So it looks like I definitely won’t be finishing the entire Famous Five box set before the end of August, because there are 5 days to go and I’m on Book 10 (of 21). I’ll squeeze in as many more as I can, but I thought I’d do a quick update anyway on what I’ve found so far while reading these books.
I knew when I started tackling my Famous Five Reading Challenge this month that I would come across plenty of racism, sexism, and classism (the series was written in the 40s, so that’s pretty much unavoidable), but what I wasn’t prepared for were the glaring inconsistencies in the storytelling. I am fully aware of the problematic ideas that are found in the pages of these books, but I am able to be critical of them and still enjoy the stories. That is, until the storytelling itself starts to unravel.
I get it. Enid Blyton was a crazy-busy woman, churning out book after book. She’s one of the most prolific writers of all time, with 700+ books to her name. I’m not denying that that is super impressive. But like, as an author, you (or your editor) need to keep track of the facts in your stories.
Here are some examples of inconsistencies I’ve come across so far:
- ‘Alf’ the fisher-boy who looked after Timmy before he was allowed back in George’s house becomes ‘James’ the fisher-boy in Book 6.
- In Five Run Away Together (Book 3), Blyton made a point of showing that the only room in the ruined Kirrin Castle that was still whole had unfortunately caved in since the Five’s last visit to the island, so they have to find somewhere else to sleep at night. But in Five On Kirrin Island Again (Book 6), the room is miraculously whole again!
- In Book 1, it is explicitly stated that Julian, Dick, and Anne are related to Uncle Quentin as he is their father’s brother. In Book 8, Uncle Quentin says to Aunt Fanny, “How can I possibly be expected to remember exactly when the children’s holidays come, and if they are going to be here with us or with your sister?” – which implies that she is the one who is the blood-relative of the three children, not Quentin.
Even in the featured image of this post (from the cover of Book 8), they’re using the telescope the wrong way round! That just says it all really.
With the combination of inconsistency and downright offensiveness, it does sometimes feel like reading these books is a chore. But every now and then there are some beautiful moments between the characters and descriptions of natural landscapes that make it worthwhile – or at least, not a complete waste of time!
I can definitely see why these books became as popular as they are, and why so many people feel a special nostalgia for them, but there are also lots of flaws that hinder the reading experience.
But that’s the beauty of art – you can appreciate its good qualities and be critical of its bad qualities at the same time. Plus, reading books from decades ago can be a great way to see how far we’ve come as a society since their original publication (and a reminder of how far we still have to go).