The Mystery of the Strange Bundle

So I failed. I had one job and that was to read the book on my way up to Fiona’s when I was on the train, and I didn’t. On top of that, I’ve just not been reading because I’ve been trying to help with Brodie (he’s got a good pair of lungs on him!) and I have just failed completely in my simple task. So I’m going to review the first half of the book for you. Let’s go!


Illness abounds

Oh woe are the Five Find-Outers, they have gone down with the flu, thanks to Bets as she’s managed to get it first over the Christmas hols, and given it around to everyone. When we join them they have managed to be mostly on the mend, and Bets is better and visiting the others faithfully.

After she gets annoyed at Pip, because he’s being mean to her, she decides to go and see Fatty who enjoys her company even when ill. Pip asks her for some bulls’ eyes, so she pops to the sweet shop and buys some for Fatty as well, thinking he’s probably at the same stage as Pip in his recovery.

When she gets to Fatty’s he already has a visitor, much to his mother’s surprise, not to mention that Fatty also appears to be asleep which adds to the confusion. The old lady who is there is apparently known to Fatty and has met the Trottevilles before. Mrs Trotteville isn’t convinced and then the cover breaks when Fatty reveals himself to be the old lady in the chair.

Mrs Trotteville is not impressed, especially given that the cook has given Fatty her aunt’s old smelly clothes. She wants to throw them away or wash them at least and Fatty won’t let her. He convinces his mother that Bets can take them down to his shed before she goes and the clothes are left and the woman forgotten.

Bets and Fatty sit down to talk, Mrs Trotteville having invited Bets to stay for tea, and Fatty tells Bets that he has begun to teach himself to throw his voice and become a ventriloquist. Apparently he’s been inspired by someone visiting his school in the last term and wanted to take it up. How he managed to ‘perfect’ his new skill so quickly, I don’t know, because its a very difficult and precise skill, and it takes people years to perfect it. However this is Fatty, why am I not surprised that he took it on with ease? He’s Blyton’s perfect character after all.

What I do find really distasteful is that he scares Bets with this ‘talent’ so much that she genuinely is trembling with fear. Fiona disagrees with me, saying that Bets is just a big baby, but there’s two sides to this issue. To me they hinge on Fatty’s personality. One is the mature, sensible boy he can be sometimes, when he’s actually in the middle of a mystery and looking after the others, but when he’s bored he can be brutish, and when he’s showing off he is just a pain. He can be so flippant and disregards so many opinions and feelings because he’s the ‘great’ Fatty. Fiona thinks I just don’t like him and that many people would disagree with me about him. Feel free to back one of us up in the comments!

The beginning of the mystery 

After the generally recovery from the flu the five and Buster start to explore the village once more much to Mr Goon’s disgust. He’s gotten rather big for his boots since the children were ill because he was able to run after any mystery that may have occurred. He’s as insufferable as ever, back to being rude about Fatty (not that he doesn’t deserve it) but he should at least have manners when dealing with the children and Fatty. When Bets is on her way to visit Fatty, she bumps into Mr Goon, and he tells her what he thinks of Fatty and is quite rude really. Bets then blithely tells Fatty everything who laughs at Goon, but is determined to find a mystery to beat the policeman to solving it.

Anyway, once the children are more recovered from the flu, they are out and about, trying to find a mystery before they go back to school, but nothing appears until there’s a break in two doors down from Larry and Daisy. Again there doesn’t seem to be much of a mystery and it rather feels like there won’t be much of the mystery until the very end of the book again. Still, best to keep going and see where we get with this.

Please tell me it gets better?

Next review: The Mystery of the Strange Bundle part 2

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9 Responses to The Mystery of the Strange Bundle

  1. Francis says:

    Thank you Stef!


