Title: The Famous Five #2: Five Go Adventuring Again by Enid Blyton
Summary: Spending Christmas at Kirrin Cottage, the Five were not expecting an adventure. But they found one – and became involved in a tense running battle underground.
Tagline: Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timothy the dog
(Okay, that’s not a tagline, but it’s the closest thing this book has to one. Note the absence of Oxford comma, and try to imagine my irritation.)
I know this was one of my favourite Famous Five books when I was young, but for the life of me, I can’t remember why.
I’m also SHOCKED that there was an era in publishing in which someone could write a series book set at Christmas and not mention Christmas in the title or have a Christmas-themed cover. This was published in 1942, and you’d think they’d have pulled out all the stops to play on people’s nostalgia for non-war Christmasses, but no. You can’t tell from the front or back cover that this has anything to do with winter at all. [Dove: That’s very un-Christmassy. To the point where I always forget this one is set over Christmas holidays.] [Raven: I was once Christmas shopping in Leeds, and one shop was playing Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks to fly in the face of the usual jingle bell fare. Loved it, it’s now part of my Christmas Song Rotation.]
[Wing: I am utterly charmed by this one, too! It’s not quite as fun as the first book, but I love George so, so much.]
The book opens with Anne and George sitting down to breakfast at Gaylands School, and I see the series has already become a parody of itself. Well done, Enid Blyton. My childhood crush on George was more reasonable than I’d assumed. [Wing: I have such a crush on George. Baby!Wing would have been completely besotted.]
Insert obligatory George bit here:
She would not allow anyone to call her Georgina, and now even the mistresses called her George. She really was very like a boy with her short curly hair, and her boyish ways.
Unlike an actual boy, though, George knows precisely where the clitoris is, which is why all the mistresses call her whatever she damn well tells them to. No, wait, she’s still a child in this. I’m confusing Canon George with the adult version that lives in my head, apparently. [Wing: I am dying with delight and want to know more about the adult version that lives in your head!] [Dove: I read a very adorable George/Jo fic, I may have to hunt that down again.]
Anne’s had a letter from Daddy, even though she only had one from Mummy yesterday. I’d immediately leap to the conclusion that they were divorcing, if that was me, but I don’t think Anne knows what divorce is.
It is bad news though; her mother has scarlet fever and her father is in quarantine because of it.
So Anne and her brothers are being sent home with (their cousin) George instead. Timothy the Dog is going too, but all this is going to be less fun than it sounds. (Actually it sounds like hell on earth to me anyway, but that’s because I can’t help seeing this from an adult perspective now, and I feel sorry for Fanny and Quentin, about to have four kids and a dog dumped on them.)
Julian and Dick have had the flu twice this term, so they’ve fallen behind [Dove: How the hell do you get flu twice in a single term? I’ve only had it once in my entire existence.]. George is also behind in everything, because this is her first time at school, so everyone’s going to have a tutor for the holidays. Yay! (My children, and there are only two of them, are on the fourth day of a four-day weekend, and to be honest if “hiring a tutor” was a thing I’d do it myself, and I wouldn’t care if he was an actual Russian spy at this point, as long as he kept them quiet. I mean, I’d draw the line at chloroform, but other than that….)
Page three leaps to the end of term, with George and Anne and Timothy getting on “one of the big school coaches,” which sounds bigger and more elaborate somehow than a normal school bus. [Dove: We had coaches, not buses, at my school. The seats were taller, and allegedly comfier, and all the ashtrays were full of cigarette butts.] We get this heavy-handed attempt at humour:
Gaylands School allowed the children to keep their own pets, and Timothy, George’s big mongrel dog, had been a great success. Except for the time when he had run after the dustman, and dragged the dustbin away from him, all the way up the school grounds and into George’s classroom, he had really behaved extremely well.
Yeah, I’m going to need a drink if there’s much more of that. [Raven: How did he open the door?]
