The Famous Five are 70!

70 years ago, in 1942, Enid Blyton’s ‘Five On A Treasure Island’ was first published and, to mark the occasion, some of today’s celebrated

1st edition

1st edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

children’s illustrators have been redesigning the covers of these adventure books. Quentin Blake has started the ball rolling with the Treasure Island cover which can be seen by clicking here. Compare Blake’s illustration with that of the first edition, which I’ve used to illustrate this post. I think I prefer the original but that maybe because it’s more the style I associate with the books from my own childhood. Other illustrators who’ve been commissioned for the new covers include Helen Oxenbury, Chris Riddell, Oliver Jeffers and Emma Chichester Clark.

It was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five that gave me the reading bug many years ago. I devoured her tales of Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog. How I wished I could join them as they swigged ginger beer, shared their ice creams with Timmy and slept on deserted islands on beds of springy heather.

I tried reading the Secret Seven but they just didn’t hit the mark in the same way as The Five.

Malory Towers was another of Blyton’s series’ that had me hooked. I read them over and over again. Even now the names Darrell, Gwendoline, Sally and Mary Lou immediately conjure up those characters that I loved as a girl. Boarding school sounded like a fantastic place to be.

And did anyone else read The Magic Faraway Tree? The story centred around a huge tree which had different lands at the top each day. It might be The Land of Dreams, The Land of Tempers or The Land of Presents. A group of children climbed the tree and, needless to say, had adventures in the different lands alongside the inhabitants of the tree, Silky and Moonface. My favourite thing in these books was the Slippery Slip – a helter-skelter type slide which allowed the children to whizz down the centre of the tree. I reread these books aloud to my daughters when they were young and enjoyed them just as much the second time around.

Enid Blyton comes in for a lot of bad press but in my opinion she did nothing but good for children’s literature. Her captivating stories enticed generations of youngsters to enjoy reading and books – and children who read for pleasure grow into adults who buy books and continue to read for pleasure.

Does anyone else have good memories of Enid Blyton’s books – or was I the only Blyton junkie in the early ’70s?

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  1. #1 by littlemerants on May 14, 2012 - 12:10 pm

    Oh what a great post. I am unashamedly pro-Blyton, and have recently been building up a collection of her books for my children to read when they are old enough. I could go on for hours about how much I loved her books as a child (and still enjoy re-reading them). Yes, they have dated, but they are still good fun.

    Malory Towers, St Clare’s, The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Amelia Jane, The Faraway Tree, the various farm and circus books, the Wishing Chair and the Mr Pinkwhistle stories… I could go on.

    Yesterday I went for a picnic with my (French) husband and baby daughter. When I commented with a smirk that food always tastes better outside, he asked why I always say that… I’m not sure there was an Enid Blyton book that didn’t have that line or similar in it.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 1:57 pm

      Rebecca – I think you’re right. The Famous Five always had massive picnics with food from Aunt Fanny’s larder and I’m sure they used to comment how being outside always made them feel hungrier. I remember Mr Pinkwhistle too – he once rescued 2 forgotten pet rabbits I think…

  2. #3 by shirleyelmokadem on May 14, 2012 - 12:33 pm

    I loved her books too. My Auntie always gave me one of her books for Christmas. My favourite were the Naughtiest Girl in the School series. I also read these to my daughter and when she was younger I read her The Magic Faraway tree. She loved the way I did all the voices for the characters. Just last week I was telling my four year old granddaughter about the Faraway Tree and I will buy the book to read her soon.

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 1:59 pm

      Shirley – it’s great re-reading these stories to children isn’t it? I’d love to hear your voices for the Magic Faraway Tree characters!!

  3. #5 by blogaboutwriting on May 14, 2012 - 12:40 pm

    Ooh Sally, you’ve just taken me on a trip down memory lane! I loved Mallory Towers (and the other boarding school books – St.Clare’s, was it?) and the Famous Five too – totally agree with you about the Secret Seven – they didn’t do it for me either! But I really, really, really, loved all the ‘Adventure’ books (Valley of Adventure, Sea of Adventure, Island of Adventure…) AND best of all, The Magic Faraway Tree (‘wisha, wisha, wisha…’), which I read to my little brother too and he now reads to his kids. Happy memories indeed. Good old Enid. I agree with you. She comes in for a lot of flack but she definitely ignited my love of reading.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 2:01 pm

      Helen – I never really got into St Clares and I’d forgotten all about the ‘Adventure’ books – totally agree, they were great!

