Five Go Down to the Sea part 2

I’ve reviewed the main story here, so now it’s time for everyone’s favourite part two, where I viciously dissect the book and point out all the plot holes and mistakes.

The illustrations

First up, a few points about Eileen Soper’s illustrations. We’re on book number 12 now, and the children have gradually been growing older.

All of a sudden, though, Dick seems very bulky and strong-jawed (the latter being used to describe Julian, usually). In the text Dick says he’s all skin and bone which I’m sure is an exaggeration, but there’s little to choose between he and Julian in size and age. Just check out the cheekbones on him below:

It’s a far cry from the 11 year old boy in Five on a Treasure Island,

It’s even a change from Five Fall Into Adventure (3 books back) or Five on a Hike Together (2 books back.)

But anyway, Dick’s bulk aside, there is one detail in the illustrations that doesn’t match the text. Yan is described as wearing a shirt with no sleeves or buttons, but he has sleeves in the illustrations (his top is sleeveless in the magazine illustrations, though. Perhaps Soper forgot that detail when she redid them).

Also, Yan is described twice as wearing pants. Soper depicts those as loose trousers, though boys his age would normally wear shorts.

George as a boy

Anne offers to help Mrs Penruthlan  (Mrs P from now on) shell peas before they go to church, and Mrs P accepts but says the boys needn’t help. George immediately goes on the defensive I like that! How unfair! Why shouldn’t they, just because they’re boys?” I think she has a point!

Dick takes the sting out by saying he and Julian will help, of course, as they like podding peas. I imagine he wouldn’t say the same if it was a more arduous or feminine task, though! And it doesn’t tackle the fact that Mrs P was the one to say the boys didn’t have to help, but it makes George simmer down anyway

Interestingly both girls were hats to church and they both add a sprig of honeysuckle, which sounds very un-George like to me. She looks more masculine than Anne in the illustration which appeared in the magazine version, though.

Yan’s Old Grandad refers to George as Little Master when they go to visit, and I think that’s the only time George is mistaken for a boy. The Penruthlans know she’s a girl certainly.

Signs of the times

I always like looking out for little things that really place the books back in time.

In this book it mostly has to do with the trains. When they go to catch the train from Kirrin the porter labels their luggage and says the train will wait until he’s done – you’d never see that happen these days, and yet the trains run later and later!

Also, their other luggage has been sent on already. I’ve seen this quite a few times in Blyton books. I understand that a child or children, especially when cycling, doesn’t want to be encumbered with cases or trunks. However, I can’t work out exactly how it all works!

I assume an adult drops heavy trunks etc at the station and a porter puts them on a train with a note saying which station they are for. There was guard for the luggage van so he would be organised and know which luggage was to be passed to a porter at the other end… and then? Someone has to deliver or collect them? In this case someone from Tremannon Farm would come with a pony trap or old Land Rover and pick up the cases, then wait until the next train arrived for the Five to get off and then cycle over?

Why couldn’t the Five have been dropped at the station with their luggage instead of sending it on an earlier train? I appreciate that four bikes are cumbersome, but they could have cycled behind Fanny’s pony trap, and at the other end they could have been greeted by the luggage collector and given directions etc.

Also, at their stop the guard finds them and reminds them they want to get out as they hadn’t realised they had reached their destination. Something else you’d be unlikely to see today unless you have specifically asked for a reminder, and even then you’d probably be out of luck.

Blyton’s writing

People criticise her writing all the time and yet there are absolute gems to be found, on top of all the descriptions of scenery and her fast-paced adventures.

The old shepherd was sitting outside his hut, smoking a clay pipe. He wasn’t very big, and he seemed shrivelled up, like an apple stored too long. But there was still a sweetness in him, and the children liked him at once – he had Yan’s sudden smile, that lighted up eyes that were still as blue as the summer sky above them.

His face had a thousand wrinkles that creased and ran into one another when he smiled. His shaggy eyebrows, curly beard and hair were all grey – as grey as the woolly coats of the sheep he had lived with all his life.

The bit about the apple I thought was particularly good – that’s the bit I jotted down as I read but the whole description is pretty good too!

She also refers to hungry rocks when talking about ships being wrecked, how many times have we heard rocks being likened to jagged teeth?

The Wreckers’ story isn’t as strong as the one in Five Go to Demon’s Rocks, but it was clearly the precursor which she reworked for the later story. In Demon’s Rocks the tale is more lively the wreckers have names and personalities and it’s helped by their descendants still being present. Saying that, Old Grandad’s is a spooky tale especially with the reveal that the light still flashes to this day!

