rettich, with the title The Arnold Children Keep Together



Later German edition published by Bertelsmann Verlag, Gütersloh,
with the title The Bold Four Keep Together

In Germany the Secret Series and the Adventurous Four became one series,
firstly called 'The Arnold Children' and later 'The Bold Four'
The third story commences with Captain and Mrs Arnold setting off on another long haul flight, this time to Africa. The four children are allowed leave of absence from their schools to see them off, though Prince Paul, who since meeting the children has been sent to the same school as Mike and Jack is not allowed to accompany them. It's predicted that The White Swallow (the Arnold's plane) will break new records and there is much press coverage of the flight. Predictably and in an echo of what happened in the story of The Secret Island, on the third day the Arnold's plane disappears.

The Arnolds, we learn, do live in London and unusually for Blyton characters, in a flat. Also unusual for Blyton, despite the fame of the Arnolds as pioneering aviators, they do not have the usual retinue of servants. When around six weeks after the Arnolds are lost and the children return home for half-term, Dimmy is there to look after them.

Prince Paul comes to visit them and immediately the Baronian connection makes a difference. In The Secret Island the Arnolds were lost and remained so. In this present story Paul has conveniently been given his own plane and so the children can go in search of their parents. The plot line would be echoed in later years in The Valley of Adventure. Indeed there are plot lines that would echo in The Mountain of Adventure, The River of Adventure, The Secret of Killimooin and even in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which like The Secret Mountain owed something to Ryder Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and Alan Quartermain.

Of course Prince Paul cannot actually fly the plane himself and so we are introduced to Pilescu, who is initially introduced as Paul's pilot, but becomes his 'man', a cross between a manservant and a bodyguard. Almost immediately we are introduced to Ranni, initially Pilescu's friend, who later appears to share Pilescu's duties. In Enid's mind and thus ours, the two men become almost synonymous to the extent that Pilescu is forgotten and omitted from the final book The Secret of Moon Castle. The two Baronians are tall broad men with fierce black eyes and flaming red beards which would prove an important element of this story. They fulfil a function in this series similar to the one of Bill Cunningham in the Adventure Series. Needless to say within the space of a single evening the expedition is arranged.

As a story The Secret Mountain is a mixed bag. In some ways it is prophetic and in other ways very dated. The Baronian aircraft is very luxurious with armchair seats that unfold into beds. Mike says it's a wonderful aeroplane much better than even The White Swallow. Pilescu agrees saying "Baronia has the most marvellous planes in the world. It is only a small country, but our inventors are the best." It certainly must pre-date Concorde — the children are picked up at midnight and the plane has reached Africa the next morning. The modern child reader would take this idea of supersonic flight for granted. It is the notion of pioneering aviators they would find hard to understand.

The idea, planning and execution of the plane flight to Africa has up to this point been rather fanciful, but now Enid does introduce some realistic detail. She describes the jerks that the plane makes when it flies into air pockets and the effect that can have on the human stomach. When they land to refuel, she skilfully portrays the unpleasant fumes of petrol. Here the adventurers have to escape from suspicious airfield staff, who have been alerted to the news of the missing children and the subsequent reward offered by the King of Baronia, and Pilescu and Ranni display their competence acting efficiently in tandem. Harry Rountree's illustrations of the suspicious Africans portray a curious mixture of creeds and headwear ranging from cloth caps to fezzes!

They finally land in Africa and for breakfast Ranni serves up bacon and eggs when the children awake, so Prince Paul has obviously got used to English breakfasts! At this point Enid skilfully colours in the African ambiance. There is an abrupt transformation from day to night. Baboons scream in the hills and leeches are found in the waterhole. Conveniently Ranni recognises the area from previous safaris for the Baronian Zoo and goes to find information from the nearest village.

At first sight of Ranni the natives fall to the ground in terror, but Ranni manages to elicit from them that they believe him to be "One of the strange folk from 'the Secret Mountain'"! It transpires that with his red hair and beard Ranni resembles a secret and strange tribe of people who have made their home in the centre of a mountain. They are a hostile and reclusive race of people who keep secret the means of access to their home and thus a magical myth has grown up about them. They look unlike the other African tribes being tall with green eyes, a creamy yellow skin and red hair and beards.

One of the villagers saw The White Swallow come down and the next day comes to the adventurers' camp to tell of what he saw. Terrified by the noise of the aircraft he hides behind a tree and observes two white people climb from "the great white bird", which the man had initially feared would eat him! When he realises the 'Secret Mountain' folk are also watching, the man overcomes his fear to flee.

The man, who has a sly and cruel face, is accompanied by his nephew, a bold mischievous and irrepressible boy with a cheeky grin that the children immediately like. The boy is always running away to explore the countryside, instead of accompanying his tribal hunters and learning their crafts. Therefore his uncle has taken the boy, who is called Mafumu, in hand and beats him at the slightest provocation. When bribed by the gift of a looking glass mirror the man agrees to be the adventurers' guide. Mafumu comes too and attaches himself to Jack, when the boy stops the uncle giving Mafumu a beating. The character of Mafumu, his relationship with his uncle and with Jack would be strongly repeated in the later The River of Adventure in the characters of Oola and his uncle, especially when Oola adopts Philip Mannering as 'his lord', when he similarly defends him from a beating.

After Ranni and Pilescu have checked that both planes are fully operational again the party sets off on the journey to the 'Secret Mountain' and Enid again inserts some convincing detail and description. At night big frogs set up a tremendous croaking in the waterhole. Heavy rope-like creepers hang from the trees in the forest. Monkeys peer down and chatter at them. A large snake glides silently away. They see brightly coloured parrots and squirrel-like creatures hopping from branch to branch. There are blossoms of scarlet and blue and an edible fruit that looks like a cross between an extra large pear and a great grape with juice like honey.

After two days trek they sight the 'Secret Mountain', which has a flat table-top, as would the later Fang Mountain in The Mountain of Adventure. Indeed both would be flat enough for aircraft to land on top. In The Mountain of Adventure it would be a helicopter, but in this story it is 'ordinary' planes, so perhaps Paul's plane and The White Swallow have vertical take off capacity!

Next are two events foretelling parallel escapades in the next book The Secret of Killimooin. When Jack remarks that it is strange to think of a tribe of people taking such a queer home, Pilescu quotes other examples including living in the middle of dense forests and then they progress on their way by making cork rafts to journey down a river which takes them round the foot of the mountain.

There is a descriptive discovery of a waterfall that would be echoed in The Valley of Adventure and two entrances are discovered into the mountain. The first is a large rock that pivots open and the second is through a hole where the river flows out to form the waterfall. Both ideas would be re-used six years later in The Adventurous Four Again.

The continuing adventure is exciting and enthralling. The 'Secret Mountain' folk are sun worshippers and when Prince Paul is elected to be sacrificed to the sun on the mountain top there is again a similar occurrence in The Mountain of Adventure when Philip is chosen to try out the 'wonderful wings'. The adventurers are re-united with Captain and Mrs Arnold and on learning of a forthcoming eclipse of the sun, Captain Arnold threatens the mountain folk that he will "kill" the sun if they do not release them. Enid's subsequent description of the solar eclipse is so vivid and accurate that we were fully prepared for our own recent eclipse of the sun.

Harry Rountree does an excellent job of illustrating this story, but his portrayals of the natives and the 'Secret Mountain' folk are often fanciful and not in keeping with Enid's descriptions. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.