Finally, I have reached the post with the promised nitpicks, of which there are many.
This one’s set at Easter, as was Mystery to Solve so it’s a full year later. It makes sense for them to have Spring and Summer adventures as that’s when the best weather likely is, but Blyton’s propensity to have sequential holidays or skipped seasons at either time means the progression of the Five’s ages makes little sense. If it alternated, at least, they could have two adventures a year! Out of interest I looked it up and there are nine summer adventures, eight spring/Easter, one autumn, two winter, and one at Whitsun in May/June which you could count as either Spring or Summer I suppose.
While it’s often nice to see occasional characters again (such as Jo), I rather wish Blyton had brought back anyone but Tinker for their final adventure. Well, perhaps anyone but Wilfrid or Tinker. I’d much rather have had them go stay with Jo at Joan’s sister’s cottage, to visit Jennifer Armstrong, Nobby, Jock, even Richard Kent or the Lawdler twins. But alas, no, it’s Tinker. At least he only does his car-noises briefly at the beginning and end of the book.
Likewise, of all the locations we could have had why a regular house with a field next door? Event the tower lacks interest – no secret passages anywhere. They’re so close to Kirrin but we barely see it which is infuriating. The picture of Kirrin on the spine is a particularly dishonest bit of advertising. They are within a bike ride of Kirrin so there was nothing stopping them from taking Tinker there for a visit.
There have obviously been changes to the school plans since the earlier books. Firstly, Timmy is no longer at school with George, and apparently hasn’t been for at least a few terms. Is that a nitpick? Nothing is ever said to explain it. In previous books the pony and trap has been used to convey the Five from the station to Kirrin Cottage. This time they walk as if that’s always been the plan – except George who takes a taxi as Timmy isn’t there to meet her – and their trunks go on the porter’s van.
Obviously Fanny couldn’t collect them as she is in quarantine, but do they still have the pony and trap? I can’t see them having bought a car somehow, even if it is 1963! Saying that, the pony never gets mentioned in between journeys – the Five never go to feed it apples or sugar lumps!
As with the reminder of George not answering to Georgina Blyton also reminds us of how she came to own the island. Of course each book is designed to be read alone, but these two somehow seemed a little obvious in their explanations.
Joan’s last appearance in the series is her being carted off to an ambulance as she has scarlet fever. We don’t even get to find out how she’s doing by the end of the book! All the short stories predate this final book so we never see Joan again.
Our only view of Aunt Fanny is her head sticking out the window and we don’t see Uncle Quentin at all. I imagine that he is not severely affected by the quarantine has he spends most of his time holed up in his study anyway, while it’ll be down to Fanny to arrange for food and anything else they need to be delivered (unless they plan to survive on the tins in her bedroom cupboard!). She’ll also have to do all the cooking and cleaning with Joan away. I found it odd that the Five never wondered how everyone was. Presumably if they’d come down with scarlet fever they would have called Big Hollow to tell them, but they spare not a second to worry. Julian and Dick go to collect the tents and bikes but there’s no report of them speaking to their aunt or uncle.
Julian’s memory seems to be failing as he says that Tinker is unforgettable then adds he’s the boy that owns that old lighthouse at demons rocks, isn’t he? I mean, how many boys with monkeys does he know? (Yes, I know this is an explanation for anyone who hasn’t read Demon’s Rocks, but it’s poorly done).
The local bus conductor knows the Five well, suggesting they use the bus regularly at Kirrin (but perhaps it doesn’t serve the train station, at least, not at the right times?). He also knows Professor Hayling as the bus goes past his house. Unfortunately he doesn’t tell any tales worthy of Old Great Grandad or Bill the Blacksmith etc, but he shares an amusing anecdote with them about Prof Hayling.
Prof Hayling’s house is called Big Hollow and is in the village of Big Hollow – making his address Big Hollow, (name of street?), Big Hollow… meanwhile Julian refers to Kirrin as home which makes me wonder does he consider the general area home as he lives near(er) by, or does he see Kirrin as home as he’s spent so much time there?
Interestingly the camping out idea is not the Five’s – or Tinker’s – rather it is Jenny’s as she has no mattresses for the spare beds (that’s a new excuse!)
When George suggests going back to Kirrin to get their own tents she says that Jim the carrier could fetch them. She says it as if everyone, including the reader should understand that, but I’m not sure who he is or what a carrier is! Is that like an odd-job postie? Anyway, I did wonder if they couldn’t just get the tents on the bus again – but they want to ride their bikes back as Blyton knew they’d be needed later in the story.
Mr Tapper is another animal charmer who is great with monkeys. Like Jo and Wilfrid before him he charms Mischief away from an unimpressed Tinker. Ironically he shares this skill with old Jeremiah Boogle, enemy of One-Ear Bill who’s ear was bitten off by a monkey. Mr Tapper is also missing an ear – but whether or not it was monkey related is never explained.