Also, Anne keeps calling him “Timothy darling,” and a girl from the seat behind complains he’s “wagging her hat off,” which sounds like a euphemism for something I don’t want to think about. Oh, Timmy, you’re even more licky than last time!
They arrive in London and are put on the train for Kirrin, and Anne is TEN and George is ELEVEN and I know children used to have more freedom but GOD. In retrospect, it’s hardly surprising they’re always being kidnapped.
There’s some more unfunny humour when Aunt Fanny (she’s George’s mother, of course, but the book calls her Aunt Fanny all the time) meets them at the train station and George and Anne describe some more Timothy hijinks. I always thought he was “Timmy the Dog” but I guess I grew up on shoddy informal modern versions. [Raven: The 2015 editions call him “T-Dog”. True story.]
Aunt Fanny drives them all home in a pony trap, which is charming and bizarre. Do the modern editions still have this, or does she have a car by now? [Wing: Well now I’m curious because the version I read last time involved at least one car and maybe a couple. Did I accidentally read a modern edition? Damn it.] [Dove: No, Wing, you didn’t. It’s ok. The pony trap is for short trips, like Kirrin train station to Kirrin cottage, and a long journey is just the thing for a “fine motor car”.]
Uncle Quentin is busy writing a book and tells them they’ll have to behave for the tutor.
Uncle Quentin might be very clever, but Anne preferred someone jolly and smiling like her own father.
Uncle Quentin, in case you’ve forgotten, is Anne’s father’s brother. The first book left me with the distinct impression that Anne’s father likes his sister-in-law Fanny more than is strictly appropriate. “Jolly and smiling” is probably the least of it, is all I’m saying. [Dove: Also, I read Anne’s comments as “My father might be thick as pig shit, but at least he knows how to grin.”]
Timothy explores the house:
He ran into the kitchen but soon came out again because someone new was there – Joanna the cook – a fat, panting person who eyed him with suspicion.
‘You can come into this kitchen once a day for your dinner,’ said Joanna. ‘And that’s all. I’m not having meat and sausages and and chicken disappearing under my nose if I can help it. I know what dogs are, I do!’
Well done Joanna on identifying an animal we domesticated a mere fifteen thousand years ago. Also, why is she panting? Is something exciting happening in the kitchen or is that gratuitous fat-bashing? [Wing: While cooking can be hard work, my guess is that this is just gratuitous fat-bashing.] [Raven: I dunno…. never trust a thin cook.]
The next day they go back to the train station (without grown-ups) to meet Julian and Dick, and George goes off to sit alone in the pony trap at the sight of Anne and her brothers being happy to see each other because George is prickly and difficult and feels left out ALREADY. I both adore George and want to knock her over the head with something. On the one hand, stupidly getting your feelings hurt over something you made up in your head is all too familiar to me. On the other, having someone who CONSTANTLY needs to be coaxed out of sulking and reassured you really do want them there is infuriating. I’ve dated more than one “George” and it’s exhausting, having to run after them and make a big show of including them (the way Anne does here).
More idiotic animal stories, this time from the boys, about other boys keeping white mice and snails.
At home they have tea (“a lovely lot of buns and a great big cake“) and Uncle Quentin comes in and tells them he’s chosen a tutor. He seems to have gone into town to interview the people who responded to an ad he placed. The one he hired rushed in at the last minute, having just seen the ad, and I wonder if that’s meant to be a hint he’s unreliable. Uncle Quentin says he’s a “most intelligent fellow – even knew about me and my work!” and that’s DEFINITELY a hint. [Wing: And an incredibly smart way to convince Quentin to hire him, because Quentin is so desperate for attention and acknowledgment of his work.]
The next day the Famous Five take the pony trap to go pick up Mr. Roland, the tutor. So far this book is mostly getting on trains and meeting trains and just…trains. It’s like Thomas the Tank Engine, but with less overt fascism.
