Title: Famous Five #1: Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
Summary: The very first Famous Five adventure, featuring Julian, Dick, Anne, not forgetting tomboy George and her beloved dog, Timmy! There’s a shipwreck off Kirrin Island! But where is the treasure? The Famous Five are on the trail – looking for clues – but they’re not alone! Someone else has got the same idea. Time is running out for the Famous Five, who will follow the clues and get to the treasure first?
This will be my second Blyton ever, and I only read the first last month. I know she’s an author deeply embedded in British childhood (if not other places, too), but here in the USA, I didn’t hear about her except sometimes in other books that referenced Blyton’s work as a part of the characters’ childhoods.
I really enjoyed the last book I read (Secret Island), and I hope to like this one just as much. I love stories about characters on islands, I love stories about characters searching for treasure, I loved Treasure Island when I was a kid — surely nothing can go wrong now.
Onwards to adventure!
[Dove: I really loved this series back in the day. And sure, I obviously reached a point in life where I found it a bit too earnest, but most Brits will fondly recall reading Blyton. And I honestly can’t wait to see what Wing thinks of it. Because on the one hand, it’s so joyful (and the endless food – lettuce for everyone!) and on the other… it was written by a comfortably wealthy white woman on the back end of two world wars, so there’s a bit of distrust for anyone who is not a white Brit. Also, I fear Wing’s reaction to the gender roles – George and Anne in particular, so… here goes.]
We open with Julian wanting to know if his family can go to Polseath as usual, but Mother tells him they can’t because it is too full. I’m going to assume that, because this is the first book in the series, I’m not supposed to know these characters from anywhere else. (Let me know if that’s wrong.) I assume I’ll learn about them as I keep reading.
Polseath, however: what even is that? It took me a surprisingly long time to learn that it is a seaside resort, mostly because it is apparently actually spelled Polzeath, or it is now, at least. Was it not when Blyton wrote this, or is it her own idiosyncrasy, or what?
SO I COULD HAVE JUST KEPT READING AND FIGURE OUT IT WAS A BEACH HOUSE. Damn it, Wing, maybe hold off on immediate research. (Also, I wouldn’t have known it was a resort, and I would have wondered why they couldn’t get into a house they had at the beach.)
Not only can they not go to Polseath, but their parents won’t be coming with them. WOE! HORROR! Instead, they’re going to Scotland, all by themselves, because the kids are big enough to look after themselves and it would be fun for them to have a holiday all by themselves. How old are these kids? I have literally zero idea at this point. [Dove: At the start, Anne is 10, Dick and George 11, and Julian 12.]
Dad suggests they go to Uncle Quentin, a tall, frowning man who is a clever scientist focused on his studies. He lives by the sea, but the kids have only met him once and they were frightened of him then. Sounds like the perfect setting for holiday hijinks!
Dad says that he ran into Aunt Fanny the other day, and she and Uncle Quentin aren’t doing so well. They need to take on a couple boarders to bring in a little money. Besides, even if Uncle Quentin is busy, Aunt Fanny is nice and will take good care of the kids.
… didn’t you two just tell the kids you wanted them to have a holiday all by themselves?
(Isn’t fanny a naughty word in England? Do kids snicker over this book?) [Dove: Blyton’s books are filled with funny names. In later versions, Dick (penis) is Rick and Fanny (vagina) is Aunt Fran. And yes, this was fucking hysterical to eight year old Dove.] [Raven: Hehehe, Wing said “fanny”.]
Oh, and Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin have a daughter themselves, Georgina, who is eleven (and the same age as Dick, so we finally have at least one age going on here). He thinks she must be “jolly lonely” which is a phrase that makes me grin for some reason I can’t explain. He also thinks Georgina should be glad to have their company. I suspect that will not go quite as well as he hopes — or at least it wouldn’t in a book set here. Perhaps things will go smashingly for them.
So that settles it, the kids are off to Kirrin Bay, where Aunt Fanny has lived her entire life, which means Uncle Quentin went there for her, and that’s kind of delightful. (Don’t burst my bubble here.) [Dove: Something that isn’t revealed in the books, Quentin, Fanny and George’s surname is Kirrin. Possibly they share a surname with Julian, Dick and Anne, I’m not sure.]
While they wait for Dad to call Aunt Fanny, the kids talk about their coming adventure. Julian says Georgina’s name is more like a boy’s name than a girl’s, which — no? But okay. OOOH, okay, finally, full ages: Julian is 12, Georgina and Dick are 11, and Anne is 10. Good to know.
Anne is particularly excited about getting to wear shorts and bathing suits again, because she’s tired of school tunics. Talk to me people. What would this look like? Because when I hear “tunic,” I think of, well, costumes for historical reenactment, so basically this tunic.
[Dove: Try this link.]
They tease Anne a little about always trying to pack too much, until Mom reminds them that once Dick tried to take “two golliwogs, one teddy bear, three toy dogs, two toy cats, and his old monkey.” That is adorable — except for the deep racism in golliwogs. Oof. (Brief history here at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, and don’t think the issue is resolved. Even earlier this year there have been arguments over whether this doll caused any harm and how could a doll be racist, etc.)
[Necromommycon: True story. On one of my first visit’s to my husband’s family my future mother-in-law gave me two golliwogs. Literally ANYTHING would have been less awkward and alarming. I still have them, because it felt heartless towards the golliwogs to throw them out, but they are hidden at my mother’s house now because I don’t feel like trying to explain them to my children. I guess when they’re older we will have a depressing conversation, with visual aids.] [Raven: Golly says hello.]
