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The scenic settings and spots 
of the 'Famous five'

The 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 help either.
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 EnidBlyton.

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

Fantasy landscape.

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, never-ending."

"That wild cry overhead came from a curlew , the bird of the moorland."

"They 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 mysterious.

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 for them.

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 : 

Blind Valley, 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 civilisation !

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 sea.

The 'happening' place this time, are hills and a dangerous and wild coastline.

"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 stories...
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 :

"The 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 quiet).

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 hill

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.