I’ve had this book a while and have only read it once. I remember being a bit disappointed by it… and I thought I’d give it a re-read to see if I could figure out why. My first thoughts are that I have quite a good knowledge of many Blyton books and characters already so maybe this book didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. There are six questions on the inside flap and I could confidently answer four of them, guess at one and only the Noddy question stumped me (I’ve never read a Noddy book!)
- Which Enid Blyton character was named after her second husband? Darrell Rivers (named after Kenneth Darrell Waters)
- Where can you find the Snoogle, the Nice-Looking Witch and Sir Stamp-A lot? I’d guess in the lands found at the top of the Faraway Tree.
- In which book does Zerelda Brass give a memorable Juliet? Third Year at Malory Towers.
- Which series features a parrot with attitude? The Adventure Series
- What is the first trick played on Mam’zelle? Alicia pretends to be deaf (and then actually becomes deaf after swimming.)
- Why was Big-Ears worried about Noddy? No idea.
I guess I will find out the answers by reading the book.
In the introduction Rice tells us that a lady at The Enid Blyton Company suggested she stuck to the most well-known series, The Famous Five, Secret Seven etc. I think I might have gotten more from the book if she’d skipped those and featured several lesser known series or stand-alone books.
Ok, just a warning now – I absolutely pick this book to pieces so if you don’t want to read 2,000 words of me disagreeing with the chosen characters and their descriptions then you probably shouldn’t read this.
This book is split into categories (Adventure Stories, School Stories, Toys and Enchantment) so I’ve found it harder to locate a particular character on a few occasions, especially as there are a few books that appear in a very dubious category.
For example, Rice has classified The Put-Em-Rights as an adventure story. Why? It’s about children inspired to try to help others in their village after hearing a tramping preacher talk. They all make mistakes and ultimately learn how to be better people themselves. Also, Mr Twiddle is down under Toys and Enchantment. Again, why? There’s no magic or toys in the books, just an old man who is extremely forgetful and useless at every-day tasks like going to the shops for some fish. I suppose Rice was trying to keep the categories to a minimum – but one for ‘Family Stories’ would have put The Put-Em-Rights in a more appropriate section, and would have allowed her to cover some brilliant books like House-At-The-Corner, The Family at Red Roofs, Those Dreadful Children, The Caravan Family, The Six Bad Boys… I could go on for ages. There are some really unsung characters in Blyton’s books and it would have been good to see them covered. But I’ll stop going on about that (for now) and focus on what IS in the book.
The Adventure Series
The Famous Five
The Secret Seven
The Adventurous Four
The Five Find-Outers
To (briefly) continue the classification topic – I’d also consider the FFOs and probably the SS as mystery not adventure but maybe that’s splitting hairs. I also think that missing out the Barney Mysteries and the Secret Series was a real shame.
THE ADVENTURE SERIES
In the intro to the series Rice gets bogged down in comparing the children to those of the Famous Five instead of talking about them on their own merits. She mentions “Jack and his crime-cracking abilities and his love of food”, not sure I’d say Jack was at the fore-front of the crime-solving in the series, he and Philip are pretty equal when it comes to derring-do and coming up with ideas. The girls, especially Dinah, aren’t exactly slackers either. Again, Jack doesn’t really love food more than any of the others, though she’s right that Dinah’s temper and moods are similar to George’s and Lucy-Ann and Anne are both the most reluctant to get involved in adventures (though she doesn’t actually name any of the Famous Five in these comparisons.)
Disappointingly, most of the supporting characters in the series get no mention. Aunt Polly isn’t mentioned, but Uncle Jocelyn has his own section. There’s a bit for Gus but not Lucian, and the only baddie to be mentioned is Jake despite the fact the only thing to say about him is what he looks like. There’s no section for Jo-Jo, Mrs Mannering (or her marriage to Bill), Scar-Neck, Otto Engler, the Old Couple, Juan, Pepi, Horace Tipperlong, Mr and Mrs Evans, Trefor, David, Sam, The King of the Mountain, Meier, Erlick, Mr Eppy, Lucian, Oola, Tala, Raya Uma, Madame Tatioso or Pedro… which ultimately is disappointing. There’s also some missing info on the main characters – yes it’s mentioned that Jack and Lucy-Ann lost their parents in a plane crash but it’s not explained that Mrs Mannering then adopts the two.
Coming back to Jo-Jo for a moment – he is mentioned in Philip’s section, but for some reason his name has become Jo. Modern editions do have him as a white man called Joe, but I’m not sure where his E has gone.
Rice does describe most of the characters well, though, getting their personalities and looks right. I just wonder how many of the books Rice has actually read… and why she thought Jake was more important than so many other supporting characters (I get the unsettling impression it was purely because there is a baddie called Jake in the Famous Five.)
THE FAMOUS FIVE
The Famous Five section runs for 30 pages (to the Adventure Series’ 4) though much of it is made up of extremely minor characters with less than 20 words about them.