The next Tuesday, they all head off to Kirrin Bay. (I really like that name.) Allegedly, their car is a big one, but as someone who lives in the giant country of giant cars, I have my doubts that Blyton’s idea of a big car and my idea of a big car are the same. Hee.
They eat some chocolate when they get hungry and stop for a lovely picnic and plan to stop for tea at a tea-house in a few hours after that. I’m enjoying the chipper gentleness of this storytelling.
Finally, they arrive at Kirrin Cottage (adorable), which isn’t a cottage at all, but is a very old house, quite big, built of old white stone, with roses climbing over the front of it. It sits on a low cliff overlooking the bay, and it sounds amazing, I would like to live there immediately.
Aunt Fanny runs out to welcome them as soon as they pull up, and the kids like her immediately. Once inside the house, they decide it feels old and rather mysterious, and I am deeply charmed.
Georgina is supposed to be waiting in the garden for them, but she’s gone off on her own; Aunt Fanny warns them that George may be a bit difficult at first, because she’s always been on her own. Called it.
Anne asks why they call her George and not Georgina, and Aunt Fanny says that George hates being a girl and won’t answer to Georgina.
I … do not see this going well. I hope it does, but I have braced myself. (And you hold those boundaries, George. Be whoever you want to be.)
Uncle Quentin turns up, frowning as always, but he’s polite enough to everyone.
Even though the house is described as large, there’s no room for Mom and Dad to spend the night, so they go to a hotel in the nearest town. They’ll drive back to London first thing in the morning, so they say good-bye that night. George still hasn’t appeared.
Dick and Julian share one room, and Anne shares with George. Poor George. That would be a rough change for an only child. (The windows in that room look over the moors on one wall and the sea on the other, and it sounds just perfect. I still want to live there.)
When Anne says she wishes George would come because she wants to see what she’s like, Aunt Fanny describes her thus:
“Well, she’s a funny little girl,” said her aunt. “She can be very rude and haughty — but she’s kind at heart, very loyal and absolutely truthful. Once she makes friends with you, she will always be your friend — but she finds it very difficult indeed to make friends, which is a great pity.”
I like the sound of George already.
When Anne yawns, Aunt Fanny sends them all to bed, and the boys are grumpy at Anne because now they can’t go down to the beach. They are all sleepy, though, and actually want to get some sleep.
Anne thinks it’s strange that George didn’t want to welcome them, didn’t come to supper, and hasn’t even returned yet — and Anne’s worried about what time George will come in, since George is sleeping in Anne’s room.
YEAH ABOUT THAT. You’re sleeping in George’s room, kid.
The kids all sleep through George getting back, and don’t wake up until morning. Anne starts talking to George the second George starts moving, but calls her Georgina; George says she won’t answer to Georgina at all.
Description (the first we’re really getting, so I have no real idea of how the other kids look): Short curly hair (almost as short as a boy’s), skin burnt dark brown by the sun, blue eyes as bright as forget-me-nots, a sulky mouth, and a frown like her father.
George reiterates that she hates being a girl, and she won’t be a girl, and she doesn’t like doing the things that girls do, she likes things boys do: climbing and swimming and sailing. Oh, George, it’s not perfect here in the future, but at least it is better than the sexism you’re dealing with. Come hang out here and be called George and climb and swim and sail as much as you want. (Still a dangerous world for women and girls though, kid, and even more dangers if you’re trans.)
George is pleased when Anne says she looks like a boy and that George is a nice name, but when she asks Anne if she hates being a girl, she’s scornful when Anne talks about loving pretty frocks and dolls, things you can’t do if you’re a boy.
Oh, gender essentialism, aren’t you a joy and a gift forever.
George decides she’s a baby, which is pretty shitty of George, considering that Anne was quick to accept what George wanted. I see you, selfish, grumpy only child. (I like you, selfish, grumpy only child. But you’re still being a little shit.)
They argue a bit more, and Anne feels that they’ve had a very bad beginning. Tis true, Anne. Tis true. They dress in jeans and jerseys (what does a jersey mean here? Because I think of sports jerseys:
like these, though I probably wouldn’t care much about baseball jerseys), though George’s is specifically called a boy’s jersey. [Dove: Um, I was going to say a “jumper” but that’s a dress to you weird Yanks, so a knitted sweater, in this case light wool, rather than big thick winter wear, but can be either.]
George ignores the boys, who call her Georgina, of course, despite having been told the night before that she only likes to be called George. (I am a firm believer that you call people by the name they choose, for whatever reason they choose it.) [Raven: Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock says hello.] The boys try to cheer up Anne, and they rush down for breakfast, tempted by the smell of bacon and eggs. I have such a craving now, and we have no bacon in the house. (Ostrich is allergic to pork. It is a sad, sad life.)
George tells her parents that she’s going fishing, but Uncle Quentin tells her that she’s going to show good manners and take her cousins to the bay. Anne tries to let her off the hook, but Uncle Quentin holds firm.
There’s an easy path down to the bay, and even George cheers up when she feels the sun and sees the blue water. (Dove always tells me that England doesn’t have blue water.) [Dove: True, but I wasn’t on the Cornish coast in 1940, so maybe it was blue back then?]
Anne tells George to go fishing if she wants, they won’t tell on her, and they don’t want to interfere with her life, either. They have each other for company, and she doesn’t have to be with them if she doesn’t want. Which is pretty cool of Anne. Julian adds that they’d like to spend time with her if she wants to give them a try. Even though he thinks she’s rude and ill mannered, he likes her feistiness. Also a cool thing.
