Having used up an entire post just to talk about Aily, here are my thoughts about the solution to the mystery, my various other comments and of course the nitpicks.
The solving of the mystery
I was actually mildly disappointed when I read the final chapters again, I had forgotten the Five’s various failures in solving the mystery. Naturally spoilers will occur here.
They did do well in that they worked out what was going on with Mrs Thomas and got into the house to her. It’s not their fault that she was unfit to escape with them.
They did not do well, however, as they made rather a lot of assumptions (more on that later) which just so happened to lead them right, but then foolishly got captured and jeopardised someone else’s investigation.
Their interest in the Old House really begins when they see the strange shimmerings that appear over it and night, and they feel the judderings that travel across the hills to their cabin.
They then hear from Aily that there is an old woman and many men in the house, even though the caretaker has shooed them off saying he is the only one there. Incidentally Julian’s investigative skills reach as far as asking did he sound like a caretaker? at this point. I’m not sure exactly what caretakers sound like, but George notes that he didn’t sound Welsh – and their assertation is that it would be odd for the owners not to hire a trustworthy local turns into them deciding that its all rather fishy.
They fail to imagine that the owners might have hired a non-Welshman for any number of reasons. Nobody suitable in the village, they hired a friend or relative… or he could have been born in Wales but raised elsewhere, or have only moved to Wales in the past few years and not yet developed an accent.
It’s actually a bit tiresome that the Five’s rubbish logic is so often right! Especially when all the other odd stuff isn’t worth looking into, but a non-Welsh caretaker is.
Anyway, they interrogate Aily and get hold of one of the notes and it does not say that Aily is a good girl.
“I want help. I am a prisoner here, in my own house, while terrible things go on. They have killed me son. Help me, help me! Bronwen Thomas.”
Something about the way the note is written is a bit off to me, it doesn’t read very naturally. But then again Mrs Thomas is probably very distressed. It’s also possible that she is ‘off her head’ as the rumours go – it would have made it easier for her to be misled and held prisoner.
The Five’s logic fails again when they discuss Mrs Thomas being ‘off her head’. That’s a horrible way to put it (but not by 1950s standards) and I’m only using it myself as it’s a direct quote. They decide they must find out for themselves if that is the case. I know that social care has changed a lot in the past 70 years but surely the police would be in a better place to make that judgement? Either they go and find her held prisoner, or they go and find her mentally unwell and get a doctor to her. Or they find her mentally unwell, but well cared for, and the notes are just part of her delusions. I cared for many ladies with dementia as a student nurse and recall the way that one woman would swear blind that there had been a terrible ruckus in the night with screaming and shouting – and there had been no such thing. Another was convinced that everything we served her contained poison (and obviously it didn’t, even if hospital food isn’t always very appetising).
They also don’t consider speaking to Mrs Jones who may know about the woman’s situation.
But thankfully Julian sees sense and decides that they must speak to Morgan. I mean, obviously only a man could know what to do.
Unfortunately Morgan is not very helpful. He can’t be, otherwise the rest of the plot wouldn’t work. Instead of saying he is aware of the situation and it is in hand, but thank you for your concern, he rebuffs the boys and tells them not to stick their noses in.
Of course they them jump to the conclusion that he’s in on whatever’s going on – did they not learn from their debacle with Mr Penruthlan?
And so they have no other course of action other than to sneak into the house and find Mrs Thomas. Having ascertained that she is indeed a prisoner it all goes wrong as they try to leave.
First Fany the lamb goes the wrong way – towards the men working – and Aily goes after her. Then George sends Timmy, and after a time she then goes after him. (Reminds me of the local story of the Nine Maidens where one goes to get water and when she doesn’t come back her father sends another daughter, until all nine have gone and he goes to find them killed by a dragon by the well…) Julian who is normally well in charge of these things seems entirely unable to stop any of that four from just sauntering off, and then compounds it by deciding the rest of them should follow too. Really, he should have sent Dick and Anne back out. They could have tobogganed at least half way back to their hut and then gone down to the farm to fetch help.
They reach Aily, George and the animals fine, but then having seen Morgan and the shepherd Julian decides they should follow them.
