My Life In Books: The Famous Five

Another classic Enid Blyton series, I moved on from The Secret Seven to the Famous Five, probably when I was about seven or eight. The marvellous adventures of four children and their dog, all taking place during school holidays, captured my imagination. They had such exciting lives. The Famous Five didn’t spend their summers riding bikes around the neighbourhood or watching children’s TV shows. No, they were busy foiling smugglers and criminals and discovering hidden treasure.

The Famous Five consisted of three siblings, Julian, Dick and Anne, their cousin George (full name Georgina but no one ever called her that) and George’s dog Timmy.  The Five only ever had their fabulous adventures during the school holidays, but the books seem to follow a chronological order.  The children’s ages are only ever mentioned in the first book – at which point Anne is 10, Dick and George are 11 and Julian, the eldest, is 12.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it was not George, the strong-minded and wilful girl, that I identified with, but Anne. I was a rather ‘girlie’ little girl, into dolls and dresses. Though I never played ‘house’ much like most girlie girls. Even back then the toy stove and toy ironing board didn’t get much use, as I rapidly lost interest in domestic chores. Then I discovered feminism when I hit puberty.

But I digress. I was trying to explain why my favourite character was Anne. To many she was the wimpy one, always the first to get scared, to scream. The little sister that the older brothers felt the need to protect. As I was no one’s little sister (I was the eldest) perhaps that’s another reason I was attracted to Anne – I thought it would be nice to be looked after for once, instead of being expected to be the responsible one.

The Famous Five books are now criticised by many as being archaic and outdated. Essays have been written on the amount of food these four children put away – all those picnics with enough food to feed an army, and of course the “lashings of ginger beer”.

The books have been accused of being racist, homophobic, mysogynistic, you name it. I am not sure if this is terribly fair. They were written in a more naive time.

In spite of the jarringly old fashioned dialogue, however, the escapades of The Famous Five are still in print, and still seem to be read by today’s children. I think the appeal is the lack of parental restraints. The four children in the books get to spend their holidays camping on remote islands, doing whatever they please, pretty much without any adult supervision. That sort of freedom is unheard of, even more so today than it was when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s the attraction of The Famous Five books.


1 comment so far

  1. Diane Dooley on

    Yes, they were written in a different time. I don’t think I’d go back and read them, though. I prefer my happy memories of children with no parental supervision whatsoever, their adventures and the lashings of clotted cream and ginger beer. My fave was George, but then I was an infamous for climbing trees and getting getting into scrapes.

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