Leslie's Guide Fiction

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From Guiding's earliest days, fiction stories and performances were created with Guiding as the subject, partially or fully.  Works of poetry, art, theatre and song, certainly, but one of the biggest industries, especially before and during World War 2 was in the publication of fiction - both serial stories for the magazines, and also novels for a youthful readership.  In this website, we will look at some of the fiction created which was based on, or featured, or was for, Brownies, Guides and Rangers - and occasionally Guiders too.

This was in an era when the publication of storybooks for girls in general was at it's peak. Compulsory universal education meant that now children of all classes could read, increasing mechanisation of publishing meant that books could be published affordably, schools and Sunday Schools were flourishing and regularly gave books as prizes.

Of course, the first difficulty is defining 'What is Guiding fiction'?  All can agree that it is any book where Guiding is the main theme or plot-line behind a book.  Most can accept a book where at least one chapter, or one key plotline, is about Guiding activity.  Where it dips deep into grey area is where during a particular episode a character merely mentions having been a Guide and utilises a skill which she allegedly learnt in her Guiding days - and that is all.  For the purposes of this website, I'm going to stick to a convention of either a minimum of one chapter with Guiding as it's main theme, or several references are spread throughout a book.  Quibble with this decision if you wish.

There are certain distinct themes which repeatedly appear in various books of Guiding fiction - some of which are also found in mainstream, but others only in Guiding fiction.  They are: 

1) Our Week At Camp/Brownie Holiday - Some of these are comparatively straightforward accounts, with all of the happenings generally plausible, albeit they are likely to merge incidents from several years' camps into a narrative of a single camp.  Others are less plausible, containing events that, even singly, in any properly run camp either wouldn't happen, or would result in punishments or in girls being sent home.
2) 'Ruritania' - Stories of adventures in invented countries, usually claimed to be in Eastern Europe, and generally with a cast of the Princess, the evil relative (usually Uncle), the kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of the Princess, rebellious natives who are utilised by the evil relative against the Princess, and the Princess being saved by the Guide (often by the Guide acting as stand-in for the Princess).
3) 'Bad girls made good by Guiding' - In a village or district where there are no Guides, the local children are running wild.  Then a former Guide moves into the area and starts a Guide company - within weeks the girls are transformed.  It's not uncommon for gallantry awards to be earned, sometimes by more than one individual.
4) 'Flossie the heroine' - Flossie the expert Guide joins a new school or moves into an area, and either joins an existing failing unit, or singlehandedly starts a Guide unit with a token adult present merely for sake of the rules.  By her Guide knowledge and skills, she leads the whole unit to glory.
5) 'The Family Pile Will Go Unless' - Guides are invited to hold one last camp at a family's historic house, because hard times are forcing the family to sell up and move out within days of the end of camp.  If only the current generation could find the treasure which family legend says was buried by an ancestor - or might the Guides in the space of a week work out the secret which has eluded the family for generations, and spare them the dreaded fate of having to downsize to an estate cottage?
6) 'The Downtrodden Orphan' - a child who is poor, often badly treated by her family or in a family which has experienced a run of bad luck, but joins Guides and through the influence of Guiding manages to change her circumstances.
7) ''How our Company/Pack started' - a new Guide company is set up, and it's early days and adventures/misadventures.
8) 'She Learned It All At The Guides' - a girl goes through a series of misadventures, and in every scrape, she gets through it using skills she learned in her Brownie or Guide tests.
9) "Sea Rangers Catch The Smugglers" - usually involves a group of Sea Rangers going to camp in Cornwall, getting to know an old sailor locally, doing some sailing, and discovering smuggling going on, then gathering enough evidence to call in the authorities.  
10) "Our Perfect Patrol" - the Patrol don't just spend every working hour doing good turns or in Patrol meetings, but they also save the day (as you would).  No member ever has to cry off from an activity, nor ever lets the rest down, and homework or home duties never quite get in the way of Patrol activities . . .

In many ways, these recurring themes are somewhat inevitable - there are only so many plotlines in any area of literature, far less a specific branch of it such as Guide fiction.  Nevertheless, simply to look at the type of storylines which recur gives an interesting insight into the times and attitudes the authors used.  Most of the Guides which feature in fiction (other than in the work of Mrs Osborn Hann) are of middle or upper class - and any who are of working class are often either 'salt of the earth' types, or downtrodden.  Most of the Guides have supportive parents who seem to raise no objection to regular absences from home for Guiding and who rarely quibble scamped homework.  At camp it isn't unusual for a Guide who has repeatedly and directly breached rules or clear instructions to receive little more than a telling off if eventually 'all's well that ends well', long after any rational Guider would have followed through on the threat of expulsion from camp.  I find number 5 especially fascinating - the assumption that where a family has lived in a large house for generations, it is taken as natural that that should continue, and the possibility of having to leave the main house to move into somewhere smaller (which the family would be able to afford to live in for the foreseeable) considered beyond the pale.