Two of Prof Hayling’s inventions are the sko-wheel and the electric trosymon. I wonder what on earth they were for!
The Five have the best of both worlds of camping out and having someone else cook them a hot dinner. As much as I like Jenny I wish they’d been off somewhere more rural and stopping in at inns and farms.
We know Big Hollow must be on the coast as it isn’t a long journey to go bathe in the sea. Is it on the way to Demon’s Rocks, or in the opposite direction?
This has already been a rather long post but I couldn’t make everyone wait for part four for them.
- Is George expecting Timmy at the station or not? She asks, seemingly genuinely, if the others think he will be there, yet she’s panicking when he doesn’t show. Likewise Dick jokes that Timmy can’t read train timetables, but George confirms Timmy was at the station the last few times.
- Fanny says she will sort out alternative accommodation for the Five but then calls Professor Hayling to prevent him from also turning up. This is convenient as they then go stay with him, but leads me to wonder why Fanny has allowed these arrangements given that there wasn’t apparently room for them all at the beginning of Demon’s Rocks.
- Kirrin, or the area around is, is suddenly referred to as Little Hollow. We’ve never heard of Big or Little Hollow before, nor was it suggested that Prof Hayling lived so close to Kirrin in Demon’s Rocks. If he’s a short bus-ride away then he could easily visit daily to work on scientific things, and wouldn’t have had to come stay overnight.
- The Five’s luggage is still sat at the garden gate but there’s no mention of it being dropped off by the porter’s van.
- Fanny says that the bus to Big Hollow will pass in ten minutes, and they’d better run for it. Yet it passes right outside the front gate (after about two minutes of dialogue at most) and stops where when Anne flags it down. She also says to ask the gardener across the way to help with their cases, which are also right outside the front gate.
- The Kirrins have a cat – I can’t remember any mention of them having a cat before? Julian’s family also had a never-before-mentioned cat in Mystery To Solve.
- George is said to have always been afraid of snakes in the spring, yet this is news to me. She does mention a neighbours dog who was bitten which would explain her worry, but funny it’s never come up before if she’s always been afraid.
- The Five leave school, take a train, arrive at Kirrin Station, walk down to the cottage, get a bus, arrive at Tinker’s and are still in time for lunch – how early did they leave school?
- The Five discuss going back to Kirrin to collect the tents and bikes. Julian says he will bring back Anne’s bike. George leaves the house with them, and Anne and Tinker stay. Yet shortly after Anne and Tinker find George in the house. Of course she could have changed her mind about going, and asked the boys to bring her bike back but it’s just odd.
- There’s an illustration of them all watching Prof Hayling unroll the document detailing ownership of the field but this happens while the boys are off to Kirrin.
- Another illustration shoes Dick and George inside the donkey skin yet the back leg(s) are categorically not human! Julian asks How could [Jeremy] have known George was inside? Now he may be referring to the first time Jeremy hit the donkey but Tinker had clearly told him that Dick and George we inside before he hit them again. Besides, Jeremy his hitting the donkey as he thinks whoever is inside isn’t supposed to be there – and with Tinker, Julian and Anne standing there it wouldn’t be difficult to guess who was inside.
- Anne is horrified at circuses treating chimps like family – and nobody mentions Pongo who they all loved. She is also completely fooled by the donkey performance despite having seen Clopper at Tremannon Farm (and two men in a donkey suit not really looking all that much like a real donkey…)
- Prof Hayling suggests they are rather far away for the police to come out to, yet they aren’t far from Kirrin where they have no problems summoning the police.
- I’m probably getting silly now but Timmy wonders why they’re out for a night-time run. George usually tells him everything as she believes he can understand her. Mind you, if she had told him he would probably be wondering if there wasn’t a better way to go about it as he’s a clever dog.
- Kirrin island has a tiny creek by the landing beach where George hides her boat. This has never been mentioned before, in the past they have hidden their boat by draping seaweed over it.
- George pushes Mr Wooh’s boat out to sea, but I wonder if it wouldn’t just get caught on the ring of rocks around the island. It’s clear from Five on a Treasure Island that there’s only one channel deep enough to allow access to the island even at higher tides. It’s said to be floating out to sea, but I suppose a definition of ‘out to see’ could fit if the rocky ring is further out than I imagine it.
- I was annoyed by further repetition from Tinker about the stolen clock literally a paragraph apart and in the same conversation –
I found it hidden in the straw in Charlie’s cage this morning!… It was the loud ticking that told me it was there in the cage!’
Nobody would be likely to get into the chimp’s cage and sit there with him—but I did this morning, and that’s how I found it. I heard it ticking, you see.
- Surrounding that conversation there is more repetitive conversations about how Charlie carried out the theft.
‘But there were, of course, too many for old Charlie in the tower room. He wouldn’t be able to carry them all in his front paws, for he needed all his paws to climb down that steep wall—so he must have crammed as many as he could into his mouth.’
