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Archive for the ‘Cornwall’ Category

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Mullion was published by Hutchinson in 1950, with illustrations by R Walter Hall. My copy isn’t dated, but it must be 1954 or after going by the list of other titles. It is in the Star Series, I’d guess that the first edition isn’t part of a series, and possibly had a spine illustration as well as the front cover.

MEA makes very little mention of Mullion in her autobiographical writings, beyond a couple of brief notes about the locations. She does also mention that her original title for the book was A Castle in Cornwall.

Synopsis

Mullion Kennedy has just finished her last term at the local primary school in Liverpool, having passed for the grammar school next term, when she learns that she is to spend her summer holidays not with her parents as she expected, but at her great-grandmother’s home, a castle on an island off the Cornish coast. Her mother, two aunts and uncle were brought up there after the death of their parents, but the girls all married and left. Lady Polmerryn lives at Polmerryn Castle now with her only grandson and heir, Sir Austell Polmerryn, Mullion’s uncle, and is estranged from her granddaughters and their families.

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Lady Polmerryn has also invited Lulwyn and Columb Alleyne, the children of Mullion’s Aunt Lulwyn, and Madron, Wendron and Paul Kent, the children of Aunt Madron – the family tradition is to name children after Cornish place-names.

Mullion is apprehensive about going so far away from her home and parents, but also excited, Polmerryn has been a part of her life since she was born, but she has never been as Lady Polmerryn has cut herself off from her daughters since they married. She travels by train, alone at first, but at Bristol two children join her in her compartment, who turn out to be her cousins Lulwyn and Columb, known as Pussy and Collie. Pussy also has her cat, Squibs, with her.

Uncle Austell meets the three of them at the station, and drives them to the harbour for the island, then takes them across in a small motor boat. They are greeted by Mrs Tremannow, once nurse to the children’s mothers, and now housekeeper at the castle, who is horrified to see that Pussy has brought her cat, as Lady Polmerryn hates them.

Next morning Mullion goes for an early morning bathe, and meets Martin French, an orphan who lives in Birmingham with an uncle during termtime, but comes down to Polmerryn to stay with another uncle during holidays. Mullion is very drawn to Martin, but he explains that her great-grandmother will not let him be friends with them, as she doesn’t consider him an appropriate friend for them. Lady Polmerryn confirms this when Mullion meets her, but Mullion is determined to be friends. At the end of their interview Squibs makes an appearance, which doesn’t help matters.

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Later that day Uncle Austell takes the three children to Penzance to meet the three Kents’ train. Madron is seen to be bookish, and her twin sister Wendron is fussing round their younger brother, Paul. Paul is a spoilt child with no sense of decency, who doesn’t hesitate to report the doings of the others to the adults, and Mullion, Collie and Pussy resolve to teach him to behave sportingly. Paul also lets slip that Mullion will inherit the castle one day, being the child of the eldest sister of childless Uncle Austell, and the estate not being entailed. Mullion is rather horrified by this news.

Mullion, Collie and Pussy resolve to have adventures, the first being a midnight picnic at the ‘seven sisters’, seven standing stones on the mainland opposite the island. They also want to find the lost smugglers’ passage, which they have heard about from their mothers. They invite Maddy and Wendy to the picnic, but not Paul as they feel they cannot trust him. They play hide and seek, and when two of them fall onto the centre stone, they feel it move, and resolve to keep away from it in case it falls. When they get back to the beach, their boat has drifted away and been damaged, but Martin comes to the rescue. Unfortunately Paul hears his sisters come back, and the next day tells their uncle about their escapade, but is ignored. The others decide to teach him a lesson by locking him in a remote room until he promises not to sneak, but the door gets jammed, and Uncle Austell comes to the rescue, telling Paul that his great-grandmother wouldn’t approve of a boy with no sense of honour. After this Paul does starts to think about how his behaviour must appear to others, and does start to reform.

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The weather turns wet, and Madron explores the castle and finds a pile of old books which she sets out to read. She finds amongst them a diary written by the smuggler who built the castle, which mentions the passage, although it doesn’t give a clue to its location.