It’s not very clear what happens next but I think that Morgan or the shepherd is spotted by the men and then their escape is complicated by the children. If it had just been the two men, then they might have got away, but as they used up time to hide the children, then stayed close to come to their rescue when they were found, well, they all end up caught. And it’s pretty much all Julian’s fault!
This is all just about eclipsed for me by Morgan shouting for his dogs as that’s one of my favourite Famous Five moments, but still, Julian has not come out of this very well.
- The setting of this one is early January. Billycock Hill was Whitsun – so around Easter, so that makes this one nearly a year later.
- Normally its the fathers desperate to get rid of their kids but in this Julian’s mother is looking forward to a rest – even with them having had colds she only has them a few weeks a year!
- The Five are extremely lazy in this book and sleep in until ALMOST NINE O’CLOCK on TWO occasions. Oh the horror.
- The card game they play while Aily is hiding from her father is reminiscent of the one in Five Fall Into Adventure. In both they are half-pretending to play as they know someone is looking in the window.
- They use the ropes from their toboggans to lower themselves into the tunnel to the Old House, if this had been the Adventure Series the boys would have had rope around their waists.
- If only that kid Aily would help us. She’s really our only hope. As soon as I read that I was hearing Carrie Fisher’s voice. (Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi… You’re our only hope.)
- The Five comment that the hillside air is very strong. I’m not entirely sure what that means. Do they simply mean it’s fresh?
- As I noted on a recent Monday post Julian is bizarely excited by the mundane items kept in the cabin. He exclaims in delight: “Bedding! Towels! Crockery – and cutlery!”
- Mrs Jones is not a modern woman – when asked by the Five if they can stay at the cabin she says I’ll leave it to Morgan to decide. Though she is impressive when she comes to Timmy’s rescue – running across the farm with her skirts hitched up like she was a young woman. I think that might just fall short of my 11 favourite moments but could easily be number 12.
- The driver says You’re in clover here referring to the Five staying at Magga Farm. I had guessed it meant you’re in luck? but it turns out to mean living a life of ease and luxury – something to do with clover being used to fatten cattle.
- I have to remind myself that Dai is pronounced dye not day as that’s how I read it as a child.
- Aily’s mother’s speech – It’s a queer place now – with noises at night – and mists – and shimmerings could well be the inspiration for the similar ones done by Robbie Coltrane in the Comic Strip Presents shows.
- I wonder if the rumblings and shimmerings only occur in winter. The shepherd and his wife talk of them as if they are a long-term thing, so not just having started over that winter. Yet if they were all year round surely the previous cabin guests would witness it and word would get out?
I also wondered if the book would have worked if they’d stayed at the farm house? I think it could have – if say, the Five’s bedrooms were the only ones to overlook the Old House, and the farmhouse slope led on to the slope of the other hill. Aily could sneak onto the farm and avoid Mrs Jones, and the Five could witness suspicious behaviour from Morgan. Saying that it would make the plot a bit too similar to Five Go Down to the Sea.
Having noted the Five’s rudeness in Five Go to Mystery Moor I feel compelled to note some more here.
First, while the shepherd is telling them his tale George interrupts with what does he mean by that? The man’s standing right there, why is she talking about him as if he isn’t?
And secondly although said by Blyton it’s clear that she’s echoing the children’s thoughts – What a strange and impressive old man – and yet he was only a shepherd.
Another attempt at sci-fi?
Blyton rarely made forays into the science-fiction but when she did she often used the same sort of elements.
The Mountain of Adventure (1949), The Secret of Moon Castle (1953) and Five Get Into a Fix (1958) all feature:
- Strange coloured smoke or mist. In Mountain it is crimson, in Moon Castle it is greenish-purple and in Fix it is an indefinable colour.
- Indefinable colours also appear in Mountain – shining out of a pit inside the mountain, and in Moon Castle some material swept after a fire is a colour the boys cannot identify.
- Strange effects from whatever is going on. In Mountain the rays make the children feel light enough to float off, in Moon Castle the boys develop terrible pins and needles and in Fix the hill makes anything metal very heavy.
