Shamefully, I have realised that my last Famous Five Pick’n’Mix Reflection was posted 6 months ago! I wonder that Stef and Fiona haven’t removed my name from the blog completely. However, it is getting decidedly autumnal down here in the Southern Hemisphere, so I expect to have lots more time for cosy fireside readings and blog-writings.
This time I decided to read a Famous Five from near the beginning of the series, and chose Five Go To Smuggler’s Top. Now, I remember either really loving it, or really not loving it, as a child – and now even after re-reading it I couldn’t tell you which one it was (although as an adult it is easy for me to say which it is now – you will have to read on to find out!) I also know that it is a favourite with both Stef and Fiona so it was with some trepidation that I picked up one of my two copies to read….
A hardback and paperback edition.
I have “only” two editions of Smuggler’s Top a 1963 thirteenth impression which is in fairly good condition with a dust jacket, and a 1991 Knight paperback. As usual, I chose to read the oldest, or closest to the original text version, but I am very fond of my 1991 Knight paperback for the inscription:
Corinna’s 8th Birthday present from her Mum, Dad and [sister].
For a while there I was the easiest child to buy birthday or christmas presents for, as all I wanted was another Famous Five book!
As with my previous reflections, I won’t attempt to do a plot summary – Fiona has done this for over here. There was so much that I enjoyed that I could probably do a page-by-page description, but I think I would lose you all if I did that! I’ll just discuss some of the things that really struck me as I re-read this story.
This story contains some excellent characters, other than the Five of course. We are first introduced to Pierre or “Sooty” Lenoir in the very first chapter when Uncle Quentin asks the boys if they know him as he goes to the same school. Uncle Quentin has been having quite a lot of scientific correspondence with the boy’s father and has asked them both to stay. The boys are delighted:
Well, it wouldn’t be bad sport to have old Sooty here, Uncle. But he’s quite mad. He never does as he’s told, he climbs like a monkey, and he can be awfully cheeky.
Needless to say, Uncle Quentin is less than delighted after learning this!
The very first night the children arrive at Kirrin Cottage, there is a severe storm and the giant ash tree falls on the cottage. This is the first of many frightening scenes in the book – it really does set the almost gothic atmosphere for the story. However, the illustration on page 22 of my edition really did make me laugh – I’m sure I’ve never seen such a monstrous tree!
A truly monstrous tree!
Anyway, with the cottage uninhabitable the children are shipped off to Smuggler’s Top to stay with the Lenoir family. And so the adventure begins! Like any proper Five adventure, the children must be properly nourished before setting off. I noticed that on their journey to Smuggler’s Top, they had two lunches! On page 27 “Aunt Fanny gave them all an early lunch” before they all piled into the car and headed off. Then on page 30 they all had lunch again at an old inn. I’m surprised they weren’t all fed again immediately on arrival at Smuggler’s Top!
Once the children arrive at Smuggler’s Top we are introduced to two other very interesting characters – before I discuss them further though be aware that there will be spoilers! Mr Lenoir is Sooty’s stepfather and I do enjoy how his character is developed, and he turns out not to be “bad”, just awkward and odd. It is unusual for Blyton to introduce a character that the children don’t like, but who is not a “baddie”. Perhaps because it is unusual, the character is slightly unbelievable (how could someone with cold hands who doesn’t smile with his eyes not be a baddie?) in the context of Blyton’s world. However I did enjoy the plot twists that came from this characterization. And of course, he does make friends with Timmy in the end:
Timmy politely shakes Mr Lenoir’s hand
Another interesting character is Block, Mr Lenoir’s supposedly deaf manservant. He is a more straightforwardly bad character, but I did enjoy the way Blyton wrote about his deafness – you were never (even as an adult) really quite sure if he was deaf or putting it on. And I do love the way Julian describes him when he finds out:
He’s a very clever – sly – double-faced – deceitful ROGUE!
The adventure in this story really does take all the best ingredients from an Enid Blyton story and combine them into one. The story has several climaxes which I also really enjoyed – every time you think you know what is going on another element is added to the mix. One of my favourite parts is when Timmy gets stuck in the sinking mud in the marsh – truly, my heart was in my mouth (even though of course I knew he would be all right). I really enjoyed how Uncle Quentin is the one to pull Timmy out of the mud – in his pyjamas no less! I do like Uncle Quentin, and love it when he shows his softer side and how much he cares about his daughter (and her cousins). Plus, he does look rather handsome in this illustration:
Our pyjama-clad hero!
One of the things that particularly struck me about this story was it’s spooky, almost gothic atmospheric imagery. For example, on page 117:
When the twilight hung like a soft purple curtain over the house
That is poetry, by anyone’s standards.
This story really has it all – smugglers (including the Five, who smuggle Timmy into Smuggler’s Top after being told they are not allowed him there!), secret passages, a creepy house and dangerous marsh, and good old Uncle Quentin. It is truly atmospheric – creepy and suspenseful and exciting. So how could I not rate this story at the top of my list so far?!
Here is the revised list:
- Five Go to Smuggler’s Top (#4)
- Five Go Off To Camp (#7)
- Five Go To Billycock Hill (#16)
- Five Go To Mystery Moor (#13)
We shall see how Five Go To Smuggler’s Top fares when I get on with reading the rest… but I have a sneaking suspicion it will remain very near the top. Fiona and Stef will be pleased!