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The Famous Five meet for the first time
The Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island - Enid Blyton
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island - Enid Blyton
Advantages: Nostalgic, an entertaining read
Disadvantages: Seems old-fashioned
Brothers and sister, Julian, Dick and Anne, are disappointed to find that their parents are going away on their own for a summer holiday. However, when they find they are going to stay with their Aunt Fanny, Uncle Quentin, and Cousin Georgina in Kirrin, they are thrilled. On arrival, however, Georgina, who prefers to be known as George is not welcoming, preferring her own company. Slowly, the others win her round, particularly because they love her dog and faithful companion, Tim. George has her own island, Kirrin Island, and the chidren are thrilled when she takes them over there, even more so when a wreck off the coast of the island resurfaces. Apparently, there was once gold on the ship; can the cousins work out where it is hidden? Or will other interested parties reach the treasure first?
The Famous Five and Enid Blyton were a mainstay of my childhood. From about the age of six when my mum bought me my first Famous Five book, I devoured them, loving every minute of the freedom and adventure that the Five together enjoyed. And it is an addiction that remains with me to this day - even though I don't have children, every few years, I will have a catch up, and although some of the old magic is gone, I still find them a very entertaining and comforting read. I can't wait until my little niece is old enough to read them to see whether they have the same effect on her.
With hindsight, the characters are incredibly stereotypical, for all the twist on Georgina wanting to be a boy. Anne is the baby of the family, timid and innocent. Julian, as the oldest, is the boss, responsible and, at times, over-bearing. Dick, being a year younger than Julian gets away with occasionally silly behaviour and is definitely the joker of the family. And then there is tomboy George, who resents her sex, and wants to be seen as one of the boys. Tim is the fifth member of the team, and despite his dogginess, is a very important one, something I could identify with as a pet-loving child. Yet there is something charming about this mixture; as a child, I saw myself as being more of a Dick (!) than anyone else, finding Julian too bossy, and I think most children will do the same. And at least, with George, there is an attempt to show that people don't always have to fit into a particular mould.
As a child of the seventies, I remember Enid Blyton books being banned from libraries, because of their apparent racism, sexism and classism. That isn't immediately apparent in this first book, although there are elements of classism - Tim being left with the fisher boy, Alf, for example, because dogs weren't allowed in Uncle Quentin's house. Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny are not rich, but nor are they the level of the fisher people, having once owned much of the land around Kirrin, and that is made very clear. However, I'm not sure that children would look at it this way - I know I didn't - and if parents are concerned, they they should just make it clear that the book was written a long time ago (it was first published in 1942) when times were different. There is, of course, also the issue of Dick and Fanny, which is bound to be met with sniggers from older children - again a simple explanation of different times, different names should put paid to that!
For children, the story is incredibly addictive. The idea of hidden treasure on an island with a castle and dungeons and four children and a dog being the first on the scene is just so tempting, and I can remember finding it hard to put the book down as a child. As an adult, there are all sorts of questions that spring to mind, such as why had nobody looked for the treasure before, what sort of science Uncle Quentin studies, and who on earth would let children aged 9-12 stay anywhere on their own for a night, let alone an island? However, this is all adult baggage and not something that children would let bother them (unless they're too smart for their own good!). And of course, there is always the knowledge that the good children will win through over the bad and greedy adults, but that doesn't stop the heart racing as we read about Dick climbing down the well, or Julian and George being locked in the dungeons!
The language used in the books is very simple - as I mentioned, I first read them at six and didn't have any problems. And although there are occasionally some old-fashioned terms - ice-creams, for example, always seem to be referred to as 'ices', which I used to think was a slush puppy type thing - they are so few and far between that children of the twenty-first century are unlikely to be too puzzled. And the chapters are of a perfect length - short enough for young readers not to get bored, but long enough to be exciting.
I have to mention the illustrations. Although the latest edition of the book I had was published in the 1990s, the illustrations that I remember from my childhood copy is the same. They are by a lady called Eileen A Soper and, although old-fashioned, they accompany the story perfectly. Today's children might find them slightly strange, but I think it will help them understand that the story was set in a different time, when Nintendos and mobile phones were unheard of. There are other versions of the book, but I think it is worth ensuring that the illustrations are by Soper.
It was a real pleasure to re-read this book, even though I am nearly forty now, and I think most children will enjoy it too. The fact that the books are constantly in print has to be a good sign too. Of course, parents have a right to veto their children's reading and if anyone feels that the classist/racist parts of Blyton's stories are unacceptable then prevention is the key. Personally, I think it is all good clean fun, just a little old-fashioned, and in any case, there is little that is worrying to be found in this particular book. Highly recommended.
The 1997 version (the one I currently have, although there are later versions available) is available from Amazon for £3.99. Published by Hodder Children's Books, it has 192 pages. ISBN-10: 0340681063
Summary: A blast from the past for me