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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 critics.

      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.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

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Original text copyright (C) 1999, 2000, by Michael Edwards.

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This page created on Friday, 12 May, 2000;
last modified on Thursday, 15 June, 2000.