By September 1939, Alfred Bestall had developed his personal style in the Daily Express Rupert strips and maintained the tradition of Christmas annuals, entitled Adventures, New Adventures or More Adventures of Rupert. As war broke out, Rupert and the Sea Serpent was half way through, ending 6th October. The following, Rupert and the Mystery Pond was the first strip to be completed in wartime though we don't know when it was started. Since the Sea Serpent had to be finished and delivered by 14th August, the new story would be started in the last days of peace. In the story, Rupert meets a mysterious stranger, who remains mysterious to the end. All we know is that he was an explorer looking for Nutwood Lake. He is injured, and Rupert completes the mission, meeting in the depths of the earth an ancient and huge toad who tells him what to do. Going through potholes and tunnels is a common theme in Bestell's Rupert stories, standing for the journey into the imagination to find wisdom and insight. The toad stands for tradition and continuity, and the whirlpool Rupert dives into to reach the surface shows that at the end of peril lies comfort and safety.
Probably, Rupert and the Little Woodman was the first story wholly conceived in war, beginning 14th November. This is a story of shirkers. Porky makes every excuse not to cooperate in collective action, and is greedy, consuming rather than sharing. Porky wants to know if we can have things without working for them, and so continue his idle life. He is dressed as the squire, in posh , plus fours and waitcoat. They are directed to the wittle woodman who has a shop in the forest and is responsible for all forest magic (he is mixing colours for flowers as we meet him). He gives Porky ice cream plants which, we know later, are intended to punish him and bring him to his senses by making him ill. The seeds immediately germinate and produce icecreams next day. Porky gobbles his, and is ill. Rupert offered his to his mother, who eats it and is also ill. (Interesting lesson that our greed has consequences on others). Rupert fetches the antidote, mother is cured, and Porky repents.
Rupert and the Forest Fire began in the new year (22 January, 1940) after a Christmas offering. This is dark in two ways. The world (Nutwood) is on fire and all the animals are panicking. But it is all smoke and no fire (a good description of the phony war) and the smoke is located as coming from an underground inventor's workshop. The panic is being caused by new technology. The inventor has made a car which runs on a coiled spring (no oil, which is in short supply) but wishes to keep the secret for himself (a war profiteer) and imprisons Rupert. Rupert escaped and is taken on the test run (the inventor, dressed in army uniform, almost Heil Hitlers with arm raised in one scene). The coiled spring comes loose, Rupert is thrown into a tree, the car sinks into a bog, and the inventor clears out secretly with empty hands. Such selfishness plays only into enemy hands.
Rupert and the Red Egg (from 23rd February 1940) introduces readers to the 'Master's' new aeroplane, a helicopter. A red egg is found and taken to China (by Rupert and Ping Pong, carried by the Messenger Bird) for explanation, where it hatches out to become a baby dragon. It consitutes a real danger in human society and needs to be taken back to the land of dragons, which the bird carries out. The plane arrives to take the chums home. The story shows that a great destructive force has been born, and has to be put back in its place, nipped in the bud before it becomes indestructible. Flight and the aeroplane will be a crucial tool in achieving this.
Sources: The New Rupert Index, by WOG Lofts and DJ Adley, revised by John Beck.
The Rupert Book, 1941.