The Enid Blyton Society
Three Boys and a Circus
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Book Details...

First edition: 1940
Publisher: George Newnes
Illustrator: Edith Wilson
Category: Mary Pollock Books
Genre: Circus
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 1949 reprint, illustrated by Grace Lodge

Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1955 reprint, illustrated by Leonardo
Those who have read any of the Galliano circus stories will identify strongly with this narrative due to a certain similarity of characters and their roles but then, like the girls' school series which also have similar characters and themes, Enid Blyton has added enough of her tweaks to make this an exciting tale even if you read it straight after another of her books dealing with life in a circus. This is one of the shorter Werner Laurie publications which the author originally wrote under a pen-name and it was a favoured book that I possessed. As in most stories there is a villain and one could theorise that it's a little more interesting to have the villain's age placed around the level of the hero or heroes. Mr Holland in the "Find-Outer" book that featured a hidden house or Red Tower in Five Fall into Adventure were evil people but for most of the time they were distanced from the children who were trying to bring them to justice. When your very home is where the enemy resides then things can become complicated and also very threatening. The popular St Clare's and Malory Towers books are good examples and hardly a page went by without some quarrel or attempt at one-upmanship amongst similarly aged girls who were all thrust together in the school environment.

This is the position in which young Dick finds himself when he joins Mr. Ravelini's circus. Why then did he link up with it? Partly because he had nowhere to live! There's the Church of England Children's Society, the Salvation Army and Dr Barnardo's of course but Dick's Old English sheepdog may have presented a problem and it already had. The young lad who has no living parents was originally in a Home for Poor Children and one day when he came across a hurt dog in the road he adopted it and hid the animal in a shed. He named the dog Bouncer and secretly cared for it until the time came when Bouncer was discovered whereupon Dick was told it must be put into a Dogs' Home. The boy couldn't countenance this so he had run away with his dog and they wandered the highways and byways with Dick making a living as best as he could.

The beginning of the story illustrates the utter hopelessness of their lives. Dick and Bouncer are partaking of their dinner which consists of two slices of very dry bread and some crumbly cheese that a workman had thrown away. They find it on the road and are eating with much relish which, unfortunately for them, is not being scooped from a jar. Along comes a circus procession and naturally Dick watches it. He's fascinated by the spectacle and there is a little interaction with him and his dog and a monkey or two not to mention a thieving elephant. When a fine handsome man, with black curly hair, bright black eyes and ruddy cheeks tells Dick to clear out he does so because it looks like this fellow is the circus proprietor himself. The boy moves off a little way and wanders down the procession of caravans, carts, horses and assorted cages until he comes to the last vehicle which is a caravan painted a bright yellow and blue. Dick wants to see what the inside of a caravan looks like so he jumps up on the wheel and peeks in. Unfortunately, it is occupied and Dick's face is seen by a rather angry boy who is lying in bed. Fortunately, Bouncer growls and the boy, who is about Dick's age, asks if he could see the dog. Unfortunately, Bouncer will let no one else pet him at all and Dick explains this to the boy. Fortunately, the bedridden boy is an expert on dogs and entirely at home with any animal of a canine persuasion and when Dick and dog enter he demonstrates this by making friends instantly with Bouncer. Pedro is the boy's name and he has eight dogs of his own. Yes eight, because he's a circus kid and he goes into the ring with a dog-act. He can't at present though because recently he had tried to ride his uncle's brand new horse when he'd been forbidden to do so. The wages of his sin was that the nag threw him and then rolled on the boy's legs so now he has to take it easy and wait for his bruises to heal. He's mad about it because he misses his dogs and the person who's currently looking after them is a nasty character called Larry who detests dogs and doesn't know how to care for them properly. Whilst the boys are chatting together a loud barking and much shouting is heard. Dick volunteers to go and see what's happened and he speeds off in the direction of the commotion. He sees a bigger and older boy than himself rubbing his leg and saying he won't look after the dogs any more. The ringmaster is there and he's clearly angry with the lad who's none other than Larry. It turns out that whilst he was handling the dogs in his rough and ready way he'd been bitten but Mr. Ravelini tells him that the dogs don't fly at people unless there is good cause. The dog that bit Larry is injured because it received a kick in exchange for the bite. When the coast is clear and Larry's gone off to get his leg attended to, Dick climbs into the nearby cage where the dogs are penned and grabs hold of Lepi — the one that was kicked, and he manages to sneak it back to the caravan where Pedro is waiting. Ointment is applied to Lepi's injury and then comes a problem — Pedro is none other than Mr. Ravelini's nephew which means that the ringmaster himself also lives in the blue and yellow caravan. Just then Mr. Ravelini pokes his head in at the door, sees Dick and sends him packing but the boy hangs around and darts back to Pedro when the man has gone. A worried Pedro asks Dick if he would just see that his dogs have fresh water now that no one's looking after them so Dick obliges and then reports back that the cage is filthy and he then proves to be very brave because he offers to clean it despite the hostility that threatens. As Pedro wants to see his dogs Dick decides to bring them all to the caravan which he does and Pedro is delighted. Dick then returns to the cage and does it out really well but all hell breaks loose when it's discovered that the dogs are not there. The industrious Dick is spotted by a Madame Sara who is the talented monkey-handler of the circus. She calls out to Ravelini and at that point poor spotted-Dick decides that the only thing he can do is to make himself extremely scarce. He bolts! Unfortunately Bouncer is still with Pedro in the caravan so Dick must return but first he needs a sleep because he's tired out from all his work and running about so he flakes out under a hedge or in a field or wherever he may be. Whilst he rests the circus finishes its own spell of inaction and moves on to its venue. Dick has to locate it. He manages to do this but it's not safe to renew his acquaintance with Pedro yet because the circus folk are still up and settling into their new camp so the boy hides a under a cart. Due to a little bad luck he is very unfortunately discovered by the horrible Larry of all people and he's hauled before Mr. Ravelini. This is a turning point in young Dick's life because the ringmaster has learnt of Dick's labours in the dog-cage and instead of berating him, he offers succour in the form of hot soup as only Madame Sara can concoct and some bread and even a bed for the night.

