[Irish Times, Mon, Jun 13, 2016, 06:00]
Bandon-born children’s writer LT Meade’s ‘Four on an Island’ shares similarities with Enid Blyton’s ‘Five on a Treasure Island’, published 50 years later
LT Meade’s novel Four on an Island: A Story of Adventure (1892), now quite rare and seldom read, is sitting in front of me on a cushion in Dublin City Library’s Pearse Street archive. After deliberation about its location in the stacks – the catalogue information was incomplete – the librarian had brought it to me on the cushion, and speculated about my need for gloves while handling the fragile volume (she deemed them unnecessary).
Is this the book that influenced Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island (1942)?
A few days earlier, arriving back in Dublin from Chicago, where I live, I had picked up Blyton’s novel as part of my research for a book, Beasts at Bedtime, about environmental themes in children’s books.
Although Blyton wrote enthusiastically about nature – her early books include The Bird Book (1926), The Animal Book (1927) and Nature Lessons (1929) – my recollection of Five on a Treasure Island was as a sturdy adventure story rather than a bucolic meditation on kids’ survival on a wild island. It’s a romp where four cousins and their dog gallivant about an island off the Dorset coast, searching for “ingots of gold” and drinking lots of ginger beer.
Island stories are intriguing, as children away from parents’ gaze not only get up to high jinks but are often at the mercy of the wilder forces of nature – their own and environmental.
Blyton’s novel has some pleasant observations on the natural history of Kirrin Island: its rocky inaccessibility, the tameness of its rabbits, the fishing skills of cormorants. I suspect my career choice (a scientist of sorts) derives from a captivation with Uncle Quentin, the irascible scientist, father to Georgina and uncle to her cousins Julian, Dick and Anne, in Blyton’s Famous Five books.
Read on here