I think she also learned from her baddies here, going forward to Demon’s Rocks, as none of them are fleshed out. We know a little about the Guv’nor but barely anything, and nothing about anyone else. Who was the man on the boat, and the two men who go out to it? Who locked them in the room? I guess Blyton had to be vague on their identities as we had to believe Mr P was one of them but it’s a shame they were all just shadowy figures in the dark.

The food

There isn’t an awful amount of food in this book. But there is an enormous high tea when they arrive at Tremannon;

A huge ham awaited gleaming as pink as Timmy’s tongue; a salad fit for a king. In fact as Dick said, fit for several kings, it was so enormous. It had everything that anyone could possibly want.

“Lettuce. Tomatoes. Onions. Radishes. Mustard-and-cress. Carrot grated up… And lashings of hard-boiled eggs.”

There was an enormous tureen of new potatoes, all gleaming with melted butter, scattered with parsley. There was a big bottle of home-made salad cream.

“Look at that cream cheese, too… And that fruit cake. And are those drop-scones or what? Are we supposed to have something of everything, Mrs Penruthlan?”

“Oh yes. And there’s a cherry tart made with our own cherries, and our own cream with it.”

I saw someone say recently that they weren’t impressed when a high tea was dominated by a salad, but I think that one sounds pretty good! I love hard boiled eggs and salad cream (or mayo, though).

There are also lashings of peas and new potatoes at a lunch later on, along with cold boiled beef and carrots, with a dumpling each, followed by a truly magnificent fruit salad and cream. They still manage a large afternoon tea picnic and a high-tea the same day, but without any descriptions.

Random things I noticed

  • Blyton speaks directly to Julian on page 138 Careful now, Julian – there may be somebody lying in wait! I always find it slightly odd when she does that in the middle of a book.
  • Considering the title is Five Go Down to the Sea, they spend very little time in or near the actual sea! They briefly visit the beach but that’s about it. It might have been better named Five on Tremannon Farm (but then Blyton would have to have come up with something more original for Five on Finniston Farm) or Five Go Down to Cornwall. Or something vague like Five Have an Excellent Holiday.
  • Before they do Julians says We mean to bathe, and hire a boat, and fish, and bike all round about. The only thing they do is bathe once! Though perhaps they do more after the story ends as that only tied up 5 days or so.
  • Julian says We don’t wear much on holidays. I wonder how much they wear on non-holidays? It out me in mind of them in very skimpy holiday clothing. Who wears short shorts?
  • There’s a scientist who is worse than Uncle Quentin, apparently. He came to stay and was as thin as a rake but went away as fat as butter. Mrs P says he said ‘no’ to just about every meal, so she would take the tray away, and return it ten minutes later as if it was the first time. And he’d never notice! She took the tray in three times one meal.
  • Dick says he’s pretty good at a spot of conjuring which I wish had been explored more!
  • The Five bargaining with Yan over sweets reminds me of bargaining with Brodie. They tell Yan he can have sweets if he helps shell the peas, but he must wash his hands first. All right. Don’t wash your hands. Don’t shell the peas. Don’t have a sweet. I’m forever saying he can have a biscuit if he eats his fruit, or he can play with something if he puts something else away first. He’s as stubborn as Yan, though… It made me wonder how old Yan was but the only clue we get is that he is supposed to be in school but rarely goes. So he could be anywhere from five to fifteen! He seems quite a bit younger than the Five but he is probably underfed. He looks a little older in the some of the magazine illustrations, I think.

Turns out I wrote so much about random things from this book that I’ll have to put the nitpicks in a separate post!

Next post: Five Go Down to the Sea part 3

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9 Responses to Five Go Down to the Sea part 2

  1. Sean Hagins says:

    Thanks for the review! It’s nice to hear others opinions. I love to write reports on books from my childhood too (although I did more of Trixie Belden and Bobbsey Twins reports than Blyton’s books), but NO ONE is interested in reading mine and sharing theirs! That’s why I love your site, you also are in to writing up reports/reviews! I meant to ask, do you guys do others? I mean, I imagine it wouldn’t be on the world of Blyton website, but do you have a site for other children’s books? Like maybe the two Bobbsey Twins series from the 1980s, or Trixie Belden, or the Three Investigators?


