Saturday, January 30, 2021

Read Martin Crookall on Malcolm Saville's children's fiction

It turns out I'm not the only blogger who retains an affection for Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories.

But Martin Crookall has been far more systematic about his enthusiasm than I ever have. He has written individual posts about each book in Saville's three main series: not just the Lone Pine Club, but also the Jillies and the Buckinghams.

He is never less than interesting on these books: here he is on the penultimate Lone Pine story, Where's My Girl?, and the decline of this flagship series:

En route to the station in London, the Mortons are held up by a jewellery robbery, by an armed gang, who shoot a policeman (not fatally) and a bystander, almost under the Twins’ noses, an incident that scares and subdues them, and leaves David rattled too. And what nobody knows yet is that King’s Holt is one of the centres for smuggling guns into the country, for sale or hire to increasingly violent criminals.

It doesn’t fit. There’s nothing especially noticeable that suggests Saville’s heart isn’t really in it, but after such a long run, the subject is intrusive, and distasteful, and it ramps up the level of danger to a point that is too far. You can’t point a gun at a Lone Piner, not and retain the innate qualities of the series. Admittedly, Saville doesn’t go quite that far: today, they are merely in the background, but that background is right behind David and Peter, Tom and Jenny, the Twins and Macbeth.

The truth is that by 1972, when Where's My Girl? was published, both Saville and the children's holiday adventure genre in which he wrote were growing old.

Even his characters recognised this: 

And there is still the struggle to maintain the Lone Pine Club as a Club. In his own mind, Dickie Morton is acknowledging that openly. The Club is breaking up, he tells himself. The seniors want to be with each other – Jenny exemplifies this, asking Peter to confirm that when they’re both married, they’ll still be friends, still see each other – and even his Twin, Mary, is no longer on the exact same wavelength as him, now that they near the age of eleven.

And Saville recognised it himself:

This time, Saville is forced to go against the grain of children’s adventure fiction. Even though, when Tom’s uncertain memory gives up the vital clue that enables the boys to rescue their girls, the immediate reaction to the kidnapping is to hand over all responsibility, not just to the Police (including the now-obligatory pretty WPC), but all the parents. Mr Morton (wondering if his children are fit to be let out anywhere on their own, even if that’s about sixteen books too late) sets off from London, Alf Ingles and Mr Sterling from Shropshire.


Martin Crookall said...

Thanks for the mention, Jonathan. I love books and writing about them and for all their flaws, still have great affection for the Lone Piners (not to mention tremendous jealousy of David Morton...)

Jonathan Calder said...

You are welcome, Martin. I started reading the books very young, so maybe that's why I have more time for the twins than you do.