My mother had her share of problems, but she
did read to me when I was little, and for this I am thankful. One of my coziest memories is that of snuggling beneath a blanket on chilly East Coast winters, listening to the epic adventures of four British children and their faithful dog:
The Famous Five, by Enid Blyton, illustrated by Eileen Sopher.
The Famous Five books had been high up on the shelf on the landing for as long
as I could remember. They were bound in deep red hardcover, some of them with
carefully preserved dust jackets. My mother probably began reading the books to
me and my brother Paul when she was sure we wouldn't chew on them; probably when Paul
was three and I was six. This was in the early eighties; my mother had kept the
books since her own childhood; most of them had indeed been written before she
was even born. By the age of six, I was already showing the signs of indignant
feminism; I railed against such things as pink bicycles and the silly rule that
I had to wear dresses to church (they got in the way of my cartwheels!). The
Famous Five books, while not very politically correct by today's standards,
delighted me in part because of George, a tomboy whose real name was Georgina.
This was the first time in literature I had encountered another girl like me, one
who loathed pink frillies and would rather play rough games and climb rocks than
sit in a parlor eating crumpets and gossiping.
My mother read the first three books or so to Paul and I; I then read the
other eighteen on my own, since by that point I was addicted!
The Famous Five are:
Julian: The oldest of the five. He tends to be the leader throughout the
series, since he has seniority as well as a calm demeanor. Brother to Anne and
Dick; cousin to George.
Dick: Julian's younger brother, Dick was the joker of the group. Tends
to be loud and rather silly, and has a great fondness for snacking only
rivaled by that of Timmy the dog.
Anne: Oh my, what a proper young lady! Anne was a very disappointing character
to me while I was reading the series. She had my name (Anne, spelled with an "e")
yet she was quiet and cowardly. Enid Blyton, in an interview, explained that
Anne's character was indeed weak, but only so she could serve as a foil to George.
George: The author admits that this character was based on herself. I loved
George. She kicked butt. She could run, climb, and get herself into and out
of trouble as well as any boy. She was a year older than Anne, a year younger
than Julian, and the same age as Dick.
Timmy: Timmy is George's loyal animal companion, yet is soon adopted by
Julian, Dick, and Anne as well. He is a preternaturally intelligent dog (think
Lassie) who on many occasions keeps the rest of the Five out of danger.
The Famous Five was written for children. As such, the characters are not
as well developed as they perhaps could have been, and the plots tend toward
the simplistic. However, a six year old does not really care much about
character development, nor does a six year old mind that the adventures are
somewhat formulaic. These are fun books, the literary version of a Saturday
morning cartoon. Brain candy, if you will. The strongest message I got from
the Famous Five series was that being a girl did not mean that you had to be
weak or muck about in a frock all day, singing to the butterflies. George
is an impressively strong character for her day. But aside from this encouraging
feminist message, these books were basically written for the sake of entertainment
and they ought to be judged with that in mind.
The Five had several adventures that revolved around George's island. Yes,
eleven year old George had been given a tiny island by her father Quentin. Quentin
owned the property and decided that it had no viable use except perhaps as a
playground for his daughter and her cousins.
At first, George is reluctant to take her cousins to Kirrin Island; yet this
is simply because she is a rather lonely girl, and not accustomed to playmates. She
is a bit sulky and closed-up when she first meets Anne, Julian, and Dick. Yet
she eventually warms up to her new friends, helped along by the adventures on
The Famous Five stories involve such classic elements of adventure as catacombs,
stolen gold, pirates, gypsies, and brooding men in dark clothing who skulk around
looking cross. The Five normally have to use a combination of brain and muscle
(and Timmy's nose!) to get themselves out of trouble and emerge heroic. They
encounter strange villains, apparent hauntings, and kidnappings. The Five
grow closer and more comfortable with one another as the series progresses. Happily,
George, though some of her angst fades with time, does not end up becoming a girly
girl at the end of the series, which I must confess I feared would happen, that
being the pattern for other books I'd read.
The TV Show
The Southern Television Series company adapted 18 out of the 21 books into
26 episodes in 1978. In 1995, the Zenith North Series adapted all of the
novels for television; this series ran from 1995 through 1997. Having never
seen either of these series, I cannot comment on them.
The Famous Five Series Titles
Five On A Treasure Island (1942)
Five Go Adventuring Again (1943)
Five Run Away Together (1944)
Five Go To Smuggler's Top (1945)
Five Go Off In A Caravan (1946)
Five On Kirrin Island Again (1947)
Five Go Off To Camp (1948)
Five Get Into Trouble (1949)
Five Fall Into Adventure (1950)
Five On A Hike Together (1951)
Five Have A Wonderful Time (1952)
Five go Down To Sea (1953)
Five Go To Mystery Moor (1954)
Five Have Plenty Of Fun (1955)
Five On A Secret Trail (1956)
Five Go To Billycock Hill (1957)
Five Get Into A Fix (1958)
Five On Finniston Farm (1960)
Five Go To Demon's Rocks (1961)
Five Have A Mystery To Solve (1962)
Five Are Together Again (1963)