The Famous Five were not my favourite Blyton series but I read them when I was younger anyway. It’s intriguing to return to this book after such a long time (especially as the series has been spoofed and Blyton’s life has been picked apart). Is it possible to read Blyton as an adult?
This 1997 edition has been published using the original dust jacket illustration partly covered by Blyton’s signature at the top and THE FAMOUS FIVE in large capitals taking up almost a third of the page; the actual title is almost an afterthought at the bottom. Are the titles really so interchangeable?
No information about editorial revisions has been included; without that information, the reader has no idea how much is Blyton, and how much is her modern editors. Censorship of Blyton appears to be acceptable – even mandatory? When banning or censoring literature causes such an outcry, e.g. Harry Potter, why are Blyton originals modernised without objection?
The Five are created when Julian, Dick and Anne meet their cousin, George, and her dog, Timmy, on holiday with their aunt and uncle in Cornwall. After some initial misunderstandings, they become friends and go exploring, leading to the discovery of lost family gold, capture and escape.
Highly unlikely, but it doesn’t matter because the Famous Five live in a fantasy world. How many families have their own islands? How often do shipwrecks rise up from the ocean floor to casually sit on some handy rocks? The plot is sheer escapism and that is an enduring charm.
VOICE AND language
The narrative style is clunky and over explanatory, and despite a myriad of exclamation marks, the dialogue is often stilted. The constant explanation becomes irritating very quickly. Nothing is left for the reader to discover for themselves, and information is often repeated e.g.
“Rich enough to give you and your mother all the things I’ve longed to give you.”¹
They were rich now..and his wife could have all the things he had so much wanted her to have²
Blyton was famous for writing a book a week. Maybe this is a symptom of that speed, but then why wouldn’t it have been caught by her editors? And why has this aspect not been deemed worthy of removal?
Were thesauruses rationed in 1942? Eyes are forever ‘softening’, tempers are ‘furious’; I was quite amused when even George got frustrated with the constant references to the ‘funny little island’³
Who lets eleven year old children row off to explore an island by themselves? In WARTIME? Except of course, the real world doesn’t interfere with the Famous Five.
Parents are excited about being away from their children though:
“Daddy wants me to go to Scotland with him,” said Mother. “All by ourselves!4“
I always wondered about the names: ‘Mother’ is rather formal, while ‘Daddy’ is warmer. A reflection of Blyton’s relationships with her own parents? Is the lack of parental supervision wish fulfilment or simply a plot device?
So I’m torn. My suspension of disbelief was almost snapped, the text is cumbersome, and left me alternately laughing aloud or gaping in horror, but I read it straight through. There is still a magic in Enid Blyton that speaks to my younger self: its very peculiarities and incongruities make it bewitching.
1Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p177
2Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p180
3Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p19
4Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p1