Stig of the Dump
By Clive King
Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Puffin Modern Classics, 1993
First published in 1963
This is the 50th anniversary edition of this classic tale of eight-year-old Barney who falls into the chalk pit behind his Granny's house and discovers a caveman - Stig, living there. The story is set in a village called Ash, in Kent, where author Clive King lived as a boy, his home on the edge of a chalk pit, just as the setting for this story is.
I'd requested the book from the library because it had an introduction by Julia Eccleshare (children's editor at The Guardian, and commentator on all things to do with children's books in the UK. She's coming to New Zealand soon for the IBBY Congress and I'm going to interview her and write about her for Magpies magazine so I've been getting my hands on everything I can in the name of research.
I've been trying to fill a few gaps in my reading history - classics that I feel like I've read, because I've read so much about them, but haven't actually read the books. Stig seemed like a good place to start as I'm constantly looking out for good 'boy books' for the many reluctant readers I deal with in my job as an intermediate school librarian.
It's a marvellous adventure story. Safe in that it mainly takes place around Barney's Granny's home area, but at the same time seems to be entirely separate. It's a reflection of the times, of course, when children could leave after breakfast and not reappear until tea time and no-one would much worry about them. Not only does Barney disappear for hours at a time, but he takes supplies and tools from the house, which never make it back again, and gets wet and dirty, but no-one much worries about that either.
Barney meets Stig and they make friends, Barney helping to make Stig's primitive living conditions better, and Stig teaching Barney how to do the things Stig knows about like using a spear. Stig can't talk very well, but they make themselves understood somehow. Even when long amounts of time go by, when Barney has to go back home etc, when he returns they just carry on as usual. Barney doesn't keep Stig a secret, but his family obviously think Stig is made up, until his sister comes on an adventure on a hot summer night and meets Stig too, when they are somehow transported back to Stig's time and meet his people who are amazingly setting up the Standing Stones.
Being written in 1963 the language and the details of Barney's daily life are, of course, old fashioned, but it's into the action quickly and it wouldn't take much perseverance for the reader to get into the excitement, and just as the time difference between where Stig is from, and Barney, is easily crossed, so can the distance from our contemporary reader to the chalk pit and all the excitement that takes place there.
The story has twice been adapted for television, and I was also astounded to discover there is a rapper and a television producer who both go by the name Stig(g) of the Dump!