  4. #7 by Pat on May 14, 2012 - 12:45 pm

    Sally, I’ve been a fan since the mid 50s onwards. I’ve still got a collection of Sunny Stories magazines and some of my books from back then – sadly most have lost their covers. I don’t like Quentin Blake’s cover at all (though I do like a lot of his work). Helen Oxenbury’s cover for ‘Five Go Adventuring Again’ works ok-ish.
    The Faraway Tree is still one of my favourite reads.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 2:05 pm

      Hi Pat, I don’t know the Sunny Stories magazines, they must have been a bit before my time. It’s hard to get used to modern covers on favourite old books isn’t it? It must be because they don’t match the character images we’ve carried in our heads all these years – a bit like the way the film version of a book never quite matches up to how you imagined it when you read the story.

  5. #9 by Bruna D on May 14, 2012 - 3:46 pm

    When I was a child I absolutely loved reading Enid Blyton’s books, especially The Secret Seven and The Faraway Tree tales. Yes, I suppose most of them are very dated for today’s children, but I’m sure that The Folk of the Faraway Tree would be extremely popular if transformed into a children’s tv program (something like the Teletubbies). There were no end to the lands at the top of the tree, and does anyone else remember longing for a ‘pop biscuit’ (the ones the fairy of the tree made) ? Thank you Enid for all those happy memories that I still treasure, of the makeshift tents in the back garden or on rainy days inside our house (two chairs and a blanket!), hidden away reading your books. Memories…

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 7:41 pm

      Bruna, I remember those biscuits the fairies made – didn’t they explode in the mouth? I can see the Faraway Tree stories being turned into a cartoon but I hope not. There’s nothing better than reading or being read to and letting your imagination do the work instead of being handed the characters & settings on a TV screen, ready formed. I’m sure we all have slightly different pictures of Moonface & Silky in our heads.

  6. #11 by Linda on May 14, 2012 - 4:10 pm

    I loved everything Enid Blyton as a child, especially the Faraway Tree Series. I read the 3 book edition to my eldest, and now read a chapter or 2 each night to my youngest. He is just so enthralled by it and giggles madly whenever the Saucepan Man mishears certain words. Despite the fact that the children are free to wander which my are definitely not, I don’t think it has dated that much and is still just as relevant today as it was then. I’ve just bought the Wishing Chair trilogy for my youngest too and get a real thrill from seeing him with his nose stuck in a book – just like his mum. Thanks for this post.

    • #12 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 7:45 pm

      Linda, I envy you that pleasure of reading those books to your children now. My two are almost grown-up but maybe I’ll get a third ‘go’ at the books when I’m grandma (although I hope that’s some time away!). I’d forgotten about the saucepan man mishearing things – thanks for reminding me! I’m really enjoying everyone’s comments on this trip down Memory lane.

  7. #13 by susanjanejones on May 14, 2012 - 4:30 pm

    Hi Sally, I loved Enid’s books from the first time I opened Brer Rabbit. Then I got into the fairies and goblins, brilliant. I loved the seven slightly more than the five, but not much. My absolute favourite were that gang of ‘put em rights’ they went round doing good deeds for people. Also I prefer the original covers like you. Great post. She made story telling look so easy didn’t she?

    • #14 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 7:47 pm

      Susan – I think story-telling was easy for Enid Blyton. She wrote hundreds of books didn’t she? A very talented lady but it’s a shame her personal life wasn’t so successful. I saw a TV program about her a couple of years ago and she didn’t come across as the nicest person – which sort of shatters my illusions a bit.

  8. #15 by Tracy Fells on May 14, 2012 - 5:17 pm

    I’ll happily join you and the admirers above in the Enid Blyton closet. Somehow she’s become an embarassment, but her books started me reading too. I was a Secret Seven fan – even set up my own version with cardboard badges. And I swear I found the Far Away Tree in my local woods. I used to stare up it for ages watching out for Moonface and friends. Later discovered Mallory Towers and wanted to run away to it, just needed my own pony first…sighs…

    • #16 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 7:50 pm

      Tracy – I really don’t understand why her books get criticised. I imagine it’s someting to do with political correctness or not being ‘literary’ enough but they did the job and got children reading. I wish I could’ve been in your Secret Seven Club with my own badge!

  9. #17 by Debbie on May 14, 2012 - 5:57 pm

    What a lovely post! I’ve still got all my Enid Blyton books from the 70s. My eldest son used to read Mr. Pink-whistle and i loved Amelia Jane and Malory Towers. I can’t remember one that i didn’t like, they were all lovely books.

    • #18 by Sally Jenkins on May 14, 2012 - 7:52 pm

      Debbie – glad you enjoyed the post. I was sad when I got to the end of the Malory Towers series and I never really got into St. Clares but Mr Pinkwhistle was great!