As always there are plenty of descriptions of food – but as it’s winter there isn’t any salad for a change.
- Their first breakfast at Magga farm is described as only a big crusty loaf, butter and home made marmalade, with an enormous jug of cold creamy milk. Clearly that just won’t do. Thankfully Mrs Jones offers ham and eggs, home-made pork sausages, or meat patties to go with it and everyone chooses ham and eggs.
- The next breakfast is a less extravagant eggs, bacon and sausages.
- Julian and Dick have a snack of crackers and ham at the cabin on their first visit.
- One lunch comprises pork pie (home made – of course), a cheese (enormous), home made bread, new-laid boiled eggs to start, apple pie and cream to end with and a pot of tea.
- Their first evening they are tired enough to suggest having a big meal instead of a light tea and supper later.
- When leaving the farm for the cabin they take six loaves of bread, a large cheese, three dozen eggs and a ham, plenty of butter, a large pot of cream, bones and dog biscuits. The shepherd will bring them milk when they need it.
- Food is more simple at the cabin. Anne makes sandwiches for lunch and they take apples.
- The first meal Anne makes at the cabin is boiled eggs to start, with cocoa and cream, cheese and bread and butter, and a jar of jam.
- There’s no fridge at the cabin so they store their milk and cream in the snow. Makes you wonder what the summer guests do.
George as a boy
Mrs Jones is no forgetful Uncle Quentin-type but she refers to George as a boy
‘Why for did you let him loose, my boy?… You should have seen this boy here—the one the dog belongs to—he stood in front of his dog and fought off Tang, Bob and Dai!’
But she had arranged for two bedrooms with two beds in each, implying she was expecting two boys and two girls. I know George does look like a boy, but she’d be unlikely to confuse either Julian or Dick for a girl!
Julian couldn’t help smiling to hear George continually called a boy—but, standing there in snow-trousers and coat, a woollen cap on her short hair, she looked very like a sturdy boy.
I wondered if she somehow knew George preferred to be a boy, but she is then surprised to find out that George is a girl.
‘She! What, isn’t she a boy, then,’ said Mrs Jones, in surprise. ‘Is it a girl she is—as brave as that? Now there’s a fine thing, to be sure? What’ll Morgan say to that?
Within five minutes however, she has forgotten again:
‘I’ll fetch you the TCP, boy,’ said Mrs Jones, forgetting again that George was a girl.
George doesn’t do a lot of protesting about her gender in this book. It is said that
Anne loved [making beds], though George didn’t. She would much rather have carried in the things as the boys were doing.
but she does the beds anyway.
As she is afraid that Timmy might run into the farm dogs if they go down to the farm she stays with Anne at the hut, an easy way to allow the boys to attempt to interrogate Morgan by themselves.
Then near the end she is afraid men would strike her though she was a girl.
The first nitpick I can hardly claim as my own – everyone knows that Julian’s mother is called Mrs Barnard at the start of this book, even though he and his siblings are known as the Kirrins at other times.
In another name swapper Mrs Jones is on one occasion called Mrs Morgan. The boys call Morgan Mr Morgan, out of respect, but why not just call him Mr Jones?
The Five make rather miraculous recoveries once they get to Wales. One day their legs don’t feel their own, the next their coughs are entirely gone and the boys make a two hour hike up a hill.
I have tried to puzzle out the physics of the car going up and down hill so heavily. Surely if it can barely crawl downhill (with the assistance of gravity) it wouldn’t be able to get up the hill at all? The driver said he thought the car made hard work of the climb, but not so much as to have commented on it at the time.
Not truly a nitpick as toilets are never mentioned but clearly there isn’t one at the cabin, so there must have been a lot of yellow snow around. It also isn’t clear how Timmy managed when George kept him inside the farm house for at least 24 hours.
Aily and her mother’s English language abilities are rather variable. Sometimes they need things repeated slowly for them, other times they seem to follow rapid conversations. They also sometime speak in broken English, while at other times it’s not so bad.
And lastly one illustration depicts Timmy and George facing a barn but the text describes Timmy as having been backed up to the barn.
Phew, another 2.5k words later, and Fix is done!