The Enid Blyton Society
Mr. Tumpy and His Caravan
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Book Details...

First edition: 1949
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Illustrator: Dorothy M. Wheeler
Category: One-off Picture Story Books
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Picture Story Books

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Review by Terry Gustafson


Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1st edition, illustrated by Dorothy M. Wheeler

Card boards from the 1st edition

First page of illustrations and text from the 1st edition
Enid Blyton's vivid imagination is once again displayed in this book because she's invented a caravan that doesn't need a horse to pull it. I can see her sitting up in bed one night and writing on a note-pad "Caravan with Feet." What an extraordinary concept - but why not? Younger children would love it because their comprehension of the world around them is simple and as "feet" means "movement" and as caravans move around why shouldn't they do so with feet Big Feet?
Mr. Tumpy is a jolly and smiley Pickwickian man whose enjoyment of life is enhanced by two things his pipe and his dog. He lives with his rather crosspatch sister, Jemima a name which often graces the pages of Blyton books. Jemima doesn't like her brother because of his pipe-smoking and she despises Bits because the dog never wipes its feet when it enters the house. Admittedly smoke and dirty marks on the floor would be a little trying at times but Jemima scolds man and dog so heatedly that Mr. Tumpy has a serious think about running away and one day that's exactly what he does. He wraps up some possessions and hangs the bundle on the end of a stick as so many storybook characters have done, and then he calls his dog, shouts goodbye to his sister and sets off with Bits to find some peace.

It takes them a while but eventually they spot a bright gypsy caravan sitting in a field. Tumpy has a quick look inside and thinks it would be an ideal place to live and there would be the added attraction of being able to move around wherever he liked. Mr. Spells, the pixie-like owner of the caravan, is sleeping under a nearby hedge and when he's woken up by Bits licking his face he's very much attracted to the animal. Mr. Tumpy declares his interest in the purchase of the caravan and Mr. Spells declares his interest in Bits the dog. Well, Tumpy's not going to sell the dog of course and so an agreement has to be reached Tumpy wants the caravan and Mr. Spells wants Bits so why don't they live together and everyone will be happy? The bargain is struck and then Mr. Tumpy notices a peculiar thing about the caravan and we know what it is. He asks about it and once again we know the answer because someone with a name like "Mr. Spells" wouldn't find it too hard to perform miracles.
The two pals plus dog settle down well together and the first incident in the adventures of the Three involves Jemima. One would think that Tumpy had gotten rid of her but no; she's come looking for him because she wants him back and as the caravan hasn't yet moved away from the field, Jemima has managed to find him. Bits barks at her so she hits him with her umbrella and you can imagine how Mr. Spells feels about that. The puppy counters the attack by grabbing Jemima's bag and making off with it thus causing the angry woman to disappear with the intent of fetching a policeman. Bits brings Jemima's bag to a very doleful Mr. Tumpy who's wondering if he's going to have to return and live with his sister again but Mr. Spells thinks he might be able to fix things by sending the bag back to Jemima. He takes it from the dog and rubs in some magical stuff which causes a couple of legs to grow out of it (they even have shoes) and then the bag takes off at a great speed, running over the fields back to its owner. That evening when the moon is flooding down with its cold light, three people quietly materialize Aunt Jemima, and two policemen. The caravan sees them and now for the first time we see it walking. Away from the field it tramps and down the lane pad, pad, pad leaving Jemima and her entourage far behind! Mr. Spells and Tumpy then dance around in glee because they're free of the horrible woman and they're off on their first adventure.
Their destination, determined by the caravan, is Clockwork Village and when they arrive, their mobile home is quite tired so it settles down on a bank with its legs crossed whereby the occupants emerge to explore and to experience but Mr. Spells isn't exactly excited or ecstatic. He knows Clockwork Village and if you're seen there without a key in your back you have to be fitted with one! The locals descend on the two of them and even want to fit their home with a key as well but that would be undignified as far as the caravan is concerned and it makes off with poor Tumpy and Spells racing after it and just managing to get on board - but without their dog. Spells is terribly concerned because he loves Bits to bits so he returns to the town and is caught by the clockwork policeman who says something that sounds like a magic word but it's really "Comealongame." Mr. Spells is smart so when he's being fitted with a key he asks for one that will make him able to fight and that's exactly what he does when the policeman winds him up. He starts laying into everyone and knocking them flat even the lawman, so they ask him to please "Go!" He says he will provided they find his dog so after an intensive search, Bits is found and happily returns to the caravan with Mr. Spells. They both have keys in them so that little problem will need to be solved.

There are all kinds of adventures available with a walking caravan and this is demonstrated when Mr. Spells wants to get rid of the keys in his and Bits' backs. He's not very good at the art of magic because he mixes things up and forgets to put stuff in so anything could happen, and it does. The spell he concocts causes him and Bits to rush around ten times as fast as normal and also the caravan because the jug containing the spell empties out onto the floor. Mr. Spells and Bits are exhausted by the time the magic wears off but the caravan is still racing away at great speed until it reaches the sea. There it is floating along and now we can see a couple of white horses approaching. Looking at the scene through Enid Blyton's eyes I think the idea is that in the distance the crests of waves look like horse's manes moving along the surface and we're privileged to see that they are real horses. Mr. Spells manages to throw a rope over them and now they're towing the caravan to some distant shore.

