Art & Educational, 1948, illus Gilbert Dunlop
Reprinted Nelson hb, 1959, illus A.H. Watson
Reprinted Nelson Juniors, pb, 1959, illus A.H. Watson
Reprinted Girls Gone By, pb, 2003 with Lorna Hill’s original illustrations
The Belinda series
Marjorie & Co
Castle in Northumbria
No Medals for Guy
Summary and critique (Diane Janes)
This is the first book in a series of pony books about two boys and three girls set in Northumberland. The “Marjorie” books spill over into the “Patience” series and some of the characters apparently also turn up in the “Wells” series of ballet stories by Lorna Hill as well. I wouldn’t know; no self respecting pony book aficionado would be seen dead reading a book about ballet! [Editor’s note: I can confirm that they do, having read most of the ballet series, though in my sensible middle age rather than my pony-obsessed youth – then, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.]
“I hope you aren’t expecting to read about a lot of perfectly behaved children. If you are, I’m afraid you’ll be sadly disappointed! There’s certainly nothing very perfect about us! Guy is distinctly bossy, Toby is what the grown-ups would call “a bit on the stolid side”, Esme hasn’t a ghost of a sense of humour, whilst I’ve got oceans of faults. As for Marjorie – well frankly Marjorie’s awful! Her only virtue, as far as I can see, is that she certainly does put a kick into things.” – the narrator, Pan(sy) in her foreword to the book.
The story opens with Pan and Esme reluctantly riding up the topiary-edged drive to Marjorie’s house on their newly acquired and perfectly serviceable ponies. They have been invited to tea with Marjorie, the spoilt daughter of rich and largely absent parents, with whom they are at school and whom they dislike. Marjorie is a fearless, if unkind, rider and they know she will be scornful of their riding and their ponies. Indeed she describes Pan’s pony Billy as a “trapping pony” because of his docked tail.
Marjorie challenges Esme to a race in a nearby paddock and by shameless cheating almost causes Esme to have an accident: enter Guy, newly returned from Canada and the son of the owner of the land. The stage is set for a battle of wills between Guy and Marjorie. Guy decides to set up a Clan and Marjorie is excluded. The first half of the book is devoted to Marjorie’s increasingly ingenious and reckless attempts to sabotage the Clan’s activities, once by wrecking their gymkhana, in order to get them to let her join. This culminates in her almost drowning and having to be rescued by Guy. As a result Marjorie is admitted to the Clan.
Guy, used to the great outdoors, feels constricted in their semi-suburban homes and proposes the Clan go camping which they are permitted to do as long as it is no more than five miles away.
There follows a visit to a Circus, an altercation over a monkey being treated cruelly (Esme is a passionate animal lover) and being rescued by Guy stepping in to perform a daring highwayman act in the Ring. A sub plot emerges; Billy is really only on loan and his owner wishes to sell him. Pan’s parents can’t afford to buy him and Pan is desolate. All appears lost until the very unpleasant grand daughter of a millionaire who has run away to the circus takes refuge in the children’s camp. After some light detective work and some ruthlessness on the part of Marjorie, the children restore her to the grateful millionaire who offers them a munificent reward. However, Guy accepts only enough to buy Billy and the holiday ends happily.
The stories have dated a bit – circuses no longer have animals and the girls (except Marjorie) display deference to Guy which is a bit much to take now. As a child in the late 1950s, I, too, thought he was wonderful. Now I find him unbearably bossy and priggish with an unhealthy interest in administering punishment spankings to young girls. However, Pan is down to earth and though her use of language is not as witty or inventive as Ruby Ferguson’s Jill she does turn a neat phrase. Lots of good stuff about food as well!