The Luck of the Laytons (No. 4)
First edition: 1930
Publisher: Birn Brothers
Category: Birns 1930 Series
Type: Short Story Series Books
Publisher: Birn Brothers
Category: Birns 1930 Series
Type: Short Story Series Books
On This Page...
- The Luck of the Laytons
Story: Specially Written
- The Uninvited Guest
Story: Specially Written
- Jack and Jill
Story: Specially Written
A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do
Early in 2006 someone paid over £250 for a copy of this book because it's very old and you don't see it around much these days. I think Enid Blyton may still have been finding her feet around that period as far as story-telling goes and her interests may have been a little more slanted towards factual items and poems or plays so the three featured tales are simple and to the point -– -– a character or characters are introduced, a problem arises & the problem is solved. Quite standard fare but always enjoyable to anyone who follows the Blyton works and likes to analyse them a little.
Whilst this book may lack Find-Outer excitement and humour, it makes up for it in a different way. Calling a spade a spade as she always does and daring to go Where No Man Has Gone Before Enid Blyton was probably the only author who had a toy male turned into a female in a later book (cf. the original and latest reprints of the first Noddy). She created several girl-characters who'd rather be boys. She instituted an Official Spanker. She introduced boy and girl-characters who were as mean and as nasty and as quarrelsome as you'd find anywhere and because of this, and the fact that she used realistic language, she had to weather a barrage of complaints that came showering down upon her head.
The Luck of the Laytons is a story of about five pages with a theme that might equate to one or two other Blyton stories such as The Treasure Hunters which tells of a family fortune lost for years. The 'Luck' is a wonderful Silver Cup that was given to a family member a long time ago by none other than the King of England. It doesn't say why it was bestowed but that, along with all the family jewels and treasure, went missing. The storyline features an orphan-girl called Doreen who is sent off to board at a big school in the country which is run by a Mrs. Layton. Although the school gives a first impression as a kind of Malory Towers, we learn that it's a large old house turned into a school which was also how Whyteleafe came into being. You can't include all that much in a few pages so although the other students get a very brief mention, the plot really revolves around Doreen and her friend Lucy who is Mrs. Layton's daughter. A ghost is involved and also an astonishing discovery followed by happiness.
Jack and Jill don't go Up-The-Hill. Jill, in this story, is a clever, pretty and brainy girl who's good at games, top of the class and is also head girl. That's about everything you need to be successful in an EB school but now Jill's best friend has left and a new one has to be selected. Will it be Jacqueline Sayer who is not very clever and not good at games and not pretty and who wears glasses? Her qualification is that she loves Jill and admires her so much but then -– -– who wouldn't? During tea with the headmistress and Miss Tomkins who is a newly-arrived teacher for the form, Jill studies her carefully and wonders if she'll be up to it. The girl now has a rather full plate -– -– she has to select a new best-friend and also see that Miss Tompkins doesn't get ragged by the more mischievous girls in the form -– -– especially The Saucy Six! The Secret Seven are good, kind and helpful children but the Saucy Six are not and they give the new teacher a very bad time but they are being 'watched' by Jill and the low-profile Jacqueline. What takes place is a little similar to that which happened with Miss Kennedy at St. Clare's who underwent a frightening time when the class played tricks on her. Miss Kennedy was terrified of cats so the girls hid one in the handwork cupboard and it sprang out when she went to investigate the noise it was making. Miss Tompkins in this story is also scared of cats and The Saucy Six go one better (six better) than the St. Clare's girls because one evening they hide six cats in the boot cupboard and then engineer a situation whereby poor Miss Tompkins hears a noise, comes downstairs with a lighted lamp to find out what's happening and beholds the nightmarish sight of six angry felines rushing at her. In the horror of it all the lamp is smashed and its lit-up wick sets fire to Miss Tompkins' dress. There she is in the picture wreathed with flames. What a terrible scene to portray -– -– but that's what happened.
Why 'Jack and Jill'? Substitute 'Jacqueline' and you may be able to figure the solution to one of Jill's initial problems.
The Uninvited Guest which is the second story in this book contains something that I've never seen before in a children's tale. Elsie is having a party at her place to which several girls and boys are invited. After an early tea The Children's Hour comes on the wireless and also the news which contains a police notice about a prison-escaper whom they think might make for the town of Tossening. That's Elsie's town. Just prior to the arrival of her guests she goes upstairs to put on a dancing frock with a fluffy skirt and a wreath of pink rosebuds round her hair and then it's time to greet her guests. Wonderful party with plenty of pink and yellow jellies, gay blancmanges, fruit salads, trifles with cream, buns, sausage rolls, sandwiches, sweets, chocolates, ice-creams ... have I missed anything? Then there's dancing and during this an unexpected visitor calls and thinks that the best way to enter would be via a rain-pipe to the master bedroom. He's not a scarecrow but he's wearing a scarecrow's clothes and he finds that there are some much better clothes in the room he's visiting and even a jewel-box on the dressing-table which is quite interesting to look at. He accidentally trips over a bear-skin rug and lies there on the floor for few moments hoping that no one has heard the noise. Someone has. Elsie's nipped upstairs for a hanky and she catches sight of the figure through the door-crack. Can you guess what she does? She enters the room and levels a revolver at the burglar because that's what he is. Say that again! She threatens him with a gun! I can't think of any other children's story where a little girl would act in such a way. A small boy? William, who'd promptly spring to some peoples' minds, did hold a starchy lady up once when he crept into her house and threatened her with his shilling-and-sixpenny pistol. If he'd had access to a real firearm would he have used it? I can't really think of a young boy who'd actually go that far and Elsie's a mere girl! It must have been a little nerve-racking for the burglar because whereas a trained police officer or soldier might hold a gun safely and steadily, a ten year old would probably be quite nervous and jumpy so the hair-trigger might act accordingly with the crook wondering if he's going to exit the room with his head blown off! It's all in an evening's work for Elsie and after the prison escapee has been bundled off by the police she rejoins the party which is still going on downstairs -–
"We missed you, what have you been doing?"