The next drama is the disappearance of Squibs the cat, who goes missing for several days. Eventually she is found by Paul, she has fallen into a cave which only seems to be accessible via a hole in the roof, and they realise that this is probably the start of the passage, but they can’t find a way into the cave. Shortly after this Paul falls into the sea and is rescued by Martin. Lady Polmerryn sees this, and agrees to let the children be friends with Martin as his bravery has impressed her. Paul admits in private that he fell on purpose so that Martin could rescue him and persuade Lady Polmerryn to let him be friends with them, and he is finally accepted by the others.

The children are still looking for the entrance to the tunnel and decide to look underwater, but Collie gets stuck and nearly drowns. The shock of this gives Lady Polmerryn a heart attack, and she is very ill.

Martin and Mullion go out for the day on their own, and near the standing stones Mullion happens to mention that one of them moved the night they had their picnic, and Martin realises that this must be the entrance to the tunnel. They slide it across and manage to get through to the island, but the tunnel is in a bad state. They tell the others, but decide to wait and tell Uncle Austell before going near it again, but before they can tell him Paul goes off to explore on his own. Mullion goes after him, and just manages to get him to the other end before the tunnel is flooded. In their struggle to escape she is concussed and sleeps for several days, and when she wakes it is to find her parents have arrived and her great-grandmother has died.

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Uncle Austell tells Mullion that in future she and her parents are going to live with him at the castle, and that Martin is going to live in Polmerryn permanently.

Characters

Mullion Kennedy, aged 11

Lulwyn Alleyne (k/a Pussy), aged about 11

Columb Alleyne (k/a Collie), aged about 12

Madron Kent (aka Maddy), aged nearly 12

Wendron Kent (aka Wendy), Madron’s twin sister

Paul Kent, aged 9

Martin French, aged about 11

Lady Polmerryn

Sir Austell Polmerryn

Mr Kennedy and Lelant Kennedy, Mullion’s parents

Mrs Tremannow (k/a Nannie Termannie), housekeeper at the castle

Locations

The story opens in Mullion’s (and MEA’s) home town of Liverpool. At the end of the school day Mullion escapes on a tram to the river, and catches a ferry from Pier Head to New Brighton, mainly to escape the heat of the city – one feels that this is MEA writing from experience, and indeed she says in The Background Came First that “(Mullion) gives a curiously nostalgic picture of Liverpool trams….because they were fairly horrible.” She goes on to say how overcrowded and smelly they were.

Polmerryn Castle is described as being about six miles from St Just, north of Land’s End at the very end of Cornwall, but MEA admits in The Background Came First that it was inspired by St Michael’s Mount, although, “an author’s trick for safety, I moved my Polmerryn along the coast and, I think, also mentioned the Mount” (indeed she did, at least twice). There is a slight difference in that it is stated that it is possible to get across to the Mount by foot at low tide, but the Castle is on an island which always requires a boat or a swim.

Uncle Austell takes the children out on several expeditions to real places in Cornwall.

Thoughts

I think I probably came to this book about 30 years too late – it’s mainly very much an adventure story for younger children in the Enid Blyton style, with midnight picnics and secret passages and danger. I’ve found several people online describing it as one of their favourite childhood books, but for me the magic isn’t there now. Even the locations aren’t described in such evocative detail as many of MEA’s are, often her books make me want to visit places I haven’t been to, but despite being set in Cornwall, I didn’t feel any Cornish magic.

The plot is also pretty predictable – from the moment the secret passage is mentioned it’s obvious they are going to find it, and the first mention of the stone moving gives away that that will be the entrance.

MEA uses a plot device she first tried in The Wyndhams Went to Wales, namely locking an irritating child up until they agree to reform. Again it isn’t immediately successful, but it does work in the long run.

The plotline about Lady Polmerryn not liking cats doesn’t really go anywhere. It is necessary for Squibs to be present to find the cave, but she doesn’t endear herself to Lady Polmerryn by doing so.

Lady Polmerryn is relieved to find that Mullion doesn’t talk with a Liverpool accent, this sounds unlikely given that she goes to the local primary school.

Collie makes a remarkable recovery – one day he is nearly drowned and needs artificial respiration, the next he is cycling about the countryside with the others.

There is no mention of folk dancing in the book, and no nods to other authors that I noticed.

How likely would it have been for an eleven year old girl to travel unaccompanied from Liverpool to Penzance by train, a journey which seems to take over 12 hours?

Connections with other books

Pussy and Collie reappear in The School on Cloud Ridge, and also in Ann’s Alpine Adventure.

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