Book Review – Stig of the Dump by Clive King

books, reviews

530060 5_star_rating_system_3_and_a_half_stars It was my Christmas party on Saturday night and it was a bit of a wild night. As I’ve only been at the company for about 8 months, I took it easy but there were plenty of people who didn’t. I’m glad I went, though. It made me feel like I was actually part of the team. We’re don’t get a lot of interaction in our office so I finally managed to meet some people I’ve only walked past in the corridor. Because I was held back from the free table wine, I woke up this morning without a fuzzy head but I’m so tired. I’ve been utterly useless all day. The only thing I was good for was listening to an audiobook in bed. I decided it would be a perfect time to go back to a childhood favourite. I remember that my sister and I liked Stig of the Dump when we were younger so we must have read it at some point. And I remember watching one of the TV adaptations. It was probably the 2002 version but I also feel that I might have been a bit too old at that point. I wish my memory was better. One of the main reasons why I don’t really remember the book that much. It was time to remind myself.

I loved reading about them but I’m not sure I was ever that adventurous as a child. It’s not like I was a rebel who would go to places that my parents told me not to. I was the goodie two shoes who preferred to stick to the status quo. It didn’t help that our village wasn’t the most exciting place and didn’t lend itself to that kind of thing. I’m not sure there was much potential for wandering off and finding something exciting. I guess the closest that we got was stumbling across a couple of friendly horses from a nearby farmhouse. I had a great childhood but it certainly wasn’t the kind that would make it into a children’s book.

I guess that’s why my sister and I loved stories like Stig of the Dump so much. I was able to live vicariously through the main characters in all of these books and have the rebellious adventures that I couldn’t. I could enjoy hearing about children who went against their parent’s wishes and everything working out for the best. All the while knowing I wouldn’t go anywhere they weren’t happy about. I mean Stig of the Dump opens with the main character, Barney, defying the adults in his life and getting too close to the edge of the chalk pit. He inevitably falls down the pit and discovers a caveman living at the bottom. Turns out rebellious actions work out just fine for children in books but not so much in real-life. On one of the few occasions I defied my mother’s wishes, she caught us in the act. That story had a very different ending.

Barney discovers that the chalk pit is filled with people’s rubbish and the caveman, who Barney starts referring to as Stig, uses the things he finds to make a den. Despite his insistence, Barney’s family refuse to believe that Stig is anything but an imaginary friend. Yet Barney continues to spend time with him. They build things together, go hunting, and scare a group of older kids who want to bully Barney. Even though Stig can’t speak, the pair find a way to communicate when Barney read things into Stig’s facial expressions or grunting. As the book goes on, their friendship gets stronger and the pair begin to learn from each other.

Stig of the Dump is a lovely and nostalgic tale of childhood. I’m not entirely convinced that it has aged that well as some of the language might seem fairly archaic and out of place for modern readers. It’s also not a very action-packed novel. Yes, there is a lot of stuff going on but it’s hardly edge of your seat stuff. There’s a lot of meandering and hiding around that goes on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the scenarios do feel a little twee these days. For one thing, Barney’s sister goes on a fox hunt so Barney and Stig go on their own hunt. The book does use the incident to give an analysis of the negatives of fox hunting but the whole incident just seems to stick out. This is a book that is caught up in its own timeframe and within a certain class. You are dealing with those well-spoken children who live comfortable lives with their parents and siblings. The kind of kids you find in an Enid Blyton who don’t necessarily feel like anyone you’re likely to meet in real life.

Although, you can see why this book has remained so popular since it was published in the 60s because it is a well-written and charming book. And despite the fact that the children in the book seem far-removed from the reader, they do read like children. Clive King understands how children think and manages to write realistic young people. Barney is a naive and easily led child. He is easily persuaded that a group of thieves are actually trying to fix the television despite the evidence against them. He also decides to smoke a cigarette because the older kids persuade him to. He thinks and acts in a way that normal children might. When he meets Stig, he uses the caveman’s lack of English to take control of the situation and assert his dominance. In much the same way that a child would with someone younger than them. Barney is a great character and he feels very natural.

This is an interesting book and an entertaining story. I’m not sure that all modern children would necessarily find it appealing because it lacks a little depth and substance. It’s short and the plot kind of races along. And, I have to be honest, I’m not entirely convinced by the ending. It just sticks out like a sore thumb and doesn’t really follow on from the rest of the novel. Still, it’s a well written and charming book that really evokes a traditional sense of Englishness. I think the characters are well-written and feel more natural than many children in these types of novels. It was a nice piece of nostalgia but I can’t say that it ignited the love I felt for this in my own childhood.

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