Okay so I’m a bit late posting this but I promise I did read this book in May (or most of it anyway).
The choices for my 2016 Classics Challenge fall mainly into two categories: books I have always wanted to read but never quite got around to, such as Little Women and I Capture the Castle, and books that I’ve never particularly felt a burning desire to read but have always felt that I “should” have done.
Stig of the Dump fell firmly into the latter category, particularly since the Stone Age became prominent in the National Curriculum and we started sending it out lots more to schools. It’s also the only book I have ever lied about reading: when I asked a visiting poet in front of a room full of people what his favourite book as a child had been, he said this one and then asked the audience to put their hand up if they’d read it -not wanting to be shown up as the librarian who hadn’t read the classic children’s book I shamefully raised my hand in the air despite having never read a word and, being a very truthful person in general, have felt supremely guilty about it ever since!
Now I can finally, truthfully, say I have read it. And actually quite enjoyed it too. Much more than I expected to. Apart from knowing that it was in some way related to the Stone Age and that there was likely to be a dump and somebody called Stig in there, none of which sounded especially appealing to me, I didn’t really know too much about this book before I began. One thing I did expect was that it would be quite hard to read (because it’s a “classic” and, despite doing this challenge, I still equate the word “classic” with “difficult”).
On that score I was very pleasantly surprised. Because there is something just so readable about this book. The main character, Barney, has such a sense of adventure and King’s pacy narrative sweeps you right into his world.
The story begins just before something momentous is about to happen:
If you went too near to the edge of the chalk-pit the ground would give way. Barney had been told this often enough…But still, there was a difference between being told and seeing it happen. And today was one of those grey days when there was nothing to do, nothing to play, and nowhere to go. Except the chalk-pit. The dump
Within the first few pages, Barney has fallen into the chalk pit, discovered Stig and started chatting to him as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. Barney isn’t afraid of Stig so the reader isn’t afraid. Barney doesn’t spend ages agonising over how Stig came to be there, what he thinks he wants, or whether he is even real, so the reader doesn’t do that either. Instead Barney gets straight to work, sorting out practical solutions to Stig’s problems, such as making his home more comfortable.
This is a book for anyone that loves action and adventure. Barney and Stig are resourceful, loyal and brave and, despite coming from completely different times in history, they forge a friendship that seems perfectly natural and has real mutual benefit. Antagonists come in many forms, including the troublesome Snarget brothers; two would-be thieves and even a leopard, but together Barney and Stig see them all off. The central theme of friendship is timeless and the cross-hatch illustrations of Edward Ardizzone complement the story beautifully, the black-and-white lines evoking simultaneous thoughts of earlier times and raw craftsmanship (much like the Stone Age).