The scenic settings and spots
of the 'Famous five'
very first thing any reader will come across in a Famous Five book is the
fact that the exciting part of the story never takes place in a city : it is
either at a tiny and far flung village, at the sea-side, or simply in the
wild country-side. Enid Blyton mentions the city-life only to show that the
Five have their residence situated in a town or a city.
As far as the French version of the Famous five is concerned, the city of
Lyon (in the first title of the series) is where the Gauthier (Kirrin)
family resides, Grenoble (a city in France) where they go on holiday and
Paris (London, obviously, in the original title) where Claude's (George's)
and François (Julian), Annie (Anne) and Mick's (Dick) parents go to.
That was perhaps Enid Blyton's wanting. Just to give us an idea that
sea-scapes, country-scapes or land-scapes are, by nature, less quicker to
changes than urban settings.
Still more, the country-side spaces or the sea-side spots in the "Famous
five" are not described in a documentary or realistic manner. It's more of a
poetic and mysterious description which gives a sense of a place perfect for
an exciting adventure to take place.
The landscapes are more imaginary or invented, than plainly described.
And this could well be a reason
why children of to-day do not enjoy reading the Famous five series of books.
(Except for the children's language where serious changes have been brought
about, and the lack of current topics). One of my young cousins, who loves
the Famous five (but a boy of his generation, what is more !), recently told
his mother : "What they speak in the Famous five is rather funny ! they
don't speak like how we do these days !"
Trying to adapt this series to the changing tastes and preferences of the
modern world has resulted in failure. On the contrary, adapting "without any
family", or -the Countess of Ségur of the 1980s - 90s would not be of much
But let's make use of this opportunity to show as to how people expressed
themselves during the 1950s period of years... in a setting created by
Here are now a few examples taken from the following titles :
Five go off to camp
Five on a hike together
Five go down to the sea
Five go to Billycock hill
Five go off to camp.
The ideal spot for camping, a lonely moor land, is set in a remote area.
"This sounds as if it will be a super holiday -
living in tents on the high moors, away from everybody, doing exactly what
we like, when we like and how we like", says George.
To be sure, this is a lovely place, faraway and where the children are
masters of their decisions. (Mr Luffy, a dreamy fellow, who is accompanying
them, puts up his tent out of the way of the Famous five).
"We will be neighbours while keeping our own independence" says Mr. Luffy.
"Just a few small farms, that's all... they can't
get much of a living out of such poor land", Julian explains.
Enid Blyton takes us to a jolly wild region, and not to a country-side
packed with farms and hamlets.
So, the children are left to themselves and they go off on a camping rather
different than these days' camping... A camping that would be classified
as'wild', in a deserted area.
It is now up to them to manage all
by themselves when faced with the bad.
They are far
and away from the city, very few settlings dot the moorland, and there is
hardly any roadway at all.
And we learn
that during winter, the only way to disperse sheep is by shouting at them,
as they are all covered up in snow !
"The moors stretched for mile upon mile,
wild cry overhead came from a curlew , the bird of the moorland."
had lunch at the top of a hill overlooking a vast stretch of meadow."
Time here comes to a standstill. And the place is lost. This is a heavenly
world, even during Enid Blyton's times :
Old Wooden-Leg Sam lives in a tiny hut...
The ghost engine of the spook-train is a steam engine, out-dated and
The children have no need to play with toys or games to keep them
entertained, their only leisure, their sole pleasure being camping on such a
contrasted wildscape has to offer... and an adventure which is lying in wait
Five on a hike together
The place of action, mysterious moors, and a strange pool.
"Over the moors, he told me, in the very
loneliest, most deserted parts that Julian can find within a radius of fifty
kilometres !" explains Anne.
"We might see deer and wild ponies and perhaps
even a few badgers. We shall walk and walk", keeps telling Anne.
Once more, Enid Blyton gives us a perfect recipe of a lonely and remote
setting, to narrate a new adventure of the Famous five. The names of places
evoke scenes and flavours straight from the English countryside :
Lost Lake, (Bramble Woods), Rabbit Hill, Coney Copse...
Almost like in dreamland ! The season that is chosen this time is the autumn.
So the landscape is presented under the rain, then the sun. An autumn sun.
The Five are hiking across fields, climbing over stile gates, taking sunken
lanes and rabbit-paths... A swamp with its muddy marsh and its dangers add
all the more to the wilderness.
Let us not forget that there are no roadways, no vehicles, and no signs of
Here, action blends with the setting :
Bells with a ghostly sound ringing in the death of the night.
Camping in the caves and cellars of burnt ruins.
"The place was anything but welcoming",
reads a line in the book.
The lake appears to be "almost black", and the water is gloomy.
The story gives a feeling that the 'Gloomy Waters' is an abandoned spot,
where nobody ever comes. The water is perfectly still, the silence
impressive, and the entire setting seems unreal...
Five go down to the
The 'happening' place this time, are hills and a dangerous and wild
"All I remember about the place is that it is
wild and lonely", says the porter at the tiny station.
