Flashback Friday: Right into the danger zone . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
Okay, okay, I’m breaking the rules here. (but they’re my rules so Phhhbbttt!) This isn’t a fantasy or science fiction flashback. But I was reading some comic science fiction and reflecting on how kids find things funny in books that we as adults are often mystified by and without the kind of humor we’d respond to. Sometimes we as kids are inexplicably bowled over with hilarity over something that would never be explainable. So that got me asking “what book did I find the most hilarious as a kid?” And I remembered just the one . . .
You’re a group of four kids and a dog ready to start a summer of fun together. But when you’re mistreated horribly by the unpleasant housekeepers/nannies who’ve been left in charge, you decide to run away to your own island . . .
Do you remember:
Five Run Away to Danger by Enid Blyton (Macmillan Publishing Company, c1944)
Oh this book. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series did not enjoy the popularity in the States that it did in Britain. But somehow this title got onto the shelves of my local library when I was seven or eight. I didn’t know it was British (though I was puzzled why they kept have tea and cakes, why cookies were called biscuits and why on earth they were using torches when there had to have been perfectly good flashlights available.) I didn’t know it was a series. All I knew is that it was a great story full of adventure, fun and really funny moments.
The Famous Five consist of four tween/teens; Julian, Dick, Anne and George (aka Georgina). The fifth member is George’s dog, Timmy. Now, I’m not up on the Five’s other brilliant adventures, but at the start of this book they’re looking forward to a great holiday together. Only to find out George’s mother is ill, her father has gone to be with her and our four young people are left in the hands of a the new housekeeper and her husband. The Sticks are unpleasant people who don’t do a very good job with housekeeping. They’re whiny and unpleasant son is no better. The Five have no patience for this–they decide to run away to George’s Kirrin Island and hide out there. They don’t just run away, they steal off with cushions and food and ginger beer a-plenty to keep them well stocked. They settle in a cave on the island for a merry old adventure, but what they don’t anticipate is that the Sticks are more than just nasty housekeepers, they’re criminals. And now they’ve stolen something and brought it to Kirrin Island. It’s up to the Five to put a stop to them! Brilliant!
Now, there’s this scene. It’s when the Sticks have settled into the dungeons that are part of the ruins on the island. There’s a long staircase that twists around to the dungeons and anything heard on the stairs echoes terribly. When the kids find out where the Sticks are settling, they decide to treat them to a real fright. They creep over to the dungeon at night, hide on the stairs and make all sorts of noises. The ones I remember best were the cow sounds that magnified and echoed around the inner chamber, causing the Stick boy to be absolutely petrified. Screaming something about ghost cows or whatnot. I thought it was just the funniest scene ever. I howled in bed when I read it everytime. (Got in trouble with my parents more than once for it too). I don’t know that I can tell you now why I found it that funny, but there you go. A dungeon haunted by terrible mooing cows. Later they go onto torment the Stick boy with cow sounds wherever he goes.
I can’t imagine I’d find this as funny now by any stretch. I haven’t gone back to read the book since my teens for precisely this reason. I have fond memories of yearning after ginger beer and the chance to go off and live on my own on an island. I have that incredible bubble of laughter preserved from the “kid’ me. I don’t know if it’d survive a reread. Dated in their attitudes, sparing in their characterization, I don’t know if Blyton would fare well with me now.
This title was slightly different in the British publication, where it was called Five Run Away Together I’m not altogether sure what provoked the change, but it made the book hard to track down years ago when I went looking for it in Britain.
If you haven’t heard of Enid Blyton, she’s one of the most prolific authors of children’s books that Britain has ever produced. In her lifetime, Enid Blyton wrote over 800 books in all. Children’s adventures, mysteries and fantasy stories, quite a few of which were ongoing series similar to The Famous Five. I admit I haven’t had the opportunity to read any of her fantasy works but I’m hoping to remedy that. Since the time she started writing, her books have been incredibly popular, though often snubbed for not having any “literary” value. To my complete surprise, she’s still incredibly popular as a writer; from 2000 to 2009 she was still listed in the Top Ten, selling over 8 million copies in the UK alone. Wow.
Looking for more information on this writer? There’s The Enid Blyton Society which can offer a good place to start, or to look for childhood books and titles. Keith Robsinson started EnidBlyton.net which is also an excellent resource on the author.
So, other Enid Blyton fans out there? Comments welcome.
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on April 3, 2015, in Flashback Fridays and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Reading, reviews, series. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.