There is so much that happens in this book because it's one of a selection that are composed of panels and there are over 260 of them in this particular edition. There's trouble for the caravan when they reach an island and then there's a trip to Giantland and, as other Blyton characters have found, spending time in this place is a threat to one's livelihood because everything is so big ... even a common garden worm! Mr. Spells keeps trying to save them from calamity after calamity but his carelessness with magic sinks them deeper and deeper into the mire.

It's always a welcome sight to see personalities from other Enid Blyton books visiting the current one and feast your eyes on these individuals Josie, Click and Bun! If you've never heard of them then a trip to the Cave of Books at the Enid Blyton Society website will clue you up on these three diverse characters who spend a few days with Mr. Tumpy and Spells and Bits. A great time is had by all when they throw a party with invitations to the pixies and brownies and that includes some rabbits and mice - because of Click and Bun's ethnic backgrounds.

There are further caravan troubles and then a visit to The Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe She's a nasty person who threatens you with an early bedtime or broth without any bread and she looks pretty violent as well. She's a little like a witch with her great big bonnet and bad-tempered face and when she takes it in mind to commandeer Mr. Tumpy's caravan things become a little threatening and there's an energetic dash to escape from her clutches.

Enid Blyton has taken us to Dreamland a few times in other books and it occurs again. Into the streets of Dreamy-Town they go and who knows what will happen to them in this eerie place but there are a few clues when pictures are seen of a frightening ride on a Nightmare Horse high up in the starry sky. As other characters have done, they visit Toyland and meet up with some more of our old friends Mr. Wibble-Wobble and, Goodness Me - the Fabulously, Famous Noddy! Who hasn't heard of that little man? Could any other book contain such a renewal of acquaintances people such as the Sailor Doll and Mummy, Melia, Pip, and Roundy together with Mary Mouse who is so well known and loved and guess who else comes to call? None other than Golly, Woggie and Nigger the pea-in-a-pod golliwogs who are also very well regarded by one and all. The three travellers have a thrill-packed time in Toyland despite the inevitable hiccups that occur to interest the reader ... incidents such as a runaway caravan and then a trip to Toadstool Town and also to Topsy Turvy Town - the very sound of which, spells "Disaster."

If you are held prisoners in Goblin Village to whom do you turn for help? The answer in this case is a good one and it also allows us to meet up with yet another old friend namely - Mr. Pink-Whistle! This little man is half-brownie so he possesses a reasonable ability with magic and he's more in control of his powers than Mr. Spells. There follows an exciting few pages that deal with invisible paint of all things and then there's tea at Mr. Pink-Whistle's house which prepares the way for a very dramatic depiction of the caravan sprouting wings! Away it flies over the Land of Smacks and Giantland (again) and then there's a horrific picture of poor Bits falling out as they soar high in the sky!

"Oh Bits, Bits, you'll be killed!" wailed Tumpy.

When you think you've seen it all, there's an extremely unexpected but welcome appearance of something that predates Mr. Tumpy's caravan and is even more fantastic ... it's the unique Wishing Chair sailing through the air by means of wings growing from its legs. Guess who's in it!

There's breakfast on a cloud, a trip to the Land of Birthdays complete with balloons and a biscuit tree, and a bran tub and then we witness a gathering of all the characters that Tumpy, Spells and Bits have met on their journey as they join in Mr. Tumpy's birthday celebrations. What a time they have and now the last panel is reached where the moon gazes down on our two friends plus dog sitting outside the caravan with a very contented Mr. Tumpy strumming away on a banjo that he received for his birthday.

Can you hear him? Tum-tumptytum! Goodbye, Tumpy, goodbye little caravan. See you again some other day!

Bits is a "kind of poodle" although I don't think he looks all that poodlish.

Could a walking caravan outrun a couple of policemen? It looks as if it can but it must have been a very bumpy ride for Tumpy and friends.

"Comealongame" is a combination of words that has been used by another policeman in a Blyton series of books.

Dorothy M. Wheeler is the artist and, interestingly, she has put her initials (DMW) on various mushrooms that show up in most of the panels. I think the "M" stands for "Muriel."

Some of the characters such as Noddy look a little different perhaps but that's only to be expected.

The Wishing Chair came to fame in the Thirties and heralded the earnestly written series of books which became prominent and made Enid Blyton a household name. There's another Wishing Chair connection because in The Wishing Chair Again Mollie and Peter befriended a powerful enchanter called - Mr. Spells! In this book it's just little Chinky the pixie who is riding around in the Wishing Chair so perhaps Peter and Mollie are away at school.

Some other books that have the panel format are Up the Faraway Tree, Josie, Click and Bun, Bumpy and his Bus and Dame Slap and Her School. Enid Blyton's Magazine also had a page or two of a story in panels as did the Sunny Stories magazines.

The reason the caravan is called Mr. Tumpy's caravan is that as Mr. Spells made such a fuss of Bits it almost seemed as if he owned the dog so Tumpy thought the caravan should be his and he actually mentioned it to his partner who didn't seem to raise any objections.

Once again, the absence of colour, especially in the last pages where everyone's enjoying The Land of Birthdays, is marked. Looking through the book you can see how some tinting would have made the intricately-drawn pictures a far more attractive collection.