An unpublished Enid Blyton book has just been discovered: Mr. Tumpy and His Caravan. It’s about an anthropomorphic caravan that befriends a dog, develops wanderlust and goes off on an adventure involving a dragon. Lovely stuff. Who’s Enid Blyton you might ask? A prolific British author who died in 1968. And still selling.
As a kid, I devoured everything I could find of hers in our dinky library in the copper mining town of Nkana, Zambia. This was a room half the size of the “Men-Only” bar on the other end of the T-shaped Mine Club, social center of the mining community. As you can imagine my choice was limited, but with holiday trips down to South Africa to visit the relatives, I managed to get my hands on enough of her books to satisfy my addiction.
I loved Ms. Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Adventurous Four series: kids embarking on adventures and solving mysteries. But my favorite was the Magic Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood where the trees, “a darker green than usual,” whisper their secrets: “Wish-wisha-wisha.” This wonderful tree, laden with fruit of all kinds from acorns to lemons was inhabited by colorful characters like Moon-Face, Mister Watzisname, Silky, and the Saucepan Man, draped with all kinds of saucepans. Its topmost branches led to ever-changing magical lands above the swirling clouds. All this took place in the lovely English countryside, so regular and so civilized.
We had our own version of The Adventurous Four, only our adventures took place in the jungle which wasn’t so civilized, all kinds of snakes, notably, the deadly black mamba, and crocodiles, along with lions that lived in the bush at the bottom of town. The “foofie” slide we built across the croc-infested Kafue River featured in our adventures. This was a purloined mine cable strung between two trees across the river, a homemade metal cylinder the size of a toilet paper roll providing the ride down the cable. Wearing your cozzie (bathing suit), you climbed the tree on one side of the river, wrapped your hands around the roll, leapt into the void and zoomed fifty yards across the swiftly running water to land on the other side. Hopefully you made it. Fun. Belly button tingling, pants pissing fun. I don’t remember anyone not making it.
But the thing is I also wanted Enid Blyton’s world, filled with high teas, hedgerows, badgers, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and fairies, where magic was part of its history. A Magic Faraway Tree could only exist in the lush verdant English countryside; a black mamba would make short work of all those fairy folk in their buttercup dresses and foxglove caps. I’m grateful to Ms. Blyton for instilling in me the love of ceremony and magic. It showed up in my first book, Monkey’s Wedding, featuring English fairies along with the African equivalent, tokoloshi. I can’t wait to buy Mr. Tumpy and His Caravan, so I can read some of the passages over the phone to my two grown sons (one in South Africa, the other up north in Davis, California) and see if they connect to the characters from the days I read the old Enid Blyton books to them.