Mr. Roland doesn’t like dogs, calls George and Anne “the little girls,” and insists on calling George “Georgina.” So she hates him, naturally. What I don’t understand is why Anne likes him, and keeps smiling up at him and trying to make conversation. He’s clearly loathsome, and even if he wasn’t, having the dog and George hate him is surely reason enough to be suspicious. Right? No? I don’t care, I can’t trust people my dogs hate, and mine aren’t even near-human impossibly intelligent ones like Timothy. [Wing: Seriously. If Monster Dog dislikes someone, they’re right out.]
They’re going to be doing three hours of lessons every morning. That does sound legitimately awful.
But they don’t have to start until the next day, so they go visit Kirrin Farm, which also (along with Kirrin Island and Kirrin Cottage) belongs to George’s family. The farmer and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sanders, both call George “Master George” and are apparently perfectly fine with her dropping by unannounced to roam all over the farmhouse with her cousins. Somebody needs a copy of the Landlord-Tenants Act.
‘Yes, you let him loose,’ said the old lady. ‘He’ll have a fine time in the farmyard with Ben and Rikky. Now what would you like to drink? Hot milk? Cocoa? Coffee? And I’ve some new shortbread baked yesterday. You shall have some of that.’
Loose dogs! Coffee-drinking children! The past really is a different country. [Wing: If only loose dogs were no longer an issue here. Though I have no problem with people letting their dogs roam free on a farm or their own land, but I see them most often in the city, where they then promptly attack Monster Dog because she is snarling at them, but she is leashed and they are not and then I have to go break up dog fights.]
The Sanders have boarders for Christmas: two artists from London. It’s hilariously obvious that this is supposed to be suspicious. ARTISTS. Clearly not to be trusted, and also, according to Mrs. Sanders (who has had artists staying there before), “peculiar folk” who like “mooning about all alone.” So…just like George, then? Because we’re constantly being told she used to prefer being alone until she met her cousins. [Raven: Heh. “Mooning.”]
They find a secret panel in the hall, and Mrs. Sanders takes them upstairs to show them the cupboard with a false back. All houses in books, especially Famous Five books, have one or both of these features. The cupboard is in the room the “two gentlemen” (the artists) are going to be staying in. They’re sharing a room. I literally can’t tell if that’s meant to imply they’re a couple or that was just what people did in the 1940s.
The Sanders have known about the sliding panel and the cupboard forever, but NATURALLY Dick is the first to discover the space behind the sliding panel conceals another space which contains an old book of handwritten recipes and a tobacco pouch with a map in it. Mr. Sanders takes the tobacco pouch to use, and I’m vaguely scandalized, considering it sounds like something that should be in a museum. They let the kids keep the map.
The map is in Latin. Julian’s pretty sure “via occulta” means “secret way,” but they’re otherwise stumped, and consider showing Mr. Roland. They hide it when he comes into the room, though. Timothy refuses to take a biscuit from him, which CLEARLY means they shouldn’t trust him to translate the map.
‘A terrible mongrel! I must say I prefer well-bred dogs.’
George went purple in the face. ‘He’s not peculiar-looking!’ she spluttered. ‘He’s not nearly so peculiar-looking as you! He’s not a terrible mongrel. He’s the best dog in the world!’
‘I think you are being a little rude,’ said Mr. Roland, stiffly. ‘I don’t allow my pupils to be cheeky, Georgina.’
Okay, usually I loathe rude children. But what I hate even more are adults who are deliberately rude to children. So I hate him. He’s goading her on purpose and she should poison his tea. [Dove: Yeah, George gets a pass on all alleged rudeness in this book. She’s often provoked, and if not, she’s still smarting from the last spiteful thing he said to get a rise out of her.]
Julian tries asking Mr. Roland to call George ‘George’ instead of Georgina, but doesn’t get anywhere with it. I like him for trying, though.
George is now too blinded by rage to recognize the others sympathize with her, and anyway, what good is sympathy when you’re busy consorting with the enemy?
‘You needn’t walk with me,’ said George at once, her blue eyes glinting. ‘Walk with your friend Mr. Roland.’