  10. #19 by Pat on May 14, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    The Magic Faraway Tree was on BBC TV in late 1990s – it was called Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Lands. It was very disappointing. I hate to admit it but I adapted the scripts from the TV version to books but I tried to ‘sneak in’ as much of the original as I could.

    • #20 by Sally Jenkins on May 15, 2012 - 6:01 pm

      Pat – are you saying that you turned the TV scripts into books? Why was that necessary?

      • #21 by Pat on May 15, 2012 - 7:37 pm

        Sally, Scholastic asked me to write books to go with the series – but I had to (mainly) stay with the tv version. They were sticker story books. I used to write a lot of licensed character material back then.

  11. #22 by bookwitch on May 14, 2012 - 8:48 pm

    I loved most of them; Famous Five and Secret Seven and the Adventure books and the Mysteries. So many authors, even writers of hardboiled crime, claim it was Blyton who started them off, and how can that be wrong?

    • #23 by Sally Jenkins on May 15, 2012 - 6:03 pm

      Bookwitch – in my eyes Enid Blyton, as an author, can do no wrong!

  12. #24 by aliceinwritingland on May 14, 2012 - 10:22 pm

    Hi Sally, I really enjoyed your post too and everyone’s comments. Thanks 🙂

    I was a Secret Seven fan and I remember devouring the books as a child. I think they were some of the first books I read to myself. I also really enjoyed Mallory Towers – I was always pestering my mum for midnight feasts and the chance to go away to school… She allowed the occasional feast but I was backing a loser for boarding school!

    • #25 by Sally Jenkins on May 15, 2012 - 6:04 pm

      Alice, I guess all us Malory Towers fans would have been greatly disappointed if we had got our wish and been sent away to school!

    • #26 by bookwitch on May 15, 2012 - 6:10 pm

      An elderly friend of mine, once worked with someone much more her senior (a librarian in Sweden), who had also dreamed of boarding school after reading books like these. Her problem was that her parents were in a position to let her go to one. She went, and she hated it.
      So be careful what you wish for.

      • #27 by Sally Jenkins on May 15, 2012 - 6:18 pm

        Wise words, Bookwitch. And I’m sure that line ‘Be careful what you wish for’ must have appeared in more than one Blyton book.

  13. #28 by aliceinwritingland on May 15, 2012 - 9:48 pm

    Yes, I should have said that I’m very glad that my parents wouldn’t let me go. I don’t think I’d have lasted a week!!

  14. #29 by Senneferet on May 23, 2012 - 12:30 pm

    I adore Enid Blyton, even at the ripe old age of, err, 27. I had my mums old copies that she had got out of a charity shop. I think they are 50’s and 60’s hardback reprints. Once I got through classics such as Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair I started hunting for more. I eventually wound up with all of Famous Five, Malory Towers and St Claires. I couldn’t get into the Secret Seven, by the time I’d read ‘Five’ I think I found them a bit childish. I think they are aimed at younger children.

    • #30 by Sally Jenkins on May 23, 2012 - 1:34 pm

      Senneferet – It’s lovely to find that so many people have a soft spot for Enid Blyton books. She truly had a gift for entertaining children (and grown-ups!) didn’t she?

  15. #31 by womagwriter on May 27, 2012 - 6:32 pm

    I read nothing but Blyton for years. Loved the Adventure books, the Secret Seven, Malory Towers and Brownie Tales best, I think. I read some of them to my boys when they were little – they liked Noddy best. Sold all my old Blytons at a car boot sale recently – sad to see them go but they were snapped up by mums with young kids who were delighted at the prospect of reading them again. Books are for reading – there was no sense keeping them in my attic.

    • #32 by Sally Jenkins on May 27, 2012 - 7:13 pm

      Kath – it must have been emotional saying goodbye to the Blytons, but good to know that someone else was going to enjoy them. As you say – books are for reading, not for hoarding.

  16. #33 by Gary Dalkin on May 31, 2012 - 9:33 am

    I enjoyed the Famous Five books tremendously when I was a boy. Also the Adventure series, and yes, when I was very young, The Magic Faraway Tree. I hate it that some of her books, certainly the Noddy titles, possibly others, have been rewritten to fit current prejudices. I have an uncensored original copy of Noddy and the Magic Rubber, which read in the right (wrong) way is hilarious.

    • #34 by Sally Jenkins on June 1, 2012 - 8:06 pm

      Gary – I agree, it’s not right that some of her titles have been rewritten in order to become more ‘PC’. Left as they were, they were a piece of social history.

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