Children’s novel, Stig of the Dump, is a modern classic that’s often read as part of the English literature curriculum. Written by the late Clive King, it relates the tale of a bored schoolboy, Barney, who meets a caveman called Stig living in an unofficial rubbish dump in a chalk pit.
The two become unlikely friends and learn to communicate, as Barney helps Stig to refurbish his cave home with recycled rubbish from the dump. Published in 1963, the book became so popular that it was adapted into a TV series by Thames Television in 1981.
A second adaptation of Stig of the Dump was created in 2002 for the BBC. It won a Children’s Film and Television BAFTA Award. The series’ screen writer, Peter Tabern, also received a BAFTA award for Best Children’s Writer. It was adapted for TV again in 2013 and the series is also available on DVD.
The book has been turned into theatrical productions, while a video adventure game has been created by Topologika Software Ltd for PC users. In 2016, Stig of the Dump was featured in Storytime magazine, with new illustrations by renowned Spanish artist Oriol Vidal.
The book’s origins
King was a prolific author, born in April 1924 in Richmond, Surrey. A former Cambridge University student, he graduated with a BA in English in 1943. After a stint serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a sub-lieutenant, he took various jobs, including lecturing at universities overseas, including in Syria and Beirut.
He had been interested in writing stories since childhood, with his work having been published in his school and university magazines. His first book, Hamid of Aleppo, was published in 1958 by Macmillan and Co of New York when King was 34.
Five years later, he wrote Stig of the Dump, which was published on 1st June 1963. He was still working at Beirut University at the time, but later went on to become a full-time writer, following the book’s success.
Young Barney is bored while staying with his grandparents in southern England and goes out walking on the Downs. He stumbles over the edge of a chalk pit one day and falls through the roof of what appears to be a den. He is amazed to meet the resident. Stig is a caveman with long black hair, who has made his home from rubbish dumped by other people.
They become friends and Barney helps Stig to refurbish his home using more discarded rubbish. It soon looks more attractive and Barney spends a lot of time with Stig, enjoying many adventures. They go out collecting firewood together and also manage to apprehend burglars who have tried to break into Barney’s grandparents’ home.
Barney wonders where Stig is from – and to his amazement, he is transported back in time with his sister, Lou, to the Downs thousands of years ago. They meet Stig with his own people and spend a night with the tribe, helping to erect giant standing stones on the Downs, completing their task just before sunrise, when they return to their own time.
Stig of the Dump was King’s most popular book and remains a classic to this day. The author died in July 2018 at the age of 94, knowing that his book had never been out of print in the 55 years since it was first published. To date, it has sold more than two million copies.
The book’s depiction of a child enjoying life roaming free, making dens and having adventures away from adults (in addition to exploring the universal language of friendship and emphasising the importance of recycling) are as relevant and fresh today as they were when Puffin first published the book in 1963.
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