George hesitates, then says that she’ll see, she doesn’t make friends just because they’re her cousins or for any other silly reason like that, she only makes friends with people she likes. Julian turns that around on her, pointing out they do that, too, and they may not like her, which surprises her, though she then says that lots of people don’t like her.
They get to talking about Kirrin Island, and George loves it; she tells them that she might take them there if she likes you. When Julian asks who owns the island, George has a shocking answer for them: it’s hers, or it will be someday, and she’ll have her very own island and her very own castle.
Well then. This is a story I want to hear. (The next chapter is titled “A Queer Story — and a New Friend,” so apparently I am not the only one who wants the story.)
Dick says she’s just boasting, there’s no way Kirrin Island can belong to her, and George snaps that they can ask her mother, and that she won’t tell them another word if they don’t believe her, she doesn’t lie, and she thinks lying is cowardly.
Julian tries to smooth things over, because he remembers that Aunt Fanny said George was completely honest, and gets George to tell them more about how she owns it, mostly because he talks about how they like Aunt Fanny and don’t want her to think they’re avoiding George.
Aunt Fanny’s people used to own nearly all the land around, but when they became poor, they had to sell most of it, but no one ever wanted to buy the island, especially because the castle has been in ruins for years. Dick and I agree that we’d love to buy the island.
The only thing Aunt Fanny owns still is Kirrin Cottage, a farm a little ways away [Dove: Can you guess what it’s called? Kirrin Farm, for those not noticing that Blyton is just like Jamie Suzanne in her naming conventions [location] [thing].], and Kirrin Island. Aunt Fanny doesn’t want it anymore, so even though it wouldn’t be George’s until she’s older, Aunt Fanny has basically given it to her now. George says that she doesn’t let anyone go there unless they get her permission, but George, other people have access to boast? How do you know there aren’t a group of siblings living there secretly to get away from their abusive families?
Dick tells her hopes that they’re all friends soon and she takes them to see it, and she’s very pleased by their interest. She tells them that she’s never taken anyone there before, because even though some of the local boys and girls have begged, she doesn’t like them.
As the tide recedes, it looks like it might be possible to walk out to the island, but George says it’s deeper than it looks and there are all sorts of rocks that have caused a bunch of wrecks. There are none left, though, they’re cleaned up pretty quickly, except for one on the other side of the island, very deep, and it belongs to her too. It was a ship belong to one of her relatives generations back, who was bringing big bars of gold with him when his ship got wrecked off Kirrin Island. Nobody knows what happened to the gold; divers went down, but allegedly none have found any.
George softens even more and offers to show them the wreck later that afternoon, and the kids decide to go swimming. Before they can, though George heads off to get Timothy, her best friend whom her parents don’t like. The kids assume he’s a fisher boy, but really he’s a doggy. HI DOGGY HI HI HI DOGGY HI.
I love him already.
The kids love him, too, and that seems to be the final straw for George, who finally loosens up and smiles. She tells them all about how she found him on the moors a year ago when he was just a pup (WEREWOOOOOOOOOOOLF [Dove: WRITE IT.]) and brought him home. Aunt Fanny liked him at first, but as he got bigger, he started chewing on things and barking too much, so her parents told her to get rid of him. She cried, though she says she tries never to cry because boys don’t cry (again with that poor gender essentialism that still runs through society today — sometimes it feels like we haven’t come very far at all), and Timothy cried, too, howling so he broke her heart and she knew she couldn’t get rid of him. Instead, she pays Alf, a fisher boy she knows, to take care of him. Oh, George, my heart.
The kids think she’s very brave, but that it’s awful she never gets sweets and ice creams. George won’t even accept them from the other children who play at the beach, because if she can’t return the favour, it’s not fair. God, George, you are GREAT.
Julian runs off to get them chocolate ice cream bars, and, of course, at first George refuses, but then he gets clever with it, saying that she has something they want her to share and they have ices and sweets to share with her. They mean the dog, of course, and the island, and they can make a bargain that is fair to everyone.
YOU GUYS. These kids are kind of wonderful and fun.
George isn’t used to sharing with anyone, but she finds herself liking Julian and the others, at least a little, and she decides it is a fine bargain. They promise not to tell anyone that she still has Timothy, and after they’ve all had ice cream, they’re proper friends and George offers to show them the island.
(George turns out to be a much better swimmer than the rest of the kids, and she can hold her breath for ages.)
At lunch, Aunt Fanny is shocked when she learns that George plans to take the kids to the island, because she’s never taken anyone even when Aunt Fanny asks her to. Just be happy she’s bonding with her siblings. Things are going well until Anne starts to say she likes Timothy, too, and George kicks her to get her to stop. Aunt Fanny is furious at George, of course, and sends her away from the table, even as Anne begs to let her stay, it was just an accident.
Anne takes bread and cheese out to George and apologises to her for nearly making that mistake. George lashes out and calls her a baby again, which is still shitty, though they’re all young and hurting in different ways. Anne is then great, and says that even if George doesn’t take Anne, she should take the boys, because they didn’t do anything silly. (She also shows the bruise from George’s kick, which damn, came up fast.) George is confused by this, because she thinks Anne will be miserable if she’s left behind. Anne agrees she will, but she doesn’t want her brothers to miss the treat even if she has to. UGH SIBLINGS Y’ALL. SIBLINGS.