  2. Michael Edwards says:

         Yes, it probably does get better – although I suppose that depends on what you think would make it better. I have never found this story to be noticeably worse in any sense than any other Five Find-Outers books, found it entertaining enough when I read it again a few years ago, after many years since the previous reading. It may be that this series is just one of those people either like or don’t, and (it seems to me) you may possibly be in that latter category. I don’t know that it’s my favourite series, but I do like it, think it is very clever, and it is perhaps the only adventure/mystery series to include a significant element of humour, which can be very funny indeed sometimes. (Probably the next-funniest series is the Barney series, where Snubby brings in a regular element of humour; but the Five Find-Outers series is probably the one where humour is most tightly bound up with the actual plot.)
         As to the story seeming to get going too late in the book: I think that, in reality, most of Enid Blyton’s mystery and adventure stories do have the actual plot start fairly early (or at least not noticeably late), but this may not be apparent until later in the book. I think many of the books do start with events that seem on the face of it unrelated to the adventure, but those early events, although not adventurous or mysterious in themselves, are setting up circumstances and trains of events that will later relate to the mystery or adventure, without which the main part of the story couldn’t happen as it did. I suppose some may not like that approach, but I don’t have a problem with it myself: Enid Blyton’s writing is usually very readable, whatever kinds of events it is talking about; and I do think Enid Blyton paces her novels, so that they start slowly, and later parts build up progressively, and can get quite exciting, and I suggest that at least part of that excitement is due to the contrast with earlier, slower parts. At times when reading a Blyton book, I have sometimes, just out of curiosity, tried to identify the exact point where the “real” plot began; and I often find that I cannot really do so, or that several points can be considered the start. To me, this illustrates how early, apparently non-adventurous or -mysterious, events can be organically connected with the real mystery or adventure, and how difficult it can be to dismiss early events as unrelated to the meat of the plot.
         This is in marked contrast with some other kinds of adventure story – the Hardy Boys books come to mind – where there is helter-skelter action and danger almost from Chapter 1, and it doesn’t let up until the final page. However, curiously, this, while superficially exciting, can almost detract from the excitement at some deeper, more sustainable level – there is so much going on in a Hardy Boys book that you almost lose track of the overarching plot-line, and many of the exciting events themselves are short-lived, and then the next one happens – and I think this gives a curiously choppy, fragmentary feel to some of those stories, and the overall excitement, I suggest, may well be less than that in an Enid Blyton story which is well-paced, builds up, and you at all times have an overall comprehension of the plot and how it is progressing.


  3. Dale Vincero, Brisbane, Australia says:

    Currently reading Disappearing Cat. Thanks for the lead ladies !


  4. Avishek Kundu says:

    Everything except the main mystery was missing. The last part with the inspector or the constable.


  5. The “Find-Outers” are a great series to read — if you are a boy!

    Fatty is a remarkable character. Often described as Blyton’s perfect character, because he could do everything, and do it well. He solves mysteries that would have baffled Einstein! He deals with grown-ups on their own level, runs rings around Mr Goon, and is the pride of his parents (a typical spoiled only-child, of course, he is not especially modest: and to be fair he has nothing to be modest about!)

    Yes, Fatty must be an extremely irritating character to read about, if you’re a girl. Because he’s perfect, and can do no wrong; and the girl Bets simply hero-worships him, while Daisy seems to be a complete non-entity, a character without a personality. So Fatty completely dominates the storyline, the other children are pretty much reduced to standing on the side-lines cheering him on, and even Inspector Jenks is left trailing in his wake. The message is simple: boys are perfect, and Fatty is a boy!

    Enid Blyton, you won’t need telling, was a woman. And she had a family, but her kids were both girls. So Fatty represents the son she never had, and as a surrogate son she indulges him somewhat. It’s a bit unrealistic, but she was never a boy, and she had no children who were, so she had no realistic role model for Fatty. It’s interesting to speculate on what Fatty might have been like if Enid had had a more realistic, less rosy and romanticised, view of boys.

    But it’s no more unrealistic than the Famous Five finding secret passages under Kirrin Island, or finding lost treasure, or catching spies and saboteurs. Like my sister, if you’re a girl you’ll want to read the Famous Five instead, because they’re led by a girl. Like me, if you’re a boy you’ll want to read the Five Find-Outers, because they’re led by a boy. That’s life!

    No way was I going to spend my childhood reading ‘Jill Has Two Ponies’, or even the allegedly slightly less dull ‘Silver Brumby Kingdom’ — the type of horsey books that fascinated my sister. And I preferred Billy Bunter (and Jennings & Derbyshire) to ‘First Term at Mallory Towers’. I left Bessie Bunter to my sister, too.