"I shouldn't have thought it was much of a place
for a holiday - no pier, no ice-cream sellers, no concert parties, no..."
he goes on.
Again the setting is remote and far-flung, which doesn't seem to be the
perfect holiday place... The Famous five, as Enid Blyton wanted it to be,
likes simplicity, nature and pleasures of the wild beauty. It was perhaps
her way of expressing her own tastes and likings by means of these
We are already aware of the fact that 'George's' portrait painted by Blyton
only reflects her own personality and preferences.
"Poppies blew by the way-side in hundreds, and
honey-suckle threw its scent out from the hedges (...). The corn stood high
in the fields, touched with gold already, and splashed with the scarlet of
the poppies." this can be read at the beginning of the book.
(Which is what that makes the story 'out-dated' ! No more poppies or
bluebells, due to chemicals and fertilisers !).
This is not, in my opinion, to decorate the scenes, sights and sounds that
Enid Blyton slowly describes such details of the country-side. The blazing
sun, the first day of freedom, light clothing and the deep blue sea... all
this ought to wake up the so very special memories of the first day of the
summer hols... who does not remember such things ? We feel as if we are
ourselves floating, and so the nature takes a different form that we feel as
a new pleasure...
"The entire country was dozing under the silence
and the sun". This is like a day out of a story, where
everything seems nice and pleasant.
Then Enid Blyton paints a picture of the setting :
lane ran down between two high, rocky cliffs..."
"Caves, and more caves, and yet more caves !"
"Over yonder, vast herds were peacefully grazing
in the silence of a contented nature".
(it can be noticed that, in all the places described, reigns peace and
It is still the Enid Blyton atmosphere, and of her Famous five. This is not
some boring holiday-place. No hotels, no camping ground, no sea-side resorts
or overcrowded beaches. A very particular ambience.
Can to-day's children, will they enjoy spending such a kind of a
holiday... will they want to ?
Holidays of the by-gone years, out-dated holidays ? These days, children
live differently than their counterparts of the yester-years... The 'need to
have' is gone... in the modern world where pocket money has become a must of
one's personal budget... Simple pleasures will not suffice any more !
Whatever, a handful of children still continue reading the 'Famous five' and
find them to their liking...
Five go to Billycock
The "place' this time is the 'Billycock hill" (a whole programme
!), high-rise hills...
Enid Blyton's idea of a perfect holiday is related here again ...
"This is just the place ! exclaims Julian. A fine
view - plenty of spring heather to camp on - and water laid on quite near !"
Julian is delighted by the fine camping-place discovered by Timothy. And
just the same, always : well-sheltered, with a beautiful view, and a spring
Even there, the Famous five do not ask for games or other fun activities...
The pleasure of being reunited in the heart of wild and unspoilt
nature, is alone enough to thrill the Five.
Undoubtedly, the place is away from civilisation, the lovely feeling of
being in the very bosom of mothernature.
And not to forget, the 'Butterfly Farm'. This is also the time to talk about
insects and nature.
Already, in the "Five to go off to camp', we have seen Mr Luffy who was
mad after insects and spent most of his time looking for the tiny creatures.
In both the cases, a vast and wild landscape welcomed the children and their
school master to a wonderful holiday...
"There can't be anything nicer in the world than
this (...) No - I don't want to grow up", thinks Anne.
Isn't it Enid Blyton who is talking there ? She who preserved this
mysterious sense of childhood, who was lucky enough to live until her last
days, the emotions of all these children she made and who enjoyed in the fun
of holidaying and pick nicking, all through her books...
Enid Blyton weaves, with her magical needle and thread, landscapes and vast
spreads of moorland, making them fit in well with the ambiance. Through her
books, she puts wings on every reader's thoughts and takes us with her to
her own fantasy land. She wants to show us her young and carefree heroes,
all by themselves in the middle of an immense natural setting ; and makes us
share this pleasure of being 'tiny and small' in comparison with the nature
stretching beyond the eye can see. No doubt there are settlings further away,
but their din doesn't reach out up to us. The adventures are set in coastal
areas, moorland, country-sides or tiny villages...
As for houses, they are always old, with a mysterious and a historic past :
"It was a pretty, old house", we are
told about Kirrin Cottage, George's and her parents residence.
(Five go adventuring again)
There is no dearth for examples : from "Smuggler's top" in the
fourth title of the series to the "Owl's Dene" in "Five get
into trouble", to Professor Hayling's house (Five
are together again), and the "Finniston
Farm" in the Five's nineteenth exciting adventure.
Thus, children do not have such adventures in their daily lives, but live
through such fantasy thanks to stories in which places and settings do not
exist any more, or which they rarely visit. This is the share in their dream.
Let us also not fail either to notice that the scenic settings and spots of
the "Famous five", imaginary and invented lands, so realistic, and
yet so unreal, have the advantage of appearing without the slightest touch
of exoticism in the majority of foreign language translations...
Text by : Serge Sohier
English translation : Srikrishnan Srinivasan.
Merci à Srikrishnan Srinivasan
pour son excellente traduction.