George hugs Anne, startling them both, and then gets all gruff because boys don’t hug. All is well, and shortly after, they head back down to the beach, where a fisher boy has Timothy and a boat ready for them. (Timothy’s tail is wagging “nineteen to the dozen.” What? [Dove: Is that not a common expression in the US? It’s used quite often here, or it was as I was growing up, though I’ll concede I haven’t heard it recently. You’ll see it a lot in Blyton’s work.]) [Wing: Literally had never seen or heard it until reading this book. After a brief bit of research, one of the alleged histories of it is that it came from the efficiency of Cornish beam engines, which could pump 19,000 gallons of water out of a mine but only burn 12 bushels of coal. The phrase is also often used to describe someone who speaks quickly.] [Raven: Yup, “nineteen to the dozen” is a common phrase in the UK. Others you may stumble across include “spending a fotnight in a bad balloon,” “Get to fuck, you backwards monkey-hanger,” and “his teeth are so bad he could eat a tomato through a tennis racquet”.]
I’m sure nobody is surprised that George is excellent at rowing the boat (… I have just earwormed myself), and they have a great time heading across to the island. Which is amazing. It’s surrounded by sharp rocks so that no one can land unless they know exactly the right way to go, and there’s a beautiful old castle in ruins, all white stones and broken archways and fallen towers.
The kids are as charmed as I am by it, and Julian wishes they could spend the night sometime. George is super taken with this idea, and tells him to ask Aunt Fanny; they can’t land on the island just now, though, not if they want to see the shipwreck.
Once they’re through some of the rocky bits, George lets Julian have a turn rowing, and she tells them a little more about the island and the castle. When they get closer to the wreck, she takes over rowing again, and they’re all confused as to how she can possibly know when she’s over the wreck. She explains about lining up specific points to find the right location and she’s just delightful.
When they finally see the wreck, Julian’s so excited he nearly falls overboard. UGH THESE KIDS. They are so ridiculous and gentle and charming and earnest.
Julian and George dive down to take a closer look, leaving Dick to keep the boat in one spot, working the oars against the current that tries to take it out to sea. George loves swimming down, though she can never get enough air in her lungs to swim all the way inside; Julian can’t go down quite as far, but he does get a good look at it, and it makes him feel strange and sad. [Raven: That exact same sentence can be used to describe the day Julian loses his virginity.]
The next day, Aunt Fanny takes them on a picnic off in a little cove, which is fun, but the kids all wish they could have visited the island instead — and they have to leave Timothy behind. Julian encourages her to talk to Aunt Fanny about it, because surely she can’t mind if someone else is taking care of the dog, but George is tired of always getting into trouble at home. Uncle Quentin doesn’t make much money with the scientific books he writes, and he wants to give George and Aunt Fanny things he can’t afford, so he’s short tempered, always. He particularly wants to send George away to a good school. She, of course, doesn’t want to go.
Anne tries to talk her into liking boarding school, because the kids all go, but George says she’d hate it and she doesn’t want to be apart from Timothy anyway. When Anne pushes, George gets short with her, because her parents are always trying to tell her what’s good for her and it’s always things she doesn’t like. I’m pretty much on George’s side here when it comes to this conversation with Anne. Maybe you love boarding school, but that doesn’t mean everyone would enjoy living in close quarters with a bunch of other kids like that. (I would not enjoy it.)
Julian breaks up their bickering, and George later helps Anne learn to swim better, so all continues to be well between them, too. On the way home, he helps her get some time away from Aunt Fanny so she can check on Timothy, and I am really enjoying the friendships going on here, especially as grumpy as George is and as friendly (and yet a little whiny) as the others are.
As she’s spending time with her cousins, George realises that she’s enjoying doing things with them, even though she’s always before thought it was much nicer to do everything alone. You can have both, dear George! You can dislike people as a whole and still have people you enjoy in your life.
When she hears that they’re going to the island the next day, Aunt Fanny tells them they should take their dinner with them, so they don’t have to keep rowing back and forth. This is a great idea, but George is suddenly worried that her mother will come, too, and therefore she can’t take Timothy. Aunt Fanny knows nothing of that, though, and is quite hurt that it seems like George never wants to spend any time with her.
JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER OH MY GOD.
The next day, the cousins are super excited to go to the island, but George is reluctant. She thinks there’s going to be a storm or something from the southwest, but the others point at the bright sun and the nearly cloudless sky. Yes, yes, I’m certain you city dwellers know far much about how storms blow up there than George, who lives there full time and also goes out on the water regularly. Sure.
(Super realistic impatience and disregard to safety, though!)
Anne talks George around, because is softening up right fast toward her cousins, and they gather up some food and drinks (ginger pops sound terrrrrrrible, I have to say [Dove: It’s fucking foul. Raven loves it though. Obviously I’m biased as I don’t like fizzy drinks at all.] [Wing: Brother Raptor, Sister Canary, Ostrich, and I visited a pasty shop this weekend, and Brother Raptor had ginger beer, which is apparently not a beer at all. Is that what they’re drinking? It still sounds foul.] [Raven: Heathens, the lot of you. I prescribe lashings and lashings of the stuff, stat!] [Dove: Also, “ginger beer” is cockney rhyming slang for “queer”.]), and then grab Timothy on their way to the boat. The fisher boy who keeps Tim tells them not to be out very long because there’s a bad storm blowing up. George says she knows, but doesn’t try to turn back. Oh, George.
It takes some doing, but George gets them to the hidden little cove that allows them to dock the boat. It’s absolutely beautiful, and George is surprised by how happy she is to finally share her island with someone else. Awww, George. You were just fine on your own, kid, but you can be happy with other people too.
They go exploring, everyone all excited about everything, and I am filled with such good cheer from their joy. On the one hand, I’d be perfectly happy reading about them tromping all over the island and seeing the things they see. On the other hand, this recap is getting longer and longer and yet I think a lot of this is buildup, so…I’ll try to keep my glee reined in.