‘He isn’t my friend,’ said Dick. ‘Don’t be silly.’
‘I’m not silly,’ said George in a tight sort of voice. ‘I heard you all laughing and joking with him. You go on and have a good laugh again. I’ve got Timothy.’
So of course Dick has to coax her back into trying to get along with the tutor so she won’t spoil Christmas. I am utterly on George’s side, but holy hell she is a lot of work.
The fact that I adored her and reread this a BILLION times explains SO MUCH about a couple of adult relationships I’ve had. There should be a form of therapy where you bring in your most-read childhood books and a literary therapist explains how they’re screwing up your life. [Wing: That is a brilliant idea.] [Dove: Sweet Valley. *cries* It explains everything.] [Raven: Yet try it with the Bible and you’ll get faeces through your letterbox.]
Mr. Roland tells Julian not to bother the artists at the cottage by showing them his painting, and Julian feels snubbed and privately vows to go talk to them as soon as possible.
Lessons begin the next day and George hides Timothy under the table where they’re working, because she’s determined to make things as difficult for herself as possible I guess. Timothy bites Mr. Roland on the ankle and gets banned from the room.
Okay, I’m a little less on George’s side now. Mr. Roland is appalling but talk about setting yourself up for failure. If she’d let herself be separated from her dog for three hours a day she’d have saved herself a lot of wringing emotional pain for the rest of the book, is all I’m saying.
Julian and Dick are IDIOTS who think Mr. Roland is all right, just someone who won’t take any nonsense. so they ask him what ‘via occulta’ means.
Mr. Roland puts on a huge show of getting and decorating a Christmas tree. George is very George about it.
She had never had a Christmas tree before, and she was very much looking forward to it – but it was spoilt for her because Mr. Roland bought the things that made it so beautiful.
Uncle Quentin is creepy:
‘Beautiful!’ said Uncle Quentin, as he passed through the hall, and saw Mr. Roland hanging the last ornaments on the tree. ‘I say – look at the fairy doll on the top! Who’s that for? A good girl?’
Anne secretly hoped that Mr. Roland would give her the doll.
It sounds like Uncle Quentin kind of wants to ‘give you the doll’ too, Anne. I hope you get a taser for Christmas. [Dove: This is the first time I’ve processed this. Anne is hoping to recieve the tree topper for Christmas?] [Raven: “Anne, show us on the tree topper where Mr Roland touched you.”]
George has seen Mr. Roland snooping around her father’s study. The others dismiss this. Julian and Dick go to Mr. Roland and SHOW HIM THE MAP oh my God you morons. He is way too interested in it and wants to know where it came from.
‘I think you might tell me,’ said the tutor, looking at Dick with his brilliant blue eyes. ‘I can be trusted with secrets. You’ve no idea how many strange secrets I know.’
Um. Yeah. Okay. [Wing: This is bordering on inappropriate teacher-student relationship territory.] [Raven: … … Mr Nydick, is that you?]
Christmas only takes up two pages. Mr. Roland gives George a book on dogs, but she fails to be charmed. We don’t even get told what they have for Christmas dinner. I feel cheated out of a vicarious meal.
That night Timothy sleeps on George’s bed and wakes her up. She hears noises and goes downstairs to investigate. They find Mr. Roland in the study, looking around with a flashlight. But when he claims he heard the same noises that woke George and Timothy, Uncle Quentin believes him, and George goes to bed and cries with frustration.
The next day Timothy’s been put outside. This is HUGE and DRAMATICALLY AWFUL.
George goes for a walk and sees Mr. Roland talking to the two artists. But later, when the other three are out walking with Mr. Roland, he pretends not to know the artists and Anne proudly introduces them to each other. They go to the farmhouse and tap walls, looking for the Secret Way with their evil tutor.
Later George tells them what she saw when she was out alone, and Anne doesn’t believe her and thinks she’s just making stuff up.
