I recently had a conversation about this particular Enid Blyton novel and an interpretation of the story. In the past people have suggested that the Famous Five behaved appallingly towards the Sticks and their dog; however last week the person I was talking to suggested that the Five’s behaviour was totally justified.
Now wait a moment, before you start exclaiming that it’s not possible and I shall explain!
Five Run Away Together starts with George being on her own with Timothy during the holidays and her mother being ill. The jolly Joanna, who made her début in Five Go Adventuring Again, has gone off to look after her mother who had broken her leg, and Aunt Fanny has got a new temporary cook, the surly Mrs Stick.
From the off, when Julian, Dick, and Anne arrive and we are introduced to Mrs Stick, we know she has to be a baddie. She is bad tempered and hates the children on sight. She has a son Edgar who is no better, and dog, Tinker, that Timmy likes to chase and bite.
Now for a few days the Five have a rather nice time, in the summer sun, even though Aunt Fanny’s mystery illness puts a damper on the proceedings and her illness (which I always thought of as an appendicitis for some reason, because later it is mentioned that she has an operation and because I didn’t know the names for any other illnesses that required operations when I read the book the first time around, it sort of stuck!) causes great upset when she is taken away to hospital, and Uncle Quentin goes with her, leaving horrible old Mrs Stick in charge.
This is where my conversation becomes important. The person who I was talking to suggested that the behaviour of the Famous Five from this point onwards was justified because Mrs Stick had a duty of care towards the Five that wasn’t being fulfilled, so their actions were completely justified. In fact they were reacting to a deliberate action.
I have met people before where this book seems to suggest to them that the Five can actually be quite nasty, and I suppose to a degree that’s true. However with this new idea – that the five are only reacting to Mrs Stick not fulfilling her contract towards them, to me sheds a different light on the matter. From this point of view, Julian’s put down, sharp attitude to the Sticks is justified, and their treatment of Edgar (who is about as pleasant as his mother is) makes more sense.
I always believed that the five’s attitude was justified but I couldn’t explain why. As a child it was because the Sticks were the bad guys and the good guys were allowed to be mean to them as the baddies were mean first (I hope that makes sense).
Anyway, onwards? This has to be one of my favourite fives as the weather described in the books makes for a perfect beachy holiday. Not to mention the thrilling plot. The Five, deciding that they can’t stay in Kirrin Cottage with the Sticks any longer, head out to the island and one of my favourite parts is where they go around the house collecting supplies of food and blankets and things to use and live off of when they’re on Kirrin Island. It is perhaps the first ‘big’ thing to happen in the story since Aunt Fanny gets taken to hospital.
When the food is all loaded into George’s boat, and they’ve successfully tricked the Sticks into thinking they’ve gone to Julian’s parents’ home, the Five row over to the island and have a fun time for a couple of days before the Sticks show up again. The Five become convinced that the Sticks are involved in smuggling and set about trying to capture them.
Once the story get to Kirrin island, things start to move quickly, and in fact it’s quite a long time before the Five do the running away to Kirrin Island, but the conflict with the Sticks and the reader’s concern about Aunt Fanny means that you do not really notice the lack of action before then!
The short chapters are filled with descriptions of food, glorious loaves of bread, ginger beer, tinned pineapples and peaches in sweet juice, sardines, roast chickens, fresh tomatoes, jam tarts, meat pies and treacle tarts. This is one of the more foodie books of the Famous Five. This is possibly something to do with the fact that Blyton would have been writing during the height of rationing (the first edition was published in August 1944) and these were foods that were probably being missed from the war time diet. I must say all the meals they have do sound most mouth watering even now!
Of course things work out well for our heroes, they get to the bottom of the Sticks’ secret, naturally and all on a full stomach! However I do have a few niggles about this book during this read. One would be the ages, all the children are described as being a year older than they were in Five on a Treasure Island. I can’t help feeling that Blyton writes Anne as much younger than her eleven years, making her feel about nine which is odd because she was very much written as her age in the previous two books.
This is probably also the novel where Julian’s pompous nature (loved by some [me] and hated by most) starts to really develop. He takes a lot of control around the Sticks and begins to really take control and organise the Five in a way we haven’t seen before, as they’ve always had the steadying guide of Aunt Fanny in the background. In Five Run Away Together, Julian’s character comes out into the light more, and this pompousness is continued and revisited throughout the rest of the series. In a way this is very much Julian’s book, which is probably why it was my favourite when I was younger, because it feels very Juliancentric.
Overall, this is a very good Famous Five and feels more comfortable than the two before. Certainly a nice easy, thrilling ready during these dark evenings. Gives you a reason to dream about the summer to come and all the adventures we’ll have!