Besides, here comes the storm!
George says they can’t make it back before the storm hits, which is an understatement because the rain has started and the waves are big. They’re not even going to make it off the island, much less back to the mainland.
They hurry to get ready to survive the storm and take care of things like pulling the boat farther up the beach, and rescuing the food, and finding shelter inside the castle ruins, in a room that more or less has a roof and walls. They manage to get a little fire started and have their dinner around it. Most of them are having fun, more or less, though Dick is a little freaked out by thoughts of old castle ghosts.
There’s gorgeous descriptions of the waves crashing on the island and how it feels like the waves might even cover the island completely (though he then reassures himself that if that was going to happen, it would have happened before).
While he’s staring at the water, he sees something big and dark lurching out of the waves and then settling back down. He thinks it looks like a ship, but that’s impossible, right? Of course it is, why in the world would there be a ship around here — oh, wait, except there is at least one ship buried under that water.
George is the one who figures it out first: the storm has brought her wreck up out of the water and tossed it onto nearby rocks.
(… does that mean they’ve never had a storm this bad before? Because if so, those kids just had one hell of a miraculous survival. Or this is one of those how very fucking convenient moments.)
They are excited and filled with hope that maybe they can find the gold now, until George realises that this might mean the wreck is not hers now that it is out of the water; no one really cared for it when it was down there out of the way, but since it is up on the rocks now, there may be other people interested in it.
As much as they want to go right away and be the first people to explore it, George is sensible, because the water is still too rough to try to row out to the rocks and she’s not certain that the ship is fully settled on the rocks anyway.
Once the waves settle a little, they head back to the mainland; on the far side of the island, they can’t see the ship anymore, but that doesn’t make George feel much better, because as soon as the fishing boats go near the island, they will see it and let the adults in on it. Julian is certain they’ll be able to make it back to the ship before the fishing boats go out, but George points out that’s really damn early. She’s out at dawn a lot, but they’re not used to it. I’d guess the fishing boats go out even earlier than that, but maybe not.
Once they’re all back home and eating with Aunt Fanny, Anne starts to tell her all about the ship, until Julian and Dick both kick her. Aunt Fanny admonishes them to stop kicking her, but certainly doesn’t send the boys away from the table like she did George earlier.
Anne is grumpy with them, because she was going to say the storm threw up the most enormous waves, not the boat, and the boys apologise. Then Anne nearly talks about Timothy. KID. COME ON. You were just being grumpy and smug at the others because they assumed you’d give things away AND THEN YOU VERY NEARLY DID FOR A SECOND TIME!
Aunt Fanny sends them off to clean up and go play quietly indoors, but pretty much the first thing Julian does is turn a table upside down with a crash so they can play at exploring wrecks. Because that’s certainly playing quietly.
Sure enough, Uncle Quentin comes roaring out and demands that George (or Georgina, as he calls her) keep her cousins quiet or he’ll keep them all in bed the next day [Dove: God it’s been a long time since I saw that offered as a punishment.] [Raven: I offer it as a treat from time to time, but that doesn’t work either.]. They find actually quiet things to do instead, and they decide to go to bed early, but not right after tea, because then Aunt Fanny will think them all sick.
The next day, Julian is the first to wake up, just as the sun slips over the horizon, and he’s quick to wake the others. They manage to slip out of the house without getting caught, fetch Tim quickly, and head out for the shipwreck. George is clever and quick, and finds a good spot near the rocks while they make plans. Finally, they tie the boat off to the wreck, throw up a rope to climb to the deck (only Anne needs help), and they find themselves exploring.
Even though the ship has been underwater for so long, the ladder from the deck down into the hold is still strong enough to hold weight. How? But I’m going to roll with it in this charming thing.
They don’t find any gold, of course, but do have a good time looking around at some of the bits of furniture and things that the sea has not yet washed away. The farther into the ship they go, the creepier they all find it, even George, who begins “to feel that her wreck was really more pleasant sunk under the water than raised above it!”
Just as they’re getting ready to leave, Julian finds a little cupboard that no one else seems to have explored because it is still locked. George theorises that the lock will be rotten, too, and sure enough, she’s quickly able to snap it open using her pocket knife. Inside, they find a wooden box, old books basically melted down to pulp, some sort of glass, and a handful of things so ruined they can’t tell what they were.
The little box has George’s great-great-great-grandfather’s initials on it, HJK for Henry John Kirrin. She’s thrilled to have it and desperate to open it; when they can’t get it open there, they decide to take it home with them.
As they make their way back to their boat, the find all the fishing boats gathered around. Julian briefly tells them that it’s the old wreck thrown up by the storm, but George warns him not to say anything else because she doesn’t want sightseers on it. Best of luck at this point, kid.
At home, they get scolded and only get toast and marmalade for breakfast, because naughty children who come late don’t deserve hot bacon and eggs.
Sure enough, the fishing boats start taking people out to see the wreck and there’s nothing George can do about it. Ugh, poor George. I feel for her right now.
Thank god, we all have the box from the wreck to distract us. Riiiight up until they get the great idea to throw it out of an attic window to break it open and, of course, disturb Uncle Quentin, who comes rushing out to see what’s the matter. Anne has to tell him that they got it from the wreck, and he’s even angrier that they’ve taken something away from it. George becomes defiant then, saying that it is her wreck, which is probably not the way to handle him. They’re a lot alike.
Oh, damn, and then he flat calls her a baby for thinking the box might have held a gold bar. Good lord, they’re even more alike in this moment than before.
She’s nearly in tears as she begs him to give her the papers that she’s now certain are inside and talk about what happened to the gold bars, but he takes the entire thing into the house.
