The Enid Blyton Society
Children of Other Days
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Book Details...

First edition: 1939
Publisher: W. & A.K. Johnston
Illustrator: Douglas Cuthill
Category: Old Thatch Series
Genre: History/Mythology
Type: Short Story Series Books

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Reprint Covers
List of Contents
Review by Terry Gustafson

  1. Strong-Arm the Tree-Dweller
    Story: Specially Written
  2. Fleet-Foot the Cave-Boy
    Story: Specially Written
  3. Little-Hands, the Hill-Girl
    Story: Specially Written
  4. Swimmer, the Lake-Dweller
    Story: Specially Written
  5. Sigurd, the Little Viking
    Story: Specially Written
  6. Wynfreda, the Anglo-Saxon Girl
    Story: Specially Written
Thousands of years ago a little boy lived up in the trees to be safe from the wild animals. His world was very different from ours because there were no railways or roads or cars or houses, which are all part of our lives in these times. Strong-Arm, as a baby, looks like we did whereas his mother resembles an ape but before long he becomes a little more like her. The boy leads a life quite similar to a chimp or gibbon swinging around in the trees looking for berries and other sustenance and he also descends every now and again to sip water from the stream, always keeping a sharp eye out for tigers and other beasts. Communication is by grunting and, together with his younger sister, he's taught various skills that don't include all that much grooming because there's no real call for it. He can't cut his shaggy hair because scissors don't exist, but at least it keeps him warm. When food is plentiful the Tree-Dwellers sometimes eat together which shows a kind of community spirit beginning to express itself and hopefully there will be advances once a few brainy individuals find out how to make a fire to warm themselves in the winter or perhaps work out how to construct such a thing as a wheel.

In Chapter #2 we meet Fleet-Foot the cave boy. It is many years later and human beings have driven the bears from their caves and taken them over for their own use. Fleet-Foot lives in one with his mother, father, and two sisters and at last fire has been discovered so the long and cold winters are not such a threat. However, when the snow piles up the family may go hungry because they can't go out to hunt, having to wait until the weather is more clement. When the snow melts Father takes a sharp -pointed stick and sets off to see what he can bring home to cook on the fire that Fleet-Foot has built up. As far as entertainment goes, there are no movies to enjoy or skating rinks to visit but Fleet-Foot and his sisters often run down the hillside to paddle in the stream and hunt for sweet berries and juice roots. There's also honey where the wild bees live in a hollow tree and it's accessible if one doesn't mind a few stings. Fleet-Foot doesn't ... in fact he laughs at the pain. They have to be careful of course because there are no animal-control officers so when a bear lumbers toward them, Fleet-Foot has to scare it off by throwing stones and sticks. His father eventually introduces him to the art of hunting and they look for reindeer, which they catch by digging a big pit and covering it with branches. A bison can be trapped this way as well or even a mammoth elephant, and when there's success, the catch is cut up and taken home to a joyful family who'll partake of roast meat for many days to come. The animal skins are used to make cloaks and rugs because it's too cold to walk round with nothing on. Some of the stone axe-heads and spear-tips used in those times can now be seen in our museums.

The planet is becoming a warmer and happier place now - the winters are shorter and the ice and snow are lessening. Mankind is farming with sheep and goats so the necessity to hunt is dwindling. Basic language skills have been developed and the people are living in huts, which is where we find Little-Hands. She knows how to make a hut all by herself and you'd have to admit a skill like that would be a deal more useful than knowing the whys and wherefores of an egg-beater. She watches her father dig a hole and form a bank or earth round it and then she goes off to search for a tall sapling that's driven into the centre so that strong branches can be laid between the bank and the top of the pole. Big turves are then cut from the grassy plain and laid on the branches thus providing a warm and comfortable shelter for the family. A door is cut out of the banked earth and there's no chimney so when a fire is lit, Little-Hands' eyes are irritated somewhat from the smoke. Enid Blyton has even learnt that a lamp was made from hollowed-out stone in which there is melted fat that burns cheerfully when it's set alight. Goatskin and sheepskin suits clothe the family and bright berries with shells make up necklaces. Everyone's much safer now because the village is high up with a good view and surrounded by its fence with sharp wooden stakes driven into it so that wild animals are kept out. Dogs have been tamed and they help with the hunting besides acting as protectors. The biggest of the dwellings is reserved for the wise old chief of the tribe and it's now about time for human beings to organize themselves into even more efficient communities.

A boy called "Swimmer" lives in a queer village built over a lake. The picture shows a house on stilts as is common in some areas of the Pacific, and the children help to look after the sheep and cattle in the daytime. Swimmer helps to crush grain between stones for use in cooking and he can catch fish by lowering a basket through a trapdoor in the floor and waiting till something swims into it. The villagers plant wheat, millet, and barley to ensure there's plenty of grain for bread and in order to sow the seeds a plough is needed. No problem! The horn of a stag fixed to a pole is the latest and greatest furrow former - slow, but sure. The villagers model pots from clay and Swimmer also makes himself toys with it. Like all well-off families, they have a boat although it's nothing more than a hollowed-out tree trunk but it does the job in spite of tipping over now and again. That doesn't really matter though because Swimmer is true to his name. He and his father spear fish for supper and when it snows they can follow animal tracks to hunt down deer. We're told that Lake-Dwellers' teeth meet edge to edge instead of the top teeth overlapping the bottom like ours do. Their hair is thick and frizzy and pinned up in tufts with bone pins. Many of the pots and necklaces have fallen into the lake over the years so we're able to learn a lot from the samples that have been dug up eons later.