    Why did Pippastef not like ‘Strange Bundle’? Well, that’s a no-brainer, really. Fatty is at his most perfect, doing impossible things that girls can’t possibly do! Of course, some girls are going to be irritated by this!! A moment’s reflection might have led to the realisation that boys can’t do these things either, that it’s only a story, and that Enid was a female author so had no axe to grind. But Pippastef ignored all of that, and decided it was a bad story because the hero wasn’t a heroine!

    Ah, well! I might have said much the same about the more irritating of the Mallory Towers books! Too many girls, too many ponies! But then again, perhaps not…


    • fiona says:

      That’s a really interesting theory, Stephen! I have to say that as a girl I always liked the FFOs, though! I wonder if Blyton was aware of her inexperience with boys (though she did have two brothers, of course), but knew that in order to draw in male readers she would have to include plenty of boys for them to read about?
      It has always been the case that boys (not all, but many) are reticent to read anything deemed too ‘girly’. That’s why J.K. Rowling didn’t write as Joanne, in case it put boys off. Malory Towers and St Clare’s are seen as girls’ books, Whyteleaf is probably slightly more girls’ than boys’ whereas the FFOs, Secret Seven, Famous Five, etc, are popular with both. I don’t think she ever wrote anything aimed purely at boys, though?


      • Happy New Year, Fiona.

        I’ve always assumed that Enid was aware of the fact that her various series would attract different readerships. For some months, you’ve been posting extracts here from the Enid Blyton Magazine, from readers’ letters, which I think demonstrates this point: the magazine seems to have an exclusively female readership, to judge by its letters page, and quite a young one.

        I think I commented on this, although it’s difficult to get a clear picture (from those letters alone) of why this is so. But the implication is that the magazine’s subject matter was evidently targeted at young girls.

        For the ‘Malory Towers’ and ‘St Clares’ series, these were each set in a girls’ school. Every character was thus a girl. So it seems reasonable to suppose Enid intended these series to be read mainly by girls.

        There were many book series – by other authors – which feature solely boys’ schools (such as Greyfriars by Frank Richards, Jennings & Derbyshire by Anthony Buckeridge), and which, my experience has been, were read solely by boys. I actually belong to an online community dedicated to the Greyfriars series (quite a lengthy series, it was published from 1908 to 1965), and I have never come across a single girl, in quite a large community.

        In my childhood, it was pretty widely accepted that some series – featuring ponies, as well as girls’ schools – attracted an entirely female audience. In the playground, you were unlikely to find a boy who would admit to reading ‘First Term at Malory Towers’! And because my junior school ran a book club, to encourage reading, in which you could buy paperback titles weekly from the Armada list at a discount, quite a wide number of kids and staff would know which titles you were buying, as the books were distributed in first lesson, Monday, so anyone buying a Malory Towers novel would be known — girls in the class would buy them, I don’t recall any of the boys doing so.

        Enid Blyton wrote for a mixed audience, but it did depend upon who was leading the team. The Finder-Outers were led by Fatty, a boy, even though he had girls in his gang. The Famous Five were led by a girl, George, even though she had boys in her gang. It seemed to make a difference in who was reading the books.

        What slightly puzzled me was that Pippastef had such a strong (negative) reaction to ‘Mystery of the Strange Bundle’. Overall, she had seemed in earlier posts to like the Find-Outer books. This one didn’t seem to me to be noticeably different to the others, yet her reaction was very different this time.


        • It’s interesting that Edith Nesbit felt compelled to write as E Nesbit, in the Victorian Age, but Enid Blyton didn’t feel compelled to write as E Blyton in the mid 20th Century.

          I think JK Rowling might have misjudged slightly the mood of the late 20th Century. It was more significant, IMHO, that her hero was a boy, Harry, even though he had a girl in his gang. And less significant that she was not a male author. I’m unsure whether in the 19th Century anyone was fooled by the designation ‘E Nesbit’, but certainly most 20th Century readers understood that JK Rowling was a woman.

          In the Victorian age, a woman writer had written romantic novels under a male pen name, writing as George Eliot. But other 19th Century writers such as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte seemingly didn’t feel that having an obviously female name was any sort of disadvantage.


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