    • Fiona says:

      It’s just me writing now and I simply wouldn’t have enough time to run another blog though I do have other passions I could probably write about.
      In past years we had various contributors who wrote their own book reviews and I’d be open to doing that again if anyone sent us anything, including reviews of books that people who like Blyton might like. I’ve got a long list of other authors to read and review myself but I’ve never read any Tricia Belden, Bobbsey Twins or Three Investigators.


      • Sean Hagins says:

        Well, I still have my reports saved. Can I volunteer for the series I mentioned? You can email me at I would be honoured! (Hopefully you’ll accept a North American)


        • Fiona says:

          That’s great, I’ll send you an email later today. International perspectives are definitely welcome.


          • Ok. Please include the rules. and expectations of analysis for the books. I don’t suppose you facetime?

            Anyway, I will be leaving to run errands in about 45 minutes, so I may not get back to you until after you are in bed (different time zones, don’tcha know?), but I am really looking forward to this!

            So, what happened to the rest of your commentators?


  2. Fiona, back in the Fifties and Sixties in England, if Enid had meant to say the boys wore “shorts” (i.e. short trousers) she would have specifically written that: the term was ‘short pants’. ‘Pants’, of course, simply meant long trousers. In those days, any reference to boys’ underwear would have specified ‘underpants’, because they’re worn underneath the ‘pants’ (trousers).

    That type of usage is still common in America, where ‘pants’ still means long trousers, but Americans nowadays commonly refer to ‘shorts’ (as in ‘boxer shorts’) when they mean underwear.

    Enid had to exercise some discretion, as it was likely impossible to describe the sort of clothes worn by George – a girl who pretended to be a boy! That would have led to some obvious difficulties, so the entire subject is treated very vaguely. Enid rarely or never alludes to female underwear.

    The title ‘Five on Tremannion Farm’ doesn’t work of course. The point about ‘Five on Finniston Farm’ is that it’s alliterative: all the words begin with ‘F’. It’s like the term ‘Famous Five’ itself — it would be much less effective to talk about the ‘Famous Six’. But it’s why Enid made the other lot the ‘Secret Seven’ (where even ‘Secret Six’ is not quite as strong).

    I didn’t entirely understand the discussion of how many clothes they needed. If they’re going to the beach on holiday, they don’t need any clothes, only a bathing costume. And since its constantly washed in the sea, they’d likely only need one. Hot summer days don’t very obviously call for sweaters or dufflecoats or sou’westers. On the other hand, you might avoid sunstroke by taking along a sun hat.


    • Fiona says:

      I’m sure I’ve seen Enid use “trousers” to indicate that a young person is older than the children, for example I’m sure Barney wears trousers. I’ve never seen her write “pants” for trousers, nor have I seen any other authors of the period use that either.


      • Sean J Hagins says:

        I will tell you a rather embarrassing story: About a decade ago, I used to date a girl from England. Her father heard me mention her pants, and got VERY upset! He wouldn’t believe that in North America, it just means trousers. A local (to me) elder spoke to him and confirmed that I wasn’t making improper comments. So, at least in some parts of England, “pants” still aren’t used to mean anything but undergarments


  3. Fiona, you said: “Yan is described twice as wearing pants. Soper depicts those as loose trousers…”

    My recollection of 1950s/1960s terminology is that Soper is correct. In my childhood, the term ‘pants’ meant what you call trousers, as shown in Soper’s illustration, i.e. the cloth completely covered the legs.

    If Enid had meant to describe Yan as wearing what you call shorts, Enid would have used the term “short pants” instead, because that is what boys trousers were called in those days if the clothing had short legs, i.e. if the cloth stopped above the knee (usually 6 or 8 inches above) and the child had bare legs.

    Although you hadn’t realised (despite the illustration), the passage you’ve quoted actually is an example of an author writing “pants” for trousers. That’s why Sopher has shown Yan wearing trousers that go all the way from waist to ankle.

    As Sean mentions, in the USA ‘pants’ still mean what we now call trousers. In the USA, if I was wearing ‘shorts’, I’d be wearing boxer shorts, i.e. underwear. We remain two nations divided by a common language!
    There are likely many places in a Blyton novel that a modern reader will get an entirely wrong idea of what the text means. Money is one obvious topic of misunderstanding, by readers who don’t understand the English pre-decimal currency (especially coins). Feet and inches, and pounds and ounces, are another (weights and measures). Inflation is yet another: common, everyday objects now cost about fifty times as much as they did in 1950.

    If you read a Sherlock Holmes novel, set in 1895, you’ll quickly notice how Dr Watson is paying very little for rail fares, newspapers, or a cup of coffee, because today everything costs about one hundred times what it cost in 1900.


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