And just in case you think a dog being in the yard isn’t a big deal, the next day it’s COLD and they can all hear Timothy WHINING. Julian asks Uncle Quentin (when George is out of the room, and so he’s less likely to be annoyed by the sight of her) if the dog can be let in. Uncle Quentin asks Mr. Roland what he thinks, and he REFUSES. George and Timothy are being played up as martyrs, and it’s completely over the top and I love it. [Dove: I hope Mr. Roland has to sleep outside every winter after this.]
That night she lies awake listening to Timothy coughing outside (like a Victorian orphan about to die of tuberculosis or something), and sneaks him into the house so she can rub his chest with ‘a little bottle of oil’ that her mother uses when one of them (one of the humans, I mean) has a cold. Camphor oil, maybe? She falls asleep down there, and in the morning when she’s hurrying to get Timothy back outside she forgets the bottle of oil.
The next morning George gets in a snit and goes walking with Timothy.
Uncle Quentin bursts in to report that his test tubes have been broken and three pages of the book he’s writing are gone. Aunt Fanny finds the bottle of oil (‘camphorated oil,’ according to this). Anne confesses George was in the study last night, so the three kids give Mr. Roland the slip and go looking for George to warn her.
She goes in, refuses to answer questions from Mr. Roland (she actually says “you’re not my father,” ha), and when she’s alone with her father tells him what happened. She says the papers must have been taken between eleven and one, since after that she was in the study, and she thinks Mr. Roland took them. Which is pretty obvious at this point, right? But her father, though he believes she didn’t take the papers, dismisses her suggestion that the tutor they never knew until a couple of weeks ago could possibly be involved. He even thinks about how Timothy would have barked if someone tried to break into the house, so….how is he not getting this?
Aside from being a moron, Uncle Quentin is also pretty useless as a parent.
There were no tears in George’s eyes. She sat bolt upright on her chair, gazing defiantly at her father. How difficult she was! Her father sighed, and remembered that he too in his own childhood had been called ‘difficult.’ Perhaps George took after him. She could be so good and sweet – and here she was being perfectly impossible!
Her father did not know what to do with George. He thought he had better have a word with his wife.
Hold on. If George gets her difficult personality from her father, shouldn’t HE be the one who knows how to deal with it? Why does Fanny have to be the Asshole Whisperer? [Wing: Well, she did marry him and they seem to get along surprisingly well, so maybe she has a talent for it, poor woman.]
While George is alone in the study waiting to find out her punishment, she notices that the room fits the description on the map – it has the right number of windows facing the right directions. And since the map was found in the farmhouse which her family own, perhaps the Secret Way connects the two properties. Well done, George.
George gets sent to bed and forbidden to even SEE Timothy for three days.
Also it’s snowing heavily. Julian goes out to make sure the doghouse is cleared, and takes Timothy for a walk. Then he sneaks up to see George, and even though he still doesn’t believe her, he agrees to tail Mr. Roland. So he does, and sees Mr. Roland deep in conversation with the two artists. Mr. Roland hands over a sheaf of papers, and Julian realizes George has been right about everything all along. [Wing: UGH, y’all, I sort of ship Julian and George and now I feel terrible because I so much prefer her to be queer.]
All day he tries to tell the others, but never has a chance, until finally at eight he pretends to be exhausted and suggests they all go to bed. He tells them everything.
Meanwhile, it’s snowing SO heavily that Timothy’s kennel is half-buried. The adults in this book are horrible for allowing him to stay out in this. They’re all talking about how they’ll be snowbound if it keeps up, and meanwhile they’ve left an animal out in it? I hate them.
George has a plan: at midnight they’re going to sneak into the study and find the entrance to the Secret Way. Which they do.
I don’t know why as a child I never noticed how unlikely it was that things (maps, tunnels, buried treasure) could go undiscovered for generations until the Famous Five show up, and then somehow be easily uncovered by a group of ten- to twelve-year-olds. [Dove: Because previous generations don’t appear too fussed about exploring? Which is at odds with the new cartoon where the kids of the FF are very curious by nature. I guess curiosity skipped a… century or so?]