Anne starts crying and begs them not to be mad at her for telling, but she was too scared of him not to do so. They don’t, and they decide to keep an eye on him so that the second he gives them a chance, they’ll rush in and steal it, even for fear of being spanked if discovered.
(I am kind of missing the absent adults trope from Point Horror. All they do here is get in the way.)
Uncle Quentin doesn’t leave for ages, but they do eventually hear him start snoring. Julian slips into the room and makes it all the way to the box without waking Uncle Quentin; when Julian picks up the box, though, a piece of broken wood falls off and hits the floor, waiting Uncle Quentin. Julian hides quickly, and shortly after, Uncle Quentin falls back asleep and Julian escapes.
He joins up with the others down on the beach, tells them the story (which we did not need to read about him telling them, because we literally just read it as it happened).
They find some old papers and a book with a black cover, but nothing else in the little tin lining of the box, but no gold or other treasure. They’re all disappointed, and I’m sad for them. Oh, kids. Even after Uncle Quentin yelled at you, you still held hope. I bet there’s some interesting stuff in there.
Sure enough, there is. The book is her ancestor’s diary of the ship’s voyages and at least one of the papers is a map. A map of Kirrin Castle before it was in ruins. A map of where ingots are buried. A TREASURE MAP.
They jump around in excitement for awhile and it is adorable, then decide to copy the map before they put everything else back in the box and return it to Uncle Quentin’s study.
They manage to sneak the box back into Uncle Quentin’s office without any problem, and then learn that the reporters have come all the way down from London to talk to Uncle Quentin about the old wreck. Considering how long it took the kids and their parents to get down from London, that’s quite a trip for a damn ship.
The kids are worried that Uncle Quentin will show the reporters the old box, because they don’t want anyone else to know the secret of the treasure.
The next day, the newspaper is full of stuff about the ship, including pictures of the castle taken when some of the reporters landed on the island. George throws an absolute fit because they’ve trespassed on her island. Aunt Fanny tries to calm her down, but she’s furious, and I can’t really blame her. I mean, I get why Aunt Fanny doesn’t think it’s a problem for people to land on the island, but you have been telling your daughter that it is hers. You wouldn’t just let strangers tromp all over your home uninvited, would you? [Dove: She’s only just learned to share with people she likes, and now she’s got perfect strangers trying to scramble all over her property.]
AND THEN UNCLE QUENTIN SELLS THE BOX TO AN ANTIQUE DEALER WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK.
That isn’t yours, Uncle Quentin. YOU DON’T JUST GO AROUND SELLING THINGS THAT BELONG TO OTHER PEOPLE.
I know, I know, kids have no rights, blah fucking blah, it is still wrong.
The kids decide that they’ll try to spend a day or two on the island looking for the treasure, and they’re allowed to go — because Uncle Quentin plans to sell the island to a man who wants to rebuild the castle as a hotel, so the kids won’t be able to spend any time there soon.
George is, of course, devastated over this. OF COURSE SHE IS. THIS IS FUCKING SHITTY AS HELL. Goddamn it, Uncle Quentin, if your writing isn’t bringing in enough money, FIND OTHER WORK TO GO WITH IT. Fucking selling the one thing your fucking child loves, after you two already got rid of the other thing she loved. You are fucking terrible.
[Dove: I still get angry over this. They’ve been saying it’s her island, and now it’s like “Sorry, you don’t matter, you’re a child, I was lying to you.” And I really still identify with this because when I was a teenager, my mother used my chequebook and cash card when they came through the post because she assumed they were hers, she loaned out my books and movies without asking me, she frequently tuned the radio in my room to her favourite station… Everything that was mine wasn’t really mine. I have issues.] [Wing: Understandable issues. That is all bullshit.]
SHOCKINGLY, the potential buyer is the same man who bought the old box. GEE I WONDER IF THOSE THINGS COULD BE RELATED.
Julian talks George around to being calmer and suggests that since her parents are now offering her anything she wants once they sell the island, what she should ask for is Timothy back. Because that worked so well last time.
The kids put together a delightful list of things to take with them on this adventure. I love how prepared they are (or at least think they are) and how sensibly they approach adventure. Most of this book is charming and so much fun. (And then I had some parenting rage.)
George realises that she’d probably have ended up a nicer person if she hadn’t been on her own so much growing up, because talking things out really helps a lot. Which can be true, but you don’t have to be nicer, George. You can be grumpy and wonderful.
(Julian, on only children: They’re always a bit queer, you know, unless they’re mighty careful. I am dying. So, only child Dove, are you a bit queer unless you’re mighty careful?) [Dove: I think I could be easily described as a bit queer. And the parenting technique used on me was anything but careful!]
OH MY GOD. PRETTY MUCH THE SECOND THEY TAKE OFF FOR THE ISLAND, JULIAN DOESN’T HOLD ON TO THE MAP TIGHT ENOUGH AND IT BLOWS OUT OF HIS HANDS AND INTO THE SEA. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW.
This book is giving me a surprisingly large amount of feelings.
OH MY GOD AND TIM FETCHES IT FOR THEM.
SO MANY FEELINGS.
Luckily, the map is still in good shape, somehow, and they continue on their adventure.
Once they’re all set up in that little room in the castle, they start looking for one of the two entrances to the dungeon. There’s a lot of pulling weeds and cleaning up the stones to see if they can be moved to uncover the entrance. They work hard for three hours, but do not find any way into the dungeon.
