Who is Smuggler Ben?
“Well he certainly sounds rather mad…for goodness sake don’t start quarreling with him.” This is what Mother says of little ‘Smuggler’ Ben after he had threatened her children with a knife, and Alec had called him a coward as Ben had a knife, and Alec hadn’t, and so felt he was unable to fight him.
I don’t think I could have dismissed that so easily.
But little Hilary’s goodness and kindness shines through. She helps Ben after he cuts his hand, and befriends him. He then graciously agrees to lend the children his boat. Mother thinks it’s a good thing that the fierce little fisher-lad should come to tea. I’d still be having second thoughts at this point, but Blyton mums know best.
Who are the children?
All we are told is that Alec and his sisters Frances and Hilary have got off a bus with their mother to stay at Sea Cottage, home of the absent Professor Rondel, for a four week summer holiday. Once they befriend Ben, they pretend to be smugglers, and emulate his choice of headgear, a knitted hat with a pompom dangling from the end. The children are ready for adventures and fun, and Ben is ready for some mates to share his secrets with.
Smuggler Ben is the second book of the ‘Mystery Stories’ I’ve just read – the first being The Secret of Cliff Castle.
It follows a familiar format, of course, and is as concise as Cliff Castle. If it was intended as an offering under a Blyton pseudonym I think it fails, because it is stuffed to the gunnels with Blytonishness; secret passages, well behaved children and a virtuous mother, a holiday home with important info lurking in dusty old books, and of course plenty of caves.
There is something different though. I’ve never noticed this before in works of Blyton (not that I’ve read them all yet) but she mentions that there is a war going on. In fact when Daddy and Uncle Ned turn up, we discover that they are soldiers (or more than likely officers), and as expected know exactly what to do when the crisis point comes. We do see more firearms than usual, but then again, if the army are involved…
What I’m not too sure about is the character with the foreign accent. We assume that at least one of the baddies is Irish, as they’ve sailed across from there. The children might not have come across too many Irish folk only possibly the occasional farm labourer or navvy. Could they have mistaken Irish for foreign? Would Enid have dared to openly intend the accent to come from a German during what was really wartime? Would the children have even known that?
JillSlawit’s ten pennerth
All in all I thought Smuggler Ben was a nice little story, not too elaborate, a quick, easy read. Sadly there isn’t much time to develop the characters of Alec and Frances beyond what we see, but we are allowed glimpses of potentially interesting things with Hilary and Ben.
I do have a question though. We know Ben helps his uncle with the fishing, and his gran works in the shop, but who does he live with? Who actually looks after him? Is he missed when he doesn’t return home after the action is all done and dusted? Technically that’s three questions, not one, but Enid really has left more of those than answers. Maybe she didn’t consider details like that too important at the time of writing, but even in the 1940’s little boys couldn’t totally fend for themselves, could they?