Metamorphosis of the Existential Eleven

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For a long time, Enid Blyton was held up to ridicule as the worst kind of bland children's writer, but slowly critical opinion has turned round to see her as a landmark in juvenile literature.

Naturally, as the process accelerates, people will start wanting to know if there is more to her than just the familiar stuff, and whether she wrote any other books outside the well-known ones about the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. Are there any other Blyton gangs still to be discovered?

Well, yes, there are, as a matter of fact, plenty of them. Here are just a few of the less well-known Blyton set-ups.

The Existential Eleven

Heroes of a series of early stories, when Blyton was still under the influence of continental philosophy, these are very different from her later characters. Whereas Julian and Dick and George are always eager for adventure, the Existential Eleven - Jean-Paul, Jacques, Simone, Hubert, Hubert fils, Anne-Marie, Marijuana, Rose-Marie, Marie-Rose, Mairie-de- ville, and Descartes the dog - are always doubtful about the efficacy of action in any one context, and fearful of making the choice that will determine the rest of their lives. In a story like The Existential Eleven and Jackdaw Castle, for instance, the 11 children are on holiday when they notice mysterious lights in the supposedly uninhabited castle opposite.

Initially tempted to investigate, after a long discussion they finally decide to ignore the castle and carry on with publishing the philosophical journal for teenagers that they are trying to launch. Much later they find that the lights in the castle were caused by unauthorised campers, which seems to justify their indecision. Or does it?

The Sovereign Sixteen

Meeting up while they are on holiday, 16 children find that they are all named after kings or queens of England, so they decide to set out and conquer the world. But first there is the mystery of Pirate Island.

Why are there lights at night in the windows of the abandoned castle on Pirate Island in Brid Bay? Together, Henrietta, Ethelred, Harold, Anne, Liz, Matilda, George, George II, George III, George IV, Edward, Arthur, William and Mary, Richard and Wallis Simpson the dog decide to investigate. They find to their amazement that the lights belong to a circus that is practising for the new season in secret on the island, and they are invited to join the circus as stable lads and trainee trapezists.

"Rather!" says Henrietta, who is actually a boy called Henry who would rather be a girl, and they all go off with the circus and are never heard of again.

The Suicidal Seventeen

This world-weary and rather despairing gang of girls and boys (plus Whiskers the dog, who hates being a dog and prefers to be thought of as a cat called Whiskers) are the heroes of an unlikely series of tales.

In these adventures, little caring if they live or die, the children tackle the most murderous types of villains in the most dangerous kinds of derelict castles. As their numbers gradually decrease, they start to reappear in other stories as the Fearful Fifteen, the Fatalistic Fourteen, the Thrawn Thirteen and the Taciturn Twelve, etc.

The Eclectic Eighteen

An intriguing bunch of children who all go on holiday together but can never quite decide which method to use to solve the many mysteries they encounter. Some of them favour deduction, some lean towards intuition, while Jools (a girl who really wants to be a French bloke called Jules) is all in favour of bursting in with guns blazing and asking questions afterwards.

Their most memorable adventure is in The Eclectic Eighteen and Mystery Castle, where they finally discover that the lights blazing in the supposedly empty castle were left on during the previous weekend by the Forgetful Fourteen.

The Narcissistic Nineteen

Perhaps the most unusual of all the Blytonian aggregations, this gang of children go on holiday together to indulge in a lot of preening and mirror activity, and are too bound up in themselves even to notice the blazing lights in the castle opposite.

The most unusual character is Dorian the dog, who stares at his reflection constantly and wishes fervently that he was himself, which he does not realise he already is.