Secrets galore

via occulta
Directions for the Secret Way

Enid Blyton Five Go Adventuring Again
Illustrated by Eileen A Soper
Hodder Children’s Books 1997 (1943)

The second in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, Five Go Adventuring Again as before features siblings Julian (12), Dick (11) and Anne (10), together with their eleven-year-old cousin Georgina– hereinafter George — and her dog Timothy (also variously referred to as Tim, Timmy and a ‘peculiar-looking’ and ‘terrible mongrel’). Published the year after Five on a Treasure Island but set during the Christmas holidays of the same year, this outing for the quintet also involves intrepid youngsters, unbelieving grown-ups and a few dastardly villains.

Circumstances dictate that the trio again spend time at Kirrin Cottage by the sea where, not unexpectedly, trouble finds them. In 1943 Britain was still at war, though you’ll find no reference to the conflict bar the fact that a secret formula is close to being stolen by enemies of the state.

Previously we’ve had treasure and a castle and an island to whet the attention. This time Blyton pulls a few different goodies out of her bag with which to attract the pre-teen: old wooden panelling, a mysterious parchment with diagrams labelled in Latin, a secret tunnel. The villains, like fairytale baddies, inevitably look sinister: beards, thin lips or piggy eyes give away their innate wickedness. George’s parents, scientist Quentin and housewife Fanny, are no match for her — a sulky but loyal and determined tomboy who speaks her mind, never tells lies and is the most rounded character of the bunch — while Julian, Dick and Anne’s offstage parents are amorphous figures who due to illness provide the trigger for their children’s adventures by sending them out of London.

It’s an unlikely but thrilling tale, if rather tame by today’s standards perhaps. Uncle Quentin is beavering away at some revolutionary chemical formula in his study which has somehow aroused the interest of third parties. A tutor has been appointed for the children to get them back up to speed for work missed due to ill-health, but he rouses George’s ire because of his aversion to Timmy. Meanwhile an old document is discovered by the youngsters at nearby Kirrin Farm, containing hints regarding a Secret Way from there — but where to? Even young readers will spot where much of this is leading, but Blyton plots the route with a sureness of touch.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to quibble at from the intelligent reader. There’s a lack of detail of exactly how mechanisms work, especially given how long they’re supposed to have been unused. There’s the document itself, penned in Old English script but presumably contemporary with rather later Tudor or Jacobean wall panels. But Blyton knew that most of her readers would care more about the jeopardy inherent in the plot, and jeopardy she mostly provides.

Here’s a curiosity: I’ve noted before the coincidental parallels between the first Famous Five book and C S Lewis’ later fiction The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the second Blyton title there’s no lion or witch, of course, but there is the matter of a wardrobe by means of which the children access unknown places, though rather less fantastical.

And now a grumble about the publishers. My copy was issued in 1997 by Hodder and includes the original illustrations by Eileen Soper. So far so good. But why, when it’s quite clear from one line drawing that George is wearing a skirt before she tumbles into bed, is Anne amazed to see that George emerges from bed dressed in “vest, knickers, jeans and jersey”? Especially when, in the original first edition hardback, I see that the text explicitly has “skirt” in place of the anachronistic jeans? More than this, the paperback claims that Five Go Adventuring Again was first published in Great Britain in 1942 when it actually appeared a year later. So, kudos to Hodder for reissuing the title at all with Soper’s illustration, but shame on them for tampering with the details.

This title counts as a book enjoyed in childhood in the Reading Challenge. Though I’m running a bit late with my list of books completed I regret it’s worse where reviews are concerned; hopefully there’ll be some catching up some time.

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13 thoughts on “Secrets galore

  1. Weaknesses in details of description were never really noticed by the target readers, but I get vastly irritated to this day by illustrations (particularly on covers) which do not match the text. When one of my own illustrators used a bit too much imagination I changed that section to match – keeping the cover was worth it.
    The themes of secret passages and mysterious documents have set a pattern of enjoyment which I follow constantly, remembering how much I loved them.
    George has remained the favourite character of boys and girls alike, in my experience. Anne is wishy-washy, Julian too ‘responsible’, and Dick a bit cardboard. Timmy, of course, is the perfect fifth.
    So far Blyton’s writings (Noddy, etc) have grabbed my grandchildren just as they did my generation and that of our daughters. It will be interesting to see whether ‘Five’ and the ‘Adventure’ series manage to do the same, when they grow into them, against the plethora of TV, movie and computer characters now competing.
    Interesting to recall that I loved these books even when I was also rather prematurely reading Dickens, Rider Haggard, Baroness Orczy, Paul Gallico, Ian Hay, and Dornford Yates.

    1. Many of us certainly had wide-ranging and catholic reads when young, depending on what was available, with traditional classics and newly-written ‘juvenile’ fiction all grist to our mills. With more ‘choice’ available these days — especially with regard to electronic media — I wonder if the range of reading matter has conversely narrowed down as youngsters (and adults) go for the genres they’re familiar with, eschewing all else.

      Quick thinking with your cover illustration, Col — waste not want not perhaps?

      I believe there were moves afoot to update and repackage the Famous Five as cartoons (with associated metchandise) for the US market, re-envisaging them as contemporary North Americans — I wonder what became of that?

      1. I believe you are right regarding the narrowing of range – and, unfortunately, of intellectual engagement.
        I trust the proposers of that enterprise have been secured in a maximum security facility for the criminally insane, and will never escape.

    1. My 1997 paperback edition had one of Soper’s evocative colour illustrations (George and Timmy in the tunnel with the artists) as its front cover; is that the one you mean? Just the text was modern, the artwork looked original. My wife’s 1943 original is missing its wrapper, so I can’t confirm it myself.

        1. Duh! Of course, I should know what endpapers are, bit of a brainstorm then! Emily’s copy is a wartime first edition of June 1943 which has seen better days. Probably because of those days of austerity the endpapers lack any hint of design or colour displayed by your 1950s editions.

    1. Do you remember in the first Christopher Reeve Superman film Clark Kent responds “Swell!” to one of Lois’ remarks, and she looks askance at him as though thinking ‘Where have you been for the last few decades?’ Well, it’s certainly like that in the Famous Five books, lots of “I say” and terribly pre-war upper middle class Britishisms, later characterised by the parodic phrase “Lashings of ginger beer!” That language and those attitudes have been absent for seven decades now, alien to modern youngsters here and abroad.

      If you can get past that, Lory, you’ll find some charming if dated adventures, easily read in one session if you’ve a mind to! Worth trying the first in the series to get a flavour of what was on offer tgen. I suppose I ought to sample Nancy Drew now …

  2. macsnafu

    As an adult, I’ve read the first of the Famous Five, and right now happen to be reading this second adventure. Except for the British setting, they seem to be fairly generic kids adventures – light but fun reading. They most remind me of The Bobbsey Twins, if you’re familiar with those.

    1. The Bobbsey Twins are, apart from a slight twinge of recognition at the name, unfamiliar to me. I’m afraid I migrated straight from Blyton and abridged classics to Batman and Superman in World’s Finest and the Justice League. (‘Of America’ as they were then, which slightly miffed me.)

      I recently tried the third in the FF series and, sad to relate, gave up after two or three chapters. Do let me know how you fare!

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