Where’s Wumpus – Elleston Trevor

Nowadays if Elleston Trevor is remembered at all it is for his 1964 novel The Flight of the Phoenix about a plane crash in the Libyan desert where the survivors eventually manage to build a new plane out of the wreckage of the old and fly to safety. The book has been turned into a film twice, once in 1965 starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough and remade in 2004 starring Dennis Quaid. Born Trevor Dudley-Smith he eventually changed his name to Elleston Trevor which until then was one of his eleven pen names (including his real name) for his various books such as the nineteen volumes about the spy Quiller which he wrote under the name of Adam Hall written from 1965 with the last one published in 1996 one year after his death.

However I want to go back to 1948, as I have a couple of the children’s books he wrote then which were actually originally my mothers and specifically the third (and final) book in the Wumpus series, Where’s Wumpus.

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This has been my favourite book from childhood and it has been a joy rereading it this week. As you can see from the opening page the font is lovely and the spelling wonderfully eccentric and there are also several typesetting jokes later in the book to emphasise action. Wumpus is a koala living in a wood with his various friends Ole Bill Mole, Flip, or maybe Flap, the penguin (it depends on the day, if he is Flip today then he will be Flap tomorrow and vice versa), Hare-With-the-Careless-Air and Chipmunk (who first appears in this final book). The eight colour and forty eight black and white charming illustrations are by John McCail with the colour pages on higher quality paper and inset into the book. This is probably due to paper restrictions still applying after the war meaning that the paper used for the rest of the book isn’t suitable for colour printing.

In the first part of the book Wumpus goes to visit Ole Bill Mole and after partaking of a large amount of ‘swish-roll’ is persuaded to help with the decorating that Bill had started. Unfortunately he had the only ladder so Wumpus ends up balanced precariously on the umbrella stand

But a Wumpus was now doing all he knew now to stay on top of the Brolly-stand which was trying to do a Rhumba while he did the Tango and the Bucket was going into an old-fashioned Waltz

At which point Flap (it being Tuesday) arrived and he tried to get down again…

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In a later story Wumpus discovers the joy of swinging between trees on a rope and the typesetting joins in the fun and games

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It was established early on in the book that there was a rung missing from the ladder leading down from The Wumpus Tree to the ground

So down he went, with a heigh and a ho (according to which rung of the ladder he was on) and when he came to the rung that wasn’t (because he’d forgotten to put a new one in yet) he murmured: “Careful Wump,” in a cautioning way, and managed to reach the ground without taking a run at it from half-way up the ladder (which would have been bouncy, not to mention most uncomfortablesome).

and about two thirds of the way through the book he decides to fix this particular problem even though it had started to rain leading to what appears to be a nasty accident…

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Instead it turns out that the umbrella acted like a parachute and so they all had a go at jumping off the balcony and floating to the ground, unfortunately Bill Mole, being the lightest, floated rather further than the rest and initially landed badly

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Later on it turns out that a gust of wind took him flying over the wood.

The whimsical nature of the book is just as much fun now as an adult as when I first read it aged about eight or nine, the Wumpus books are difficult to find nowadays but there is a copy of Where’s Wumpus available at the time of writing from a shop in Australia.

I do have another of Elleston Trevor’s children’s books which is also a first edition from 1948 and this is aimed at slightly older readers, probably early teens. This is illustrated with line drawings by David Williams and again printed by Gerald G. Swan. The tale is about a group of anthropomorphic animals that decide to go exploring and features an otter (called Potter), a badger (Old Stripe) and a squirrel (Skip). They try to interest other animals in the wood about coming with them but in the end it is just the three that head off down the river.

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They have all sorts of adventures on the trip including meeting up with a church mouse who joins them for a large part of the journey. As can be seen below the drawings are just as captivating as the ones in Where’s Wumpus but have a much more naturalistic style.

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The Secret Travellers is book five in the fifteen book series with the same characters which have become known as the Happy Glade (from the title of the first book) or Deep Wood (from the title of the third) series, confusingly the first two were written under the name of Trevor Dudley-Smith with the other thirteen being as Elleston Trevor hence the two different names for the series. These are all unfortunately also long out of print and difficult to find. I would love to see these available again as I’m sure they would find a readership but in the meantime I will enjoy my mother’s books and maybe I will find some of the other titles one day.

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