Anyway. The next day they wake up to find the doghouse buried, but Timothy is safely in the warm kitchen, because Joanna the cook brought him in. [Raven: Good work, fat panting cook!] George is still not allowed to see him, though.
Mr. Roland is in bed with a cold, so the children are free. All five of them, even the dog, go down a ladder and through the tunnel and end up at Kirrin Farm in the cupboard in the artists’ bedroom. The hidden compartment in the cupboard had another door in the back of it all along!
They lock the door to the hall so they can search the bedroom for the stolen papers. The artists are outside trying to beat the door down, and they have to give up and go. At the last possible second George finds the papers in a coat that’s hanging in the cupboard. She gets back to the tunnel, but now the Bad Guys are following them.
Somehow George convinces them Timothy is more of a threat than he ever looks on the covers of these books. Is he supposed to be huge? Anyway, they escape back into Kirrin Cottage, where Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin are standing uselessly around the hole in the floor in the study.
Julian tells the adults what happened because he’s twelve and the oldest? The most likely to be believed? I have no idea.
George has been completely vindicated:
George told the bit about Timmy keeping the men off the escaping children. ‘So you see, although you made poor Tim live out in the cold, away from me, he really saved us all, and your papers too,’ she said to her father, fixing her brilliant blue eyes on him.
Her father looked most uncomfortable. He felt very guilty for having punished George and Timothy. They had been right about Mr. Roland and he had been wrong.
‘Poor George,’ he said, ‘and poor Timmy. I’m sorry about all that.’
George did not bear malice once anyone had owned themselves to be in the wrong. She smiled at her father.
I love the way the text just rubs it in.
Mr. Roland is still sick in bed, and the house is snowed in anyway, so they lock him in his bedroom. Really. That’s a thing that happens.
In the middle of the night, Timothy wakes everyone up, barking at the two artists, who he’s cornered behind a sofa. So the family lock them in with Mr. Roland. I guess this was a thing you could do back then? Lock random people in your house? [Raven: Well, you can make a Citizen’s Arrest, so maybe you can build a Citizen’s Prison.]
The next day the police arrive on skis and it gets even more bizarre:
‘We won’t take the men away, sir, until the snow has gone,’ said the Inspector. ‘We’ll just put the handcuffs on them, so they don’t try any funny tricks. You keep the door locked too, and that dog outside. They’ll be safe there for a day or two. We’ve taken them enough food till we come back again. If they go a bit short, it will serve them right!’
So not only does this book cheat us out of descriptions of food, but now it’s threatening to starve the three bad guys. Also, I sure as hell hope that room has an ensuite bathroom. [Wing: I did not even think about the bathroom. God, can you imagine how horrid that room will be when they’re out of it?] [Dove: There is no way it has its own bathroom. That bedroom is going to reek.] [Raven: The Famous Five And The Russian Sleep Experiment.]
I used to love this book when I was a child, and frankly that’s a bit worrying. It can’t have been healthy for me to read (over and over and OVER) about George being disbelieved and shunned and left out AT CHRISTMAS and having even her beloved dog literally cast out into the storm, and I can’t imagine why I wanted to. Other than “therapy wasn’t an available option at the time,” I guess. We didn’t have therapists when I was a child; we had the Famous Five. Results were…variable.
[Wing: I found it utterly charming, though I was all up in arms over poor George and Timothy. ALSO: what the fuck is that formula?! I need to know. Why is it so important? Did it help the country? Did he invent some sort of chemical warfare? I MUST KNOW.]
[Dove: This… was not one of my favourites. Actually, this book is unfortunately placed. I think I would love it more if it wasn’t right before Five Run Away Together, which I love-love-love. Also, I much prefer the lengthy holiday stories, where they go camping or whatever, and lovingly describe all the fresh lettuce they’re eating with their picnic.]