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Enid BLYTON: 18. Five on Finniston Farm (1960)
Review by Michael Edwards - also appears on Amazon.co.uk
Appears on Amazon.co.uk:
Date : 21 August, 1999
Rating : 5/5
Heading : Brings back wonderful memories of long ago.
Note: This version of the review adds an extra, much later paragraph, updating my concluding comments about the illustrations of centenary paperback editions of the Famous Five books.
Many years after I read Enid Blyton's books as a child, I am still able to
read them with enjoyment from time to time, even if I couldn't live on them
exclusively now, as I did as a child. I read this book within a couple of hours
recently, and it brought back idyllic memories of long ago.
The story of a treasure hunt on a farm in Dorset, it is perhaps not quite
as tense and exciting as some other Famous Fives (some of which can be quite
intricately exciting even on an adult level), as it does not feature an
out-and-out criminal, unlike all the others. I thoroughly enjoyed it all the
same, and the story has a very nice atmosphere of carefree, childhood adventure,
and a sense of real decency somehow (in spite of what Blyton's critics have to
say about the values expressed in her work). I got quite involved, and was able
to laugh at some of the funny episodes, such as the obnoxious boy Junior being
taught a few lessons he sorely needed to learn about politeness and
consideration for others (even if, seriously, that come-uppance went a bit too
far at times).
The story explores an interesting theme concerning the destruction of
culture and heritage by mere wealth. If there were no actual criminals in the
story, there was certainly a tension generated by the rich American man, Mr.
Henning, who wanted to buy English history "just as if it were chocolate or
toffee". Considering that the issue of cultural vandalism is now quite a
current one (and America is often seen as a culprit in this), I thought it was
quite perceptive to write about this nearly 40 years ago in a children's book -
one of the few occasions when Enid Blyton touches on current affairs of social
or cultural importance. And there were definite indications that, although Mr.
Henning had reason to believe that untold treasures were hidden in the old
castle cellars on the farm grounds, he wanted to rip off the farmer and his
family by offering an absurdly low price for the right to dig for those
treasures, even indicating (through his "adviser", Mr. Durleston) that what he
had found was "most disappointing" and that his price was "very generous".
Perhaps on the border of legality (would it be fraud, at least?), but very
definitely unscrupulous, greedy, and immoral. The main tension is generated by
the question of whether the children can uncover what is really in the cellars
before Mr. Henning can buy the contents for a ridiculously low price without
revealing what is there.
Some may feel that Mr. Henning and his son Junior perpetuate a negative
stereotype of Americans; but Anne does comment that she likes most Americans,
just not Mr. Henning, and this acknowledgement that it was an individual being
portrayed, not Americans at large, may mitigate this in the eyes of some
Before I reread the Famous Five in adulthood, I had left over from my
childhood the idea that Enid Blyton's writing was really quite evocative, that
it conveyed a real sense of excitement, and gave a vivid picture of the English
countryside (which, as an Australian, I have never seen), by virtue of the
details it described. Now I see that the detail is less than I thought, her
writing more plain, but it is still quite evocative; I think Enid Blyton
effectively uses modest levels of detail, carefully chosen to suggest a whole
atmosphere or mood, a technique which should work especially well with a child's
fertile imagination. Perhaps if I had read these books for the first time as an
adult I would be less impressed by this. But if more subtle details of
atmosphere were supplied by my own childhood imagination than I expected, I
think this is quite a compliment to an author that she can stimulate this. I
credit Enid Blyton for turning me into a life-long reader.
I was surprised but very pleased to see Eileen Soper's original
illustrations resurrected for the new edition of the Famous Five books for the
centenary of Enid Blyton's birth in 1897. I never thought it would happen, in
spite of the excellent quality and atmosphere (and sense of movement) of these
illustrations, mainly because the clothing styles (and especially the bathing
costumes!) depicted now look quite old-fashioned. But it's nice to see these
illustrations come back, which I consider vastly superior to any of the
illustrations I've seen in later editions. Those have sometimes been so poor
that I think it would be better to have no illustrations than these limp,
lacklustre ones; but I think Eileen Soper's superb illustrations (which seem to
suggest so much, sometimes with few pen-strokes) have contributed substantially
to the mental image I have of the world inhabited by the Famous Five which I
have retained from my childhood.
I hope these new editions continue and supersede other editions with no
illustrations or the newer, inferior ones. And it would even be nice to see
brought back one day the single-tone colouring that some of the pictures
originally included, and full front-cover illustrations too (which I think have
been cropped a little in some of the new editions, such as "Five Go to
Smuggler's Top", judging by the cover picture I've seen for that).
Note - 12 June, 2000:
Since I wrote the above, I have noticed (in the first half of the year
2000) yet another paperback edition with Eileen Soper's illustrations - not with
the single-tone colouring the illustrations in the original editions had, but
with full colouring! This immensely surprised me, and I must admit to
having a few doubts about it. Given that the original illustrations were in
black pen only (except for cover and frontispiece illustrations, which were in
full colour), presumably this colouring has been added much more recently. The
style of colouring is not quite the same as that in the original cover
illustrations, which lends support to my surmise that it was done much later -
but, looking at it, I had to admit it was quite well done.
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Original text copyright (C) 1999, 2000, by Michael Edwards.
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Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
Famous Five Books
18. Five on Finniston Farm (this page)
This page created on Friday, 12 May, 2000;
last modified on Thursday, 15 June, 2000.