The first of my Famous Five “pick’n’mix” reviews!
I had the idea of reading through all the Famous Fives again, in order, but as I sat there looking into one of my boxes of books, I felt like I just couldn’t face reading Five on a Treasure Island again and I’d read Five Go Adventuring Again very recently too.
I decided that really, I should just read whichever one I felt like! After some deliberation I selected Five Go Off to Camp as I hadn’t read that one for a while. This is a 10th edition (1960) copy in not-very-good condition (see more about that later) but in quite a good dustjacket. I opted for this one over my 1991 Knight paperback, because as much as I have pleasant associations with the set I got in my childhood, I felt that I wanted to read the version as close to what the author intended as possible.
Fiona has already done an excellent synopsis of this book here so I won’t attempt to replicate that. I’ll talk instead about what I liked about this story, and a couple of little things I didn’t like so much.
Of course, one of the best things about this book is the spook train. There is such a wonderful creepy atmosphere created by the idea of a ghost train creeping mysteriously out of disused tunnels at nighttime. It is the sort of thing that sends delicious tingles down one’s spine!
The spook train always makes me think of the first Enid Blyton Society event I attended in 2011 at Bourne End, where I met Stef and Su and we explored the nearby railway tracks. It was the first time I learnt that the infallible Julian could actually be wrong about something, and the imparter of that knowledge was, very surprisingly, Stef! Stef pointed out that these tracks were very well used, and that there were weeds growing on them – contrary to what Julian said in Five Go off to Camp
“Well, no train has been out of this tunnel here for years,” said Julian, looking at the thick weeds. “The wheels would have chopped the weeds to pieces.”
However, to give Ju some credit, I’m not entirely sure that the weeds were growing over the tracks, so much as around them, so it may well be that he was right!
I also enjoyed the secondary characters in this story. Mr Luffy was absolutely delightful, and the ideal sort of grown-up who mostly left the children to their own devices, but was there when they needed help at the end. Jock’s mother played the “Aunt Fanny” role in this one, keeping the children well-fed for their adventures. Peg Leg Sam was another favourite – he frightened me as a child, particularly when he threw a large cinder at poor Dick, and he really was an integral component of the creepy atmosphere of the story.
This story also had some funny moments – like the children teasing poor Cecil Dearlove (what a name!) by telling him to “beware of the bull.” Of course, the children were not lying, as I suppose it does pay to beware, even if there is no bull in the near vicinity! Probably my favourite moment in the book is a funny one, and I remembered it best out of all the scenes – when Anne, wandering around by herself, sits on a “volcano,” which turns out to be a vent for the smoke from the trains under the moor! I also love when the boys think she will be frightened the first time a train comes rumbling along under them when they are all together, and Anne shows them she is not scared at all. Good old Anne!
George does not come off so well in this book – she seems to be in a sulk most of the book. However, she becomes a bit of a hero at the finish, and so I think we can forgive her.
One quibble that I have is with the illustrations – they don’t always seem to match the description in the text. For example, how many puppies can you count in this picture?
Well, the relevant part of the text says “A collie dog lay there with four lovely puppies!” This lack of attention to details is somewhat annoying, although to be fair, the author herself was not known for her own attention to detail!
Another annoyance was with my copy of the book itself. Some of the pages were in the wrong order! A whole section would be moved and inserted in the wrong place – for example, pages 107 – 112 are in between pages 102 and 103. They had not obviously fallen out and been re-bound or anything, so I’m guessing that there was some sort of binding error at the printers. Although all the pages were there, flicking between the sections did disrupt the flow of the story quite a bit.
Despite my little quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this story, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one, whichever one it is!