"Only catching a burglar."
The Watch Committees over the years have made their opinions very public and robbed people of seeing what they want to see but, like the weather, standards change. They may have been stricter in the Thirties but not necessarily with many of the things that we aren't allowed to witness in this day and age so it's swings and roundabouts. The enforcers cut out anything considered violent or anything they thought might be prejudicial to the public good especially in comics so that when the Phantom was staked out on the ground under a blazing sun to be eaten by ants we could only guess at what was happening. When he was staying at his girl's house in America a native brought a skull to him to be used in a ceremony. The "offending item" was air-brushed and we saw a maid gasping with horror at an empty space on the dressing-table where the skull was supposed to be sitting. A cosh hitting someone's head would be eliminated so that you couldn't figure out why the recipient was falling over. How frustrating! Enid Blyton probably managed to forestall the librarians and teachers and Concerned Citizens and Community Standards Promoters and members of The Country Women's Institutes by the vintage of her earlier books. Maybe no one thought a children's story would have anything untoward within its pages so the gun is still in Elsie's hand and not just a blank spot.
The Luck of the Laytons would be a Collector's Item of course due to its age and perhaps because of its surprising content. Other Blyton books have instances of fairly rough treatment and we have only to look at The Sea of Adventure where a kid shoves a man down a hole and threatens to conk him on the head with a stick if he tries to get out. We have a policeman bashing up a young boy in The Mystery of the Strange Bundle and then there's always Jo-Jo! Jo-Jo is the person I consider the most ruthless villain in the whole history of the Enid Blyton books and he appeared in The Island of Adventure. Firearms are not exactly scarce in the author's books either and there's a dramatic picture of two evil men with blazing guns near the end of The Sea of Adventure but the good guys such as Bill Smugs and his crew utilize weapons as well due to the nature of their work. The 'Famous Five' have also come up against bullets.
There's a very amusing if somewhat "black" incident in the movie "Tiger Bay" where Hayley Mills, as a 12 year-old choir girl, pulls a gun out from under her cassock whilst singing "The Lord's My Shepherd." Unlike Elsie, she doesn't threaten anyone but just wants to show it (plus a bullet) to the diminutive choir-boy beside her and she's well satisfied with the reaction she gets. (Having seen where a murderer had stowed the weapon, the little girl had "acquired" it).
I couldn't say that I have a wide-ranging knowledge of books that are considered Classics. Swallows and Amazons is a title that often comes up when people discuss their 'Favourites' and it's even appeared on the Enid Blyton Society forums. I've never opened one of those books but I will one day to find out what it's all about ... statuesque women perhaps who live in the Amazon forests with their birds? It's hard to tell and I still have to find out What Katy Did because I've never read about her either. I intend to buy the book one day and learn just what it was that she did because it sounds as if it might be interesting. Could any of these books or other 'Classics' contain similar instances of ruthlessness that the Blyton books feature? That, I don't know but there's always a chance they may.
After the Great War many soldiers brought back souvenirs and it seems quite natural that many dwellings would have the odd gun or two stashed away. John Watson had his service revolver which he used a number of times in the Conan Doyle stories so in those days the citizens weren't entirely bereft of the means to defend themselves.
Over the years home invasions and assaults have become more and more prevalent and a preferred method of unlawful entry might be through the window of a child's room. Kids sleep fairly soundly and would present no physical threat so going on Elsie's success, it might be a good idea for every little girl and boy to have a loaded revolver in a drawer beside their bed -–
"You naughty little girl, you haven't loaded your gun. Get up and do it before I switch the light off!"
Yes, there's nothing like being prepared as the Scouts would put it but on second thoughts, small brothers and sisters partake in the occasional quarrel and in the presumed scenario the outcome might be determined by whoever's the quickest on the draw meaning -– -– whoever's the quickest to the drawer.
For those who are sticklers for authenticity there's a sliding panel in one of the stories, and all the illustrations fit in well with the time-frame. That girl on the cover must be Doreen with the 'Luck'.
'Malory Towers' is an extremely popular Blyton series featuring a girls' school situated in Cornwall.
'Whyteleafe' is another of the schools about which Enid Blyton wrote.
'The Secret Seven' are a troupe of youngish kids who help the police and society in general by solving various mysteries in and around their village -– -– compliments of Enid Blyton.
'St. Clare's' is also one of Enid Blyton's famous institutions.
'William' -– -– the Conqueror was an incorrigible delinquent who bears no relation whatsoever to the 1066 one. Richmal Crompton authored his exploits and Miss Montagu was the lady whose space he invaded.
The Phantom was a very popular comic-strip character of the Thirties who lived in the Bengali jungle and was the nemesis of all crooks -– -– especially pirates.
The Luck of the Laytons was reprinted by The Enid Blyton Society so you can be assured that, unlike the products of certain other publishing houses, you get the full and original treatment. Elsie does not run at the burglar to try and hit him with a handkerchief -– -– à la ... Noddy Goes to School where a hanky, or perhaps a scarf, replaces a slipper in the later editions. No! Our Elsie simply pulls a gun and does What A Girl's Gotta Do and there's even a picture -– -– small girl in frilly frock pointing revolver at masked man on ground. (The weapon belongs to her father).