Sigurd is a child of the Norsemen and like most boys of those times, he's sent away to learn all kinds of things. Living with his mother's cousin he's taught how to use a spear and a sword and before long this eight year old can swim like an eel, run like the wind, ski over the snow like a bird, and win a wrestling match with any boy of his age. He isn't taught to write but has to learn about the holy letters called "runes" that are carved on the Norsemen's ships and weapons. Some of the tales passed on to him were told to us as well such as those that deal with a God named "Thor," or perhaps "Iduna" the Goddess with her golden apples. It's not hard to see how "Thor" has been incorporated into our Thursday, and "Wodin" (another God), has lent itself to Wednesday (Wodin's Day). Draughts and chess are taught to Sigurd so that he learns to think and act quickly - a desirable attribute in those days. When he reaches the age of twelve, the lad will return to his home and sail away with his father to fight, rob, and conquer strange people in faraway places - including our land where they'll sail up the rivers to plunder, and even burn villages to the ground. The warriors' ships return home with many stolen treasures, which to young Sigurd, is a perfectly normal activity and he yearns for the day to arrive when he can join in. It comes at last and the boy accompanies his father on a voyage with mother sitting at home wondering how her twelve-year-old will fare. Will he return wounded or crippled or will he be stronger and bear gifts from exotic countries? Sigurd's first foray is successful and he returns in excellent health from his bout of robbery and conquest with a golden necklace that he presents to his mother. A feast is held to welcome back the adventurers. Great joints are roasted over a fire and drinking-horns are filled over and over with sweet mead as the men folk recount stories of their latest adventures. Sigurd takes part in the festivities as well because now, he's a "man."

During the time of Alfred the Great the "Angles" and "Saxons" were living together quite peacefully after invading and driving the old Britons into the forests and mountains. Wynfreda lives in those times and her father is an Earl besides being chief of the village. He has slaves whose basic needs are looked after in return for their work but they can never become freemen unless their families save enough money. Another way is for a slave to distinguish himself with a brave act and thus be granted his leave. Wynfreda's family owns the best house in the village although we wouldn't think it was all that wonderful because it's "basic." The windows are mere slits in the wall and the girl's bed has a mattress and pillow of straw with a rough linen sheet. Her brother, whose name is Æthelred, goes to school but Wynfreda is denied this privilege because she's a girl so life can be rather boring whilst her brother is away learning to read, and write, and undertaking biblical instruction together with Latin. The monks also show him how to make silver buckles and brooches to take home for his sister and mother. When Æthelred hears Wynfreda grumbling about how lucky boys are, he confides to her that he'd rather be out hunting with their father and if any fierce Norsemen appear on the rivers he wants to sally forth and battle them. Meal times are in the hall where trestle-tables are assembled, and on the platform at one end Wynfreda sits with her family and friends. They have only knives so their hands become quite greasy and need to be well washed afterwards. When dinner is finished the tables are put away but instead of settling down in front of a TV, the guests light big torches to brighten up the room and then songs are sung, riddles are asked, and long stories are told. Wynfreda's favourite time is when the Gleemen with their harps call in to play music that fills the shadowy hall and when this happens the two children are always sorry when it's time for bed. The villagers get on with their lives but in slightly different ways than we do because they're still rather primitive so much time is spent protecting themselves and their animals from harm - some even take their animals into the family hut to ensure their safety. A fence round the village keeps out the animals and robbers but not, unfortunately, the fierce Norsemen when they come to rob and plunder. The booklet ends with Æthelred boasting to his sister that when he's grown up he'll fight the enemy and make them run. Wynfreda hopes he's right about that!
Old Thatch Series#14. There's no real plot to these ancient stories so in each case the synopses are a rough idea of the complete tale.

Enid Blyton has shown her "historic" side in this collection of tales, and interesting reading they make.

Fleet-Foot and his sisters look a lot less like apes because civilization is advancing.

Turves? The story of Little-Hands mentions these and the word turns out to be the plural of "turf." Thank you EB for drawing it to our attention although other readers may have heard the term before.

Everything was so much more labour intensive in olden times. It's a long way from Swimmer crushing grain with stones to we, modern people, who stroll into the supermarket where there's a range of flours that would stupefy our ancestors.

We're told that Lake-Dwellers' teeth meet edge to edge instead of the top teeth overlapping the bottom like ours do. Can't say I've noticed that!

The Norse legends can make an interesting little study. It's common knowledge that Norsemen were also known as "Vikings," and "Norsemen" simply means Men of the North.

Here are a couple of definitions for the word "rune" that appears in the story featuring Sigurd: 1. A letter of an ancient Germanic alphabet related to the Roman version. 2. A mark or letter of mysterious or magical significance.

Iduna the Goddess with her apples brought up an image of an old children's story - "Diana and the Golden Apples." Iduna is not a million miles from Diana but that may be the only connection. Iduna tended to the fruit that gave the gods eternal youth and beauty whereas Diana used golden apples to help a suitor win the race for her affections.

On page #49, Sigurd's longing for when he can sail away with his father to rob and conquer "straneg" people. This could have been yet another example of the Viking-style names that thread their way through the tale but as "straneg" doesn't have a capital, it's probably a misspelling of "strange."

Sigurd's mother gave no thought, sadly, to the woman who had originally worn and cherished the necklace.

Did you know that "England" derives from "Angles?"

A mealtime at Wynfreda's place would be quite accurately portrayed in films such as Ivanhoe (1952). This is the movie that Find-Outers Larry & Fatty watched before involving themselves in a rescue mission.

Enid Blyton doesn't explain what a "gleeman" is although the term is not too hard to understand from context. Seems it's an obsolete word for "entertainer." Itinerant Minstrel?