Dick is now temporarily part of the circus but with a proviso ... he will have to leave if anything goes wrong because Mr. Ravelini doesn't want another boy like Larry on his staff. Dick is given the job of looking after the dogs until Pedro's legs heal and this wonderful turn of events is sheer bliss. He learns about circus ways and revels in the atmosphere of the Big Top and the bright lights and the colourfully costumed performers. It looks as if he's going to have security in the form of accommodation, a job and the very desirable companionship of not only a host of animals including his dog Bouncer but also that of his new mate. Could Dick end up entertaining in the circus ring with Pedro and his dogs?

There's a snag as there always has to be! Larry! Larry does not want Dick in the circus camp because the young boy has shown him up. Larry should have kept the dog-cage clean and he should never have kicked little Lepi. He's been scorned and castigated by Ravelini because of his laziness and negative attitude so the odds must be evened and this is the scenario which equates with the school stories and other environments where the characters are stuck with each other at close quarters. Larry is in a position to cause Dick much trouble because he's older and bigger and has been with the circus much longer — incidentally, he's the last person one would want in a circus but there's a special reason why he's being kept on. Suppose Larry went with Dick on a walk with the dogs and managed to secretly release one that Dick was responsible for. Losing a circus dog would be classed as a serious offence and would be all that was needed to raise the ire of Ravelini. Larry actually manages to carry out this idea. Of the seven dogs (Lepi is still crook) Dick has three and Larry has four — all on leads. The scheming older boy manages to carry out his plan and release a dog from its lead whilst Dick is distracted. What will be the result of this callous and cruel act?

Another of Dick's problems is Mr Harris. Mr. Harris is probably a reasonable man and means well but he is a nemesis because he runs the Home from which Dick had absconded and he is therefore searching everywhere for the boy. If Dick is found, the Authorities will take him back — minus his dog of course. Suppose Mr. Harris came to the circus and enquired after him. Well ... that's exactly what he does and Larry is only too happy to supply information. Could Dick hide? What if the circus was searched? Suppose a policeman's help was called upon. Dick now has many fears and uncomfortable situations to experience. Pedro is his staunch friend and he's the one person besides Dick that Larry would like to rough up a little but the younger boy is protected by his status as the nephew of the great Mr. Ravelini.

Larry persists in his attempts to rid his life of Dick and he plans a terrible revenge about which I will say no more. It is up to the future reader of this book to enjoy the exciting story right to its wonderful ending.
It's a little strange — the 1955 version to which I referred has this at the beginning of the cover-flap synopsis: "Dick Air made up his mind that, as he and his dog, Bouncer were treated so unkindly at the Children's Home they would run away." I can't see any surname for Dick amongst the pages and "Air" would be a very odd one to bestow on a character.

The ringmaster — Mr. Ravelini's first name is Monty. His surname reminds me a bit of a pasta dish. Enid Blyton went a bit continental when she named circus performers and that's reasonable enough because it adds a little exoticness to see their names ending in 'i' or 'o'. Mr. Galliano is one of course and there's Mr. Phillipino who owns the circus that featured in Enid Blyton's Circus Book. The author strays considerably in Come to the Circus where the ringmaster is a Mr. Carl Crack! Still there's a Mr. Presto amongst the performers in that book.

To further the continental flavour, an artist who goes by the name of Leonardo drew the cover illustration. Grace Lodge supplied the pictures inside although the original artist was Edith Wilson.

At one stage, Larry drags Dick out from underneath a car. I can't recall there being any cars in the circus camp — the pictures just show horses and carts and caravans such as gypsies might use. In chapter #7 the circus is preparing to go on the road and it's stated that the broad backed horses pulled the cars and vans. Surely it should be 'carts' and vans. I checked on a copy that was printed in 1940 and in both instances the word in question was 'carts' so maybe the printer or proof-reader of the reprint was a petrol-head!

For those who are observant, a spotted-dick is a pudding! These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.