Rereading: FIVE BOYS IN A CAVE by Richard Church

Illustration not credited

For over a year now I’ve been downsizing my extensive library. The ones I think will sell, I try on eBay (seller name tklein28). Any that don’t sell, or I think aren’t worth trying there, go to a local thrift shop as donations. At first I cherry picked what I thought would be in-demand titles and authors, and most of those did well: Stephen King, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc. That worked for a while, but then I felt I needed to go through all the fiction hardcovers more systematically to decide which ones I really wanted to keep, and to start getting rid of anything I didn’t have an interest in reading again. I’ve been doing that for a few months now, eliminating about two-thirds of the hardcover fiction, and listing about ten to twelve books on eBay each week (most weeks). As I go along, I’ll be rereading more books from the collection to help me decide if they’re keepers, or if one more reading is enough, so my reviews here will include more old books. This is one of those. First published in England as “The Cave,” I read this 1951 American edition in my local library and liked it a lot. Later, at a library book sale, I found the copy I’d read and bought it. I haven’t read it since.

John Walters has been sent to live with an aunt and uncle in a rural part of England among limestone hills. A planned summer vacation boating with his brother had to be scrapped, and he’s been sent here instead, where life is boring, and only a few new friends have made his time more pleasant. While out walking in an open field near town, he follows an animal to a large hole that seems intriguing. It’s just large enough for him to crawl into, and he discovers it’s the entrance to a large cave, but the tunnel ends in a steep drop. To explore it, he’ll need equipment and help from his friends, who have banded together as the Tomahawk Club: quiet, sensible neighbor George Reynolds, impatient and energetic Harold Soames, genial heavyweight “Meaty” Sanders, and bossy Alan Hobbs, who considers himself the leader of the club. John and the others plan a day-long expedition to explore the cave, and decide not to tell any of their families so they won’t worry, but in the end John decides to tell his uncle, Dr. George Walters, just in case something goes wrong. Uncle George gives his permission, and some climbing gear to help, but cautions that if they’re not back by sundown on the day of the expedition, he’ll call out the authorities. But he feels John and the others will be careful, and have a fun adventure.

The boys assemble at the hole at sunrise with lots of gear, flashlights, and food, and enter one by one. From the beginning, things don’t go as expected. While most of the boys can get through, Meaty gets stuck, and it takes the gang a while to get him free. Once inside, flashlights reveal a deep drop of about 100 feet. John volunteers to be let down on their one long rope held by the others. It’s scary, and he cuts his leg on the wall going down, but reaches the bottom, though his flashlight gets broken. Back at the top, Harold agrees to go down next, and that’s accomplished, but then there’s an argument among Alan, Meaty and George at the top about what to do next, and in the heat of it, the rope is dropped over the edge. Now the group is separated with no way to get John and Harold back up, unless they can find another way down. There is a ledge going sideways from the tunnel, but it’s narrow and treacherous. The rest of the story follows the two groups as they struggle past physical obstacles and mental ones, trying to rejoin and find a way out of the cave. The adventure has turned deadly serious.

I enjoyed rereading this, it’s exciting and thrilling at times. The psychology of each boy is well handled, and something I didn’t appreciate as much as a child as I do now. It’s almost like a military sortie minus the chance of enemy gunfire. The cave itself is an important character in the book, and full of surprises. Definitely recommended if you can find it, my copy will go on eBay some time in the near future, as I don’t feel I’ll want to read it again.

Five Boys In A Cave by Richard Church

2 thoughts on “Rereading: FIVE BOYS IN A CAVE by Richard Church

  1. Cliff Osbon

    Thank you for this. I am now 61 in 2023. This is the first specific book that I can remember checking out of the school library. I was in third grade and it was 1969. Your summary brought back j start recollections from memories I thought I no longer had. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  2. Eileen Black-Randall

    This is the first book I remember reading when I was about 7 or 8. I wish I could read it again as a 76 year old.

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