|Stig, interpreted by Paul Morton|
It was the rubbish-dump home of Stig that inspired me then, and still does. The cosy feeling of safe seclusion I have nestled in my new garden 'den', echoes the same thrill I had in those swaying tree tops.
Stig of the Dump was first published by Puffin, 50 years ago today, on June 1st 1963. It went straight into paperback, and has been in print ever since with over 50 editions. Perpetually popular in schools due in part to its efficient promotion through the Puffin Book Club, Stig always ranks high in 'favourite book' charts.
Eoin Colfer remembers the significant impression and warm memories that the book had for him, and in part attributes his continuing involvement in fantasy writing to Stig of the Dump. Around the turn of the 21st century Books for Keeps started a diary written by psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, in which he charted his son Hal's growing relationship with books. It ran from Hal's birth until he reached 12 years old. Mills said "if there's one book that I would wish to share with Hal, when he's old enough, it is without any doubt, Stig of the Dump."
|Rear and front cover of the original Puffin edition|
Stig of the Dump was Clive King's third book and was written whilst he had a full time educational job in Sussex. It was only in 1973, after his fourth published novel, that he became a full time writer, and he went on to write 12 more. King was very well travelled, absorbing locations and storing them for future use. Settings for him were hugely important and "should always be as authentic as possible," and he vividly remembers childhood adventures with his three brothers in an old disused chalk pit. Obviously formative times that shaped many ideas for Stig.
Barney is bored staying with his grandma in the country during the holidays, but he doesn't have to step through a wardrobe, follow a rabbit down a hole, or have a bang on the head to discover a more exciting world. Despite warnings, Barney strays too near the edge of the chalk pit and "as the ground gave way beneath him" falls straight into the home of a real live caveman!
Through Barney's eyes we are introduced to Stig, "he looked very strong and his hands looked cleverer than his face." Rather than be alarmed at this surprise encounter, Barney is pleased.
The Chalk Pit. illustration by Edward Ardizzone © Puffin Books
I realise now, looking back, that the warmth of my memories are also largely due to Barney and Stig's unique relationship. Stig represents total freedom to Barney, he lives his own life without bounds, and is therefore an immediate attraction. Stig is his friend, brother, ally and his champion. Who wouldn't want a friend like Stig, unknown to grown ups and free of rules.
illustration by Edward Ardizzone © Puffin Books
Together they continue to build Stig's shelter. Barney gives Stig a penknife to use, which he immediately squirrels away, and Stig returns the favour by presenting Barney with a brand new flint blade. They are a team of two as they fight off the rough and tough kids from the 'wrong end' of town, the Snargets. They disrupt a stag hunt, and in true Famous Five style, thwart a couple of robbers that are targeting Barney's grandma's house. Fun and humour run throughout these episodes, but maybe it's for the final two magical chapters that the book lives on in so many memories.
On a warm, sultry and utterly still summer solstice evening Barney and his sister Lou can't sleep, and so venture out to find Stig. They miraculously, and totally credibly, slip back in time to witness and help Stig and his clan erect a huge monolithic stone on the heath, similar to those at Stonehenge.
Roger Mills describes this mesmerising scene "as an intoxicating mid summer night's dream of great power." I can remember walking home from school full of wonder with this magical final episode running round my head and wondering if this really had happened. It was so convincingly presented without any disappointing "and then they woke up next morning" get-out explanations.I think it was my first appreciation of the power of story to create a delicious and believable fantasy.
|illustration by Edward Ardizzone © Puffin Books|
Though the book is a mere nine chapters long it is illustrated with 26 captivatingly simple line drawings by Edward Ardizzone. In picture books, Ardizzone is best known for his Little Tim stories, and the inaugural Kate Greenaway prize (for illustration in a children's book) was presented for his Little Tim all Alone, in 1956.
|Portrait of Edward Ardizzone by by Henry Marvell Carr |
photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
Ardizzone became one of the most respected and most important of all 20th century illustrators and has been described as "the greatest illustrator that ever lived" by non other than Quentin Blake. Not formally art trained, Ardizzone, an inveterate sketcher, attended evening classes, going on to be chosen as an official war artist. He illustrated almost 200 books. In his quick and simple line work for Stig much of the detail is left to the imagination, but still he manages to capture the remarkable relationship between the characters. Simple deft strokes belie the craft involved to bring such life into each scene.
Barney always wondered at the age of Stig "was he ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand" he just couldn't guess. I hope that Stig grows even older and continues to delight many more generations to come. Recently, I mentioned the book to an old school friend. He's a headmaster now and he responded enthusiastically, and told me that in fact he'd chosen to read the chapter with the Snargets to his 7 - 8 yr old class only the week before, on World Book Day.
Here are a couple of my illustrations inspired by my re-reading of Stig, which, co-incidentally, I also read on World Book Day this year.