For example Ben – a dog from Kirrin farm and one from Tremannon farm – get their own section which tells you little more than what I just said. Seems silly to me when much more important characters are missing from other series. In fact just about every dog from the Famous Five is mentioned from Binky and Biddy to Tang and Willy, despite there often being extremely little to say about them. It might have been neater to just have a section for dogs and list their names, locations and any other information. Betsy-May – a doll given to Anne – gets a section too, presumably just to tell us we shouldn’t confuse a once-mentioned toy with a character of the same name from a book which isn’t covered in this one.
Jeremiah Boogle – a great character – gets a section though his involvement in guiding the children round the caves is missed out. Uncle Quentin is “regularly kidnapped” according to Rice. I wouldn’t call twice ‘regularly’… in fact in Five on Kirrin Island Again he’s not really kidnapped, but rather kept prisoner where he was already working underground. Rice mentions Ragamuffin Jo’s involvement in two of the Five’s adventures but doesn’t mention she is the one to help locate George in Five Have Plenty of Fun, and of course she plays a very important role in the end of that book, too. She lists someone called Sarah as being the cook at Smuggler’s Top, but Sarah is the maid who served the children their meals in the nursery.
Rice writes positively about Julian, without using the word ‘pompous’ so that’s a point in her favour.
After complaining how many insignificant characters get their own section in the Famous Five category there are actually a few characters that have been missed – Nosey the Jackdaw from Five on Finniston Farm (he is briefly mentioned in Snippet the poodle’s section though), Sarah Stick who actually kidnaps Jennifer in Five Run Away Together, Joan’s cousin who takes in Berta in Five Have Plenty of Fun and the unusually unhelpful policeman in Five on a Hike Together were some I could think of. In any normal list these are rather small characters who could easily be omitted – I just find it strange they are missing when just about every other man, woman and animal the Five meet, hear of from other characters or mention in their speech get their own section. Random teachers or children from school, sons of people serving in tea-shops and ‘the golf pro’ would be good examples.
THE SECRET SEVEN
I have read all the books in the Secret Seven series, but most of them only once so I’m not nearly as familiar with them as I am with the Adventure Series or the Famous Five. I’m probably not going to pick up on many mistakes or omissions in this section, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
What would have been a positive point is that when naming books Rice started out by also including which book in the series they are – very useful as most of the names in the SS series are vague and could relate to any of the books. However, she only does this for some titles and not others which is not so useful.
I’ve identified one omission where the caretaker from The Secret Seven is listed, but one of his most identifying characteristics – his deafness – is not mentioned.
“Policemen” have their own segment in the Secret Seven section, which is odd. There’s no such mention of policemen under the Famous Five heading, and they run into them just as often.
THE ADVENTUROUS FOUR
The poor Adventurous Four barely get two pages in this book. None of the baddies they face get their own sections, in fact they’re barely mentioned. Only two other characters get a mention, Colonel Knox and Mrs Macpherson, but Andy’s father and the parents of Tom, Mary and Jill are missing.
The Put-Em-Rights also get less than two pages. At first glance, I thought Rice had just described the six children in the group and I considered that a sensible move. The book featured a lot of characters as each child sets out to help someone, involving themselves in their life in some way – so of course each of those people have a few family members or friends that appear, as well as the parents of the children. Then I realised Rice had decided to write about one supporting character… and she chose Midge. The dog. Not the tramping preacher who is the catalyst for the entire story… but a dog. She also doesn’t give much insight into some of the characters – Bobby Jones is an interesting character whose somewhat complex relationship with his difficult mother is boiled down to “he lives in Under-Ridge with his mother.”
THE FIVE FIND-OUTERS
The first sentence describing the Find-Outers gives me little hope for the rest of the section. Their names are listed, and we get told it’s “Margaret ‘Daisy’ Daykin” and “Frederick ‘Fatty’ Trotteville, but the others are listed by their nicknames Larry, Pip and Bets. Shouldn’t they be Laurence, Philip and Elizabeth? And where’s the Algernon? (In their individual sections they do get their real names mentioned, so why not just call them all by their nicknames in the introduction?)
Larry is described as the “leader of the Five Find-Outers” who “successfully sees off an early leadership challenge from Fatty.” That completely ignored the fact that Fatty later does take leadership, and Larry generously allows it.
PC Goon’s first name is listed as Theo when it should be Theophilus.
I think Rice missed the point of Bet’s frequent questions – it gives Fatty a chance to explain to her and the reader just what certain words mean. In Fatty’s section there’s no mention of him becoming the leader of the FFOs, or of his generosity when it comes to buying plates of macaroons or buns.
And suddenly, I’m at the end of the Find-Outer section. There are no listings for ANY of the characters appearing in only one book… Ern isn’t mentioned once, nor is Fatty’s mother who’s in the books quite often.
Phew, I’m at the end of the Adventure Stories section! I fear it may be slightly ironic saying Rice lacks knowledge of some of the series which leads to some sections being much longer than others – when I clearly don’t know an awful lot about the Secret Seven. Then again, I’m not asking anyone to pay to read what I’ve written.
My biggest issue with this book for far is consistency. Either you write a book describing every character ever featured in a book or series, or you write one about the main characters (which, of course will always be open to debate)… this is an unsatisfying mix of the two approaches.