I spent the whole first part of my review imagining what it would be like if The Famous Five booked their holidays through Airbnb. Now for (hopefully) more commentary on the plot and so on.
Before they even make it to Finniston Farm the Five are in need of refreshments, and stop in at the local shop. There they are served by a girl called Janie, on this reading I realised she and her mother are the inspiration for the scene in Five Go Mad on Mescalin.
Janie is a chatty girl and provides them with some interesting information. On their first visit she tells them about Old Great-Grandad and the Harries.
‘I know the twins there,’ said the girl. ‘The two Harries. At least, I don’t know them well—nobody does. They’re just wrapped up in each other, they never make any friends. You look out for their old Great-Grandad—he’s a one he is! He once fought a mad bull and knocked it out! And his voice—you can hear it for miles! I was real scared of going near the farm when I was little. But Mrs Philpot, she’s nice. You’ll like her. The twins are very good to her—and to their Dad, too—work like farm-hands all the holidays. You won’t know t’other from which, they’re so alike!’
‘Why did you call them the two Harries?’ asked Anne, curiously.
‘Oh, because they’ve both . . .’
She is cut off there by her mother and so the Five don’t get to know why she calls them the Harries, giving them a minor mystery until they reach the farm and it all makes sense. I would write more about the Harries but I think Stef covered it all in her Twinnies Twins post, so I will save just a few observations for later.
On their second visit she drops a bit of a bombshell about their having been a castle on the farm’s land
‘My uncle’s been on Finniston Farm all his life. You ought to get him to show you where Finniston Castle used to stand, before it was burnt down, and . . .’
‘Finniston Castle!’ exclaimed George, in surprise. ‘We went all over the farm this morning, and saw every field—but we didn’t see any ruined castle.’
‘Oh no, you wouldn’t see anything!’ said Janie. ‘I told you—it was burnt down. Right to the ground, ages ago. Finniston Farm belonged to it, you know. There’s some pictures of it in a shop down the road. I saw them, and . . .
Yet again she is cut off by her mother. Makes you wonder what she could have told them, given the time!
Although she only features on a couple of pages Janie is actually really important to the plot. Nobody else on the farm has mentioned the castle to the children – not Janie’s Uncle Bill when he gives them the Land Rover tour (hard to point to the spot when nobody knows where it is, but still worth a mention, surely?). It’s not clear how much the twins know. They have never looked for the castle site before, and didn’t know that the great door to the kitchen once came from the castle, but then not all children are particularly interested in things like that. It’s strange that they wouldn’t know anything about the castle or the story of it burning, though. They sit silently and listen Anne retelling the story she and George got from Mr Finniston, actually it’s almost as if Blyton forgot they were there as they neither interject to say ‘Phew, we never knew that’ nor ‘Phew, we knew about the castle but not the secret passage’.
The chapel is obviously still standing but that’s never mentioned, not even on the tour, though I suppose with a huge farm they might just not have gone near to it in the Land Rover.
The Five hardly cover themselves in glory
The Five don’t mess up in this book, or do anything stupid, but they don’t exactly show any real intelligent mystery-solving, or do anything that impressive. Most things are practically served to them on a plate – I suppose this helps the action-packed final chapters keep up their pace, there’s no time for head-scratching!
Having found out about the castle by complete accident, from Janie, the girls do visit the antiques shop and hear a bit about its history and the relevance of the chapel. They don’t look at any pictures, maps, or do any other research (though it’s unlikely there’s anything to look for, it would have been nice if they’d even asked). Mr Finniston in the shop gets upset over the story and they leave him to it, not going back.
They decide to search for the castle (allowing them to be overheard and followed, but that’s mostly on Timmy!, and take the logical step of starting at the chapel, as they know that was connected to the castle via a secret passage.
They reason that the cannot be more than a quarter mile from the chapel, which seems fairly reasonable, so that’s where they start looking. They are successful, but only by sheer luck as the dogs dig up an old kitchen midden.
They are then able to identify the castle site due to a big round depression in the hill, and grass that is a different colour to the surrounding grass. To be honest, it sounds like it could have been found without the kitchen midden so all the locals who have already looked for it must have been pretty dumb.
By this point the Hennings have found out about the castle site and the Five can’t get to it again, so they have the brainwave about looking for the other end of the secret passage. Their logic says that the passage had to originate in the dungeons/cellars as the castle was surrounded. This is likely (and ends up being true) but not a certainty. How many passages have we seen down wells, for example. It could easily have started in the outer walls, an outbuilding, etc, as long as it was inside the outer walls.
They start to hunt for the passage, walking from the chapel towards the castle, hoping to find some clue as to the line of the passage to dig into. It doesn’t seem to occur to them to have a nosy in the chapel first. It is partly filled with sacks of grain and so on, but surely it is worth a nosy?
In the end they do find the passage but again it is dumb luck as Nosey and Snippet find it by accident. Having gone into the cellars they are then extremely lucky that the men clock off at 5 exactly, without noticing that they have just broken into the cellars.
And not the Five, but it’s incredible that two of the farmhands found a little underground room in the chapel many years before, but did not notice the completely unhidden secret passage leading from it.
Next time all my other notes and nitpicks.