‘Well, as Tinker told you—my guess is that old Charlie must have put the little clock in his mouth then, along with the papers,’ said Dick. ‘He needed all his four paws, climbing—or rather slithering down that wall.
While I enjoyed one last adventure with the Five I think it’s obvious that quality of the writing doesn’t match the earlier adventures, nor does the location or actual mystery. That’s the problem with Blyton sometimes – she sets such high standards with the majority of her books than anything less is then rather disappointing in comparison!
Many years ago I created a (since then long lost) time line for the Famous Five. I remember that in volume 21 they were in their early twenties and Tim must have been a very very old dog.
Love the nitpicks Fiona! I agree with you, I never really liked Tinker or Wilfrid but I loved Jo 🙂
Ah I never noticed the George and Mr Wooh’s boat nitpick. Mr Wooh is such a great name for a villain… I agree with you, I never really liked Tinker or Wilfrid but I loved Jo!
An in-depth assessment of the last book which comes up with many of the thoughts I had when reading it as a child.
That you can enjoy Blyton both with heavily suspended disbelief and intense analysis is why I continue to enjoy her books decades later.
“While I enjoyed one last adventure with the Five, I think it’s obvious that the quality of the writing doesn’t match the earlier adventures, nor does the location or actual mystery. That’s the problem with Blyton.”
There’s a common theme here, surely? In the final Famous Five book, the quality of the writing is much poorer than in the earlier FF books. In the final Five Find Outers book (‘Banshee Towers’), the quality of the writing is much poorer than in the earlier FFO books.
The final novel in a series finds Blyton bored with the characters and/or the setting, so she puts less effort into the writing, resulting in a dull and thin plot, coupled with inconsistencies with the previous books in the series.
Can’t resist pointing out that the name Mr Wooh was not invented by Blyton, but is pinched by her from a famous popular song written in the 1930s, sung by the Lancashire comedian George Formby.
Older readers will remember the song’s title: “Mr Woo’s a window cleaner now!”
Ok, Fiona – good summary there, and a few good nitpics which I had not spotted.
Here is my take on this last book.
Like the previous book, this one is an embarrassment and should never have been written. It’s a bit like the Rolling Stones coming on for one last appearance. Groan. You read the book and think, “Oh please EB, why did you bother?”. Much better for EB to have finished the series whilst it was in its prime, than to continue on with a thin story line like this one.
There are embarrassing references throughout the book to Professor Hayling’s “precious papers”. Couldn’t they just be “papers”? No normal person would keep calling them precious. George on p4 of the book is still at school! In the drawings, the kids have regressed back to being in their early teens again, though my calculation they would now be in their late teens or early twenties.
They decide to travel by bus from where they are now at “Little Hollow”, to go to “Big Hollow”. Not much imagination there EB!
It is almost as if EB was desperate to bring Kirrin Island into this adventure one last time. The kids decide to hide the remains of the professor’s “precious papers” on (of all places) Kirrin Island. Wouldn’t somewhere in the house be superior? And especially with Timmy there to guard them. After all, we are always being told he is such a fearsome watchdog. How about George’s bedroom? Jenny the maid is walking around the place by day so no one can get at them then (presuming the bad guys somehow knew to go to George’s room to get the papers!), and Timmy sleeping in the same room at night. Apparently EB never thought of that solution.
But no! George decides to stuff them down her jersey and cycle all the way to Kirrin Beach at night, then the hazardous journey by boat to Kirrin Island to hide them from the robber. We’re glad none of the papers (dare I call them “precious”?) fell out on such an unreliable journey. These papers are referred to again and again in Chap12 and earlier as “precious papers”. A word search shows the papers are described as “precious papers” 14 times in the novel!
Dick is anxious as George “may be watched” by the robber (p125), and he thinks if someone saw George rowing over to her island, they “might guess that she was taking something important to hide”. Why? Can’t a woman in her early twenties row across to an island by boat without someone suspecting she has something important to hide? It’s hilarious but sad stuff. You could have done much better than this EB.
At one stage Julian says he will take the “precious papers” by night, to KI. But we are always told only George knows the way past the sharp rocks which lead into the island! So how was Julian going to get on, and at night!?
There are repetitions here of other FF books. Dick and George get into a donkey costume, just like the boys did in “Five Go Down To The Sea”. There is a heap of discussion in this book about animals, and what this animal did with some other beast. You get the impression the book would be rather thin without the padding of various circus animal stories.
Anyway, George finally does go to KI in the middle of the night to find there, quoting her, “rascals and rogues!”. Thankfully no secret tunnels are discovered in Prof Hayling’s home. Despite the fact that this is the last in the series, EB apparently was thinking of more FF books after this one as she refers in the last paragraph of the last chapter, “We are longing to hear what you and the others will be up to next”.
Thanks Fiona, for the opportunity to pass on my observations.