Enid Blyton is a much-loved British writer of children’s stories and although she died in 1968, her books are still read and re-read today. Her most popular series include The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Malory Towers and St Clare’s. Despite her success, her books have not always been well-received; in the seventies and eighties, they were heavily criticised for being sexist and racist. One of her popular characters included a golliwog, who was then removed from the narrative because of the racist connotations. Many have also criticised her poor, very formulaic writing skills. Nevertheless, it was precisely this formulaic nature that made her work so popular amongst children.
Five Go To Mystery Moor is number 13 in The Famous Five series. The Famous Five consisted of four children; brothers Julian and Dick, their sister Anne, their cousin, Georgina (George) and her dog, Timmy. Every time the five get together, they come across an adventure that usually puts one, or all of them, in danger. In this case, Anne and George are on a horse-riding holiday, while Julian and Dick are on a camp. The holiday is about to end, much to George’s relief, when a telegram arrives from her mother saying that her father is ill and the girls need to stay for another week. Fortunately, the situation improves when Julian and Dick turn up to join them and they all go camping on the moors together, along with another girl, Henry (short for Henrietta). Before long, the group are involved in a mystery involving gypsies and an old railway line.
The camaraderie between the four children is one of the reasons that The Famous Five books are so popular. When they fall out, it is described very naturally. In Five Go to Mystery Moor, George is upset because she likes to pretend she is a boy and so does Henry. George takes great affront to this and refuses to go camping with them if Henry goes; unfortunately, Julian calls her bluff and suggests they all go anyway, leaving George behind. George is a real sulker; as an only child, she is used to getting her own way, but since she has known the other children and has learned the importance of sharing, she has improved a great deal. She is a very realistic character, probably the most realistic of them all. Julian, Dick and Anne are inherently sensible – and sometimes a little boring because of it.
The plot isn’t the strongest of the series, but fans will love it regardless. The idea that children not even into their teens would be allowed to go camping on their own is hard to believe, but that is a common occurrence in Enid Blyton’s books. Another rather formulaic thread carried over from other books is that of the gypsies, who are almost always described as evil criminals, as they are in this case. The middle class children do a good deed by rescuing one of the gypsy children, who hasn’t been completely brainwashed by the rest of the tribe yet, and bringing him to the attention of the authorities. It is very patronising, especially when reading it as an adult, and it isn’t the best lesson to be teaching to children. However, generations of children have read the book and haven’t been totally corrupted, so perhaps it isn’t that much of an issue.
Few people would describe Enid Blyton as a good writer. Her narrative is simple and repetitive; it tells the story with few embellishments. However, