Roger and Diana meet at the station feeling rather shy and awkward. Rockingdown Cottage is a picturesque little place. Snubby comes face to face with a monkey! Barney and Miranda arrive on the scene.
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A mysterious old house with an abandoned nursery, noises in the night, and a tutor who is acting suspiciously, all add up to a first exciting adventure for the four children, where friendships are forged and mysteries need solving Mr and Mrs Lynton having gone to America, Roger, Diana and Snubby spend their summer holidays in the village of Rockingdown with Miss Pepper, staying in the Dower House belonging to a deserted old mansion the latter is, confusingly, called Rockingdown Hall in some chapters and Rockingdown Manor in others.
It is at Rockingdown that they first meet Barney, the circus-boy. Together, the four children explore the mansion and Barney, who sleeps rough, takes to spending the night there. It is when he is awoken repeatedly in the night by mysterious bangs and "a curious whining, half-screeching noise" that the children begin to suspect that the building is being used for criminal activity.
They investigate and become suspicious of their tutor, Mr King, believing him to be involved in whatever is going on. Alone in the cellars of the mansion, Barney comes across a hole behind a moving stone, which leads him to a rocky passage, an underground stream and caverns. Men are at work there, winching crates of smuggled goods revolvers, silk and metal bars along the stream and repacking them in order to dispose of them later.
Barney is caught by the men and made to help them, but manages to send his pet monkey, Miranda, to the others with a note. Meanwhile, the others have discovered that Mr King is not a criminal but a detective, who has been tipped off that smuggled goods are being brought to Rockingdown. The capture of the men, and the rescue of Barney, are dramatic and exciting. At the end of the book Miss Pepper, who had been called away to care for her sister, who was ill, returns with the news that she is to take her sister and the children to the sea.
The refreshing sea air is just what the children need after the suffocating atmosphere of Rockingdown, though personally I feel a pang of regret that they must leave the village so soon. That is the story in a nutshell, but there is far more to this book than just a gripping plot.
Above all, it is the melancholic atmosphere that I have never forgotten. Diana remarks that "Mothers seem to be like that," which is unusually for her a tactless comment in front of both Barney and Snubby, whose mothers have died.
Even before entering the old mansion, the children sense that it is a place of sadness. Then Lord Rockingdown was killed in the war and his wife died of a broken heart. The fact that she has just seen toys from the nurseries brings the past alive for Diana and she is moved: "Poor little Bob!
She actually had his small hanky in her pocket. And his soldier and book. Eerily, the rooms are still fully furnished, there are toys on the shelves and the table is laid for a meal initially Barney says, " There too we have dust and spiders, material a wedding-dress that was once white but is now "faded and yellow," and a table laid long ago for a meal. There is something terribly unhealthy about such rooms, which have preserved the sadness of the past within their walls.
When Barney is trapped down in the caverns below the mansion, Blyton conjures up images of Hell which serve to underline the nightmarish qualities of the Underworld in which Barney is imprisoned.
We have descriptions of dark caverns and passages, and an underground stream, "black and gleaming. The same book contains "The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice," in which Orpheus is ferried across "the black river Styx" to the "long, dark passages" of the Underworld.
All these elements are to be found in the underground world beneath Rockingdown Hall. The mention of the man with the pitchfork also makes me think of depictions of the Devil in Christianity as a creature with horns, a tail and a pitchfork.
Such images heighten the sense that Barney is surrounded by evil and is in real danger. When the boy finds his way of escape blocked by an iron-barred gate, we are reminded of the barred nursery window at the mansion, intensifying the atmosphere of imprisonment and gloom which pervades this book. If we take a close look at words and phrases used in The Rockingdown Mystery, there are some lovely "Blytonian" gems. Near the beginning of the book, when Roger and Diana go to meet Snubby off the train, we have a delightful touch of animation when Blyton describes how the train moves off: "The train gave itself a little shake, preparing to start off again The train steamed off importantly.
She does not allow descriptions to slow the pace of her narrative but chooses succinct yet striking phrases that hit the nail on the head. We have brief but vivid descriptions of some of the birds in the countryside around Rockingdown — " Like somebody belonging to the Little Folk, not to us.
This is a series in which many characters, from the rather "peppery" Miss Pepper to Loony the dog, live up to their names in true Blyton fashion. Both Mrs Round and the woman from the general store are stereotypical working-class gossips, enjoying telling tales of the old mansion and making it sound deliciously spooky.
Several times we have statements that are ironic unintentionally so on the part of the speaker. Which play is he reading in The Rubadub Mystery when he finds his father, and do he and his father ever act out scenes from Shakespeare together, just for fun? Frustratingly, Blyton never tells us. It is strange that Roger and Diana, aged fourteen and thirteen respectively, should repeatedly refer to their mother as "Mummy" in this book.
However, in later books they frequently revert to "Mummy. Another thing we have to accept when reading Blyton is that ideas used in one book are often reworked in another. In The Rockingdown Mystery Barney, who has "a real thirst for book knowledge," joins the children when they are being coached by Mr King. However, when Loony and Miranda have a battle during a lesson, Mr King bans both dog and monkey from attending classes any more. This angers Snubby, who believes that Loony has been treated unfairly, and from then on he devotes his time to playing tricks on the tutor.
All this is very much like Five Go Adventuring Again , in which George takes a dislike to her tutor, Mr Roland, when he forbids her to bring her dog, Timmy, to lessons. Of course, the main difference is that Mr Roland does turn out to be up to no good, whereas Mr King is actually a detective posing as a tutor. Near the start of the book, Roger and Diana go to meet Snubby at Rockingdown Station but are surprised to find that he is not on the train.
They waste time trying to work out what could have happened to him before walking back to the Dower House in the hot sun, tired and hungry. To their astonishment, Snubby is already there, eating his lunch! Irritatingly, he teases his cousins about having failed to see him before admitting that he got out at an earlier station, where the train had a long wait, and caught a bus to Rockingdown.
This may seem inconsiderate of him, but then he was not expecting to be met. Perhaps Snubby learns his lesson later when he is suspicious of Mr King and tracks him on a long and tiring walk, only to lose sight of the tutor and have a weary walk home, "almost in tears with tiredness and hunger. You must have a home! He realises that, compared to Barney, he is lucky as he does at least have relatives who care for him.
The fact that Snubby is an orphan, and Barney is on a quest to find his father, means that there is a great deal of interest throughout this series in the family unit and in what it means to be part of a family. If only she had known, she might have ventured to recommend them to adult Blyton enthusiasts too!
The Rockingdown Mystery (Barney Mysteries #1)
Roger and Diana are brother and sister, the children of Mr. Their irritating, mischievous younger cousin Snubby whose real name is Peter comes to stay with them during the school holidays, as he has no parents. Snubby owns a black spaniel, who has the name of Loony. The other characters state that Loony was a perfect name for the dog, as Loony is very energetic and can cause trouble. He will obey only Snubby, and so, Snubby is the only one who can control him. During their first adventure, they meet Barney his actual name is Barnabas , who makes an appearance in each of the succeeding books.
THE ROCKINGDOWN MYSTERY