They decide to handle it another way and try to find a well that shows up on the different sections of the map. They’ll start in the middle of the castle and work out from there. At first they don’t find anything, and then Timothy ends up chasing a rabbit into a little hole they use — and then he falls inside it with a scared yelp. UGH, TIMOTHY PLEASE BE OKAY.
They cut down the gorse bush hiding the rabbit hole and sure enough, it turns out the rabbit hole was in the side of the well hole. They dig in after him, and soon enough find him on a big slab that was stuck partway down.
There’s an old iron ladder, and George immediately goes down it without testing it, because she’s so eager to get to her dog. (NO JUDGMENT HERE. I’d go straight in after Monster Dog.) She then carries him out over her shoulder like a fucking boss. Goddamn, kid.
Tim is fine, thank god.
Once that is settled, they use the well as a guide spot for finding the entrance to the dungeon. Anne is the one who finds it, quite by accident while she’s taking a little break to rest. She finds a stone with an iron ring in it.
Individually, they can’t budge it, but all together, pulling on a rope attached to the ring, they manage to get it open. Something something lesson something, right?
They take a steep flight of stairs down into musty darkness. It’s only then that Julian thinks about how the air might have gone bad, and so if anyone feels strange, they’ll go back up to the open air. Where’s your canary, kids? [Raven: That’s what Timmy the Dog is for, surely? Or maybe Anne.]
The dungeons are made out of the rock itself, possibly natural caves, and they are dark and mysterious and full of echoing sounds. It’s strange and wonderful and I want to explore it myself.
The map isn’t detailed enough for them to know which dungeon was used to store the ingots, so they still have a lot of searching to do. Eventually Dick finds a door into the next dungeon.
It is, of course, locked.
I do like how nothing is ever super easy on this adventure. In the end, things are easy, but there are obstacles for them to overcome, and those obstacles have been damn interesting.
And then the kids get lost trying to get back to the entrance. Should have marked the way, huh? They do eventually find the well and then the entrance again, but not before they are frustrated and, for some of them, a little scared.
By the time they finish eating back at their little camp, the sun is setting and they decide to get some rest instead of going back into the dungeons and getting lost in the darkness again. (This time, they wouldn’t even be able to see sunlight if they got near the entrance.)
The next morning, they go back into the dungeons, and promptly get lost looking for the wooden door. FINALLY Julian decides to use the white chalk he’s conveniently been carrying around in his pocket and starts to mark the walls. IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME, CONSIDERING YOU’VE APPARENTLY BEEN CARRYING THAT PIECE OF CHALK AROUND FOR AT LEAST A DAY OR TWO. [Dove: Even in England, carrying chalk for no reason is considered rather eccentric.]
They eventually find the door, but when Julian tries to break it down with an ax, he manages to throw a big splinter of wood into Dick’s cheek. Well damn, that’s some serious ax chopping, kid. Julian escorts his siblings back up into fresh air so Anne can clean the wound and Dick can rest a bit (… it’s a fucking splinter, people [Dove: I always read it as a rather large splinter, like an inch or two that gave a wound that bled a lot, and Julian’s responsibility for the others is SRS BSNS.]), leaving George to do more chopping.
By the time Julian gets back, George almost has the lock undone, and a couple more blows from Julian, they can open the door. The room beyond is basically a cave, and it has gold bars tossed around in untidy piles.
Well damn. They actually found the gold. I’m shocked.
(I’m not shocked, but I am super entertained.)
AND THEN TIM STARTS BARKING.
The kids do not take this as a warning, not until he starts to growl, and they realise that Tim hasn’t been barking at Dick and Anne, but at some strange men. The buyers of the island, I’m sure you’ll never guess.
They call it their gold, but George stands firm, because George is always delightful.
The men laugh at her, though, because she’s just a child, and they’ll buy the island and everything in it, or even if they can’t, they’ll just steal the damn gold.
George says she’ll go straight home to tell her parents, but then one of the men threatens to shoot Tim. SOMEBODY OUGHT TO SHOOT YOU, SIR.
The men decide they’re going to lock the kids up in the dungeon with food and drink until the men can come back and take the gold. They no longer plan to buy the island, because there’s no point to it. They force George to write a note for Dick and Anne (because they keep threatening to shoot Tim OH MY GOD I CAN’T TAKE THIS). She’s very clever, though, and signs it Georgina and not George.
They then send Tim up with the note attached to his collar. I … do not think this dog is trained enough to be carrying messages, but my guess is that in a Blyton book, of course he just instinctively knows to go fetch people. Lassie, is that you?
Anne is taken in by the note, but Dick notices that she used Georgina. Dick decides to check the inlet to make sure no one else has come to the island, and of course they find the men’s motorboat there.
Tim runs back into the dungeons to be with George, and then men realise the kids have the note but aren’t coming down, so they start looking for them. The kids hide down the old well, and eventually the men give up looking for them. They’ll take food down to George and Julian, leave the other half of the food for the missing kids, and take their boat with them when they leave.
Except they end up leaving the boat for some reason. Fucking failures, right there.
They do pile heavy slabs of broken stone over the dungeon entrance, so Dick and Anne can’t dig the others free. They quickly search for the second entrance, but still have no luck finding it. Gee, I wonder if that opening in the well might be of use right about now…
I’m delighted that Anne is the one who comes up with that plan. They’ll have to try to squeeze past the slab, and they’re not sure how far down the iron ladder goes, but it’s better than no plan at all.
Dick doesn’t want them both to go, just in case something happens (which is smart), and Anne sends a rope down with him. The ladder goes rather far down, but then it’s broken and he has to use the rope to get the rest of the way down. The well continues very far past the opening in the dungeon, of course, but he manages to scramble through the opening and sets off to follow the chalk marks back to the other room.
That door has been secured again, too, but Dick makes quick work of unbolting it and opening it. They all quickly squeeze through the small opening and climb the rope — no mention of what the fuck they do with Timothy during all of this, though. George might have carried him up the ladder earlier, but up a fucking rope, too? At the very least, they should have needed a second rope to tie him to her or something.
OH BUT WAIT. The men left the boat but took the oars, which is really fucking clever. I take back my earlier failure statement
Julian makes them all be quiet while he works out all the kinks in his plan, which is this: once the men go back down into the dungeon, one of the kids will lock them into that room just the way they locked George and Julian, and then they can use the motorboat or their own boat if the oars are still there to get help. Suggestion: take the damn motorboat. It’ll be faster.
(Random Wing Story Time: One summer at camp, the counselors decided to set themselves a challenge. A whole group of them got into a long canoe and rowed fast enough that another counselor was able to sort of water ski behind it for a brief bit of time. It was wild.)
They talk things out, decide Dick will climb down to relock the door before the men arrive, and if he can’t bolt them in, well, the other kids will block the entrance with stones, just like the men did, and Dick can always escape up the well, which they men don’t know about.
Once the men are in the dungeons, the kids try to cover the entrance, but they can’t move the really big stones. They do the best they can with the smaller ones, and then rush to the well to wait for Dick.
Downstairs, all three men enter the room, but Dick doesn’t quite manage to bolt it before they force the door open. He runs, and they take off after him. He makes it into the well without them seeing where he went. He climbs up to the ladder, then unties the rope, just in case.
The kids all run for the boats once Dick rejoins them (though George takes a moment to grab the axe, because George is a clever badass). George uses the axe to break the motorboat while the others get their boat into the water. [Dove: George rocks here, no doubt.]
One of them (named Jake, apparently? I didn’t catch his name earlier, but it suddenly appears when he shouts threats at her) threatens her, and she snarks off at them about being stuck on her island. I love her.
Back on the mainland, the kids quickly tell Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny their story. Uncle Quentin doesn’t believe them (shocking), but Aunt Fanny can tell from their “solemn and serious faces” that they’re telling the truth.
They tell the story again, and Uncle Quentin, who has never much liked children, suddenly loves these four. Wow. That’s one amazing face turn right there. [Raven: It’s astounding what a dungeon full of gold can do to a person’s temperament!]
He gives them some credit, then asks why they didn’t tell him. None of them give him an answer, because here is what they want to say: Well, firstly, you wouldn’t have believed us. Secondly, you are bad-tempered and unjust and we are frightened of you. Thirdly, we didn’t trust you enough to do the right thing.
I AM DYING, Y’ALL. So fucking entertained.
Aunty Fanny does tell him that he scares the kids, and they must have been reluctant to come to him, but now that they have, he can take care of things.
He calls the police and his lawyer, but not before he tells George that she’s as good as a boy any day. I mean, yes, very much so, and even better, but jesus, the sexism in this book. It’s a good thing I love the story itself a ton.
George even gets to bring Tim inside, and Aunt Fanny pets him and gives him a good dinner.
The ingots belong to them, and Uncle Quentin is all happy now because he can give Aunt Fanny and George all the expensive things he’s wanted to give them and that’s why he’s so grumpy and money solves everything. Amazing.
The one thing she wants, though, is Tim, and she gets to keep him, which is wonderful and made me have all sorts of warm, happy feelings.
Alas, the men escape because the people on their bigger boat come to get them, but there are still plenty of ingots on the island. The kids are all the best of friends now, and Anne talks George into coming to the same boarding school with them so she won’t be lonely now that she knows what it’s like to have friends, and she can even take Tim with her, and isn’t all of this wrapped up in a fancy little bow in just a few pages.
And then George decides to give the other three a quarter share of Kirrin Island, so that it will belong equally to all four of them. Oh god, my heart. Found family feelings. Friendships. Adorable kids having rollicking adventures with their pet dog.
I … did not expect the fifth member of the titular Five to be a dog, I have to admit. [Raven: Fun Fact: an average member of The Famous Five has 2.4 legs.] I really enjoyed the hell out of this. Obviously, there are things I disliked a lot, most of which are tied to when it was written, but it’s a fun, charming story, and the kids are pretty great, and when the adventure finally begins (it’s a long, slow build for a book that’s not actually all that big), it races along with some great action.
I’m looking forward to the next book.
[Dove: OMG, Wing loved it. I’m so happy… and relieved. I love Blyton books, not just because they were a part of my childhood, but also because I envied the kids so much. Every school holiday they just got to go away from their parents and do something exciting. If I had my own island, I would have moved to it permanently at the age of 15. I didn’t realise until Wing said it, but there was a lot of build-up in this book, so I am looking forward to the part where the first chapter is a quick confab of where they’re going this school holiday (camping, horse drawn caravans, lighthouse, more camping, Kirrin Island, camping on Kirrin Island, etc.) and then “Chapter 2: SPIES! SMUGGLERS! GOLD! ROBBERS! ACTION! ADVENTURE!”]
[Wing: Oooh, so really this book is a build-up for the entire series, and the others kick off much faster because of course we’ve had all the build-up in this book. I’m happier with that as a setup, actually. AND I CANNOT WAIT FOR THE ADVENTURES. And seriously, I would kill people for my own island right the fuck now, so teen!Wing would have fled to it immediately.]
[Raven: If teen!Raven had ran off to live on his own island at the age of fifteen, he’d have been dead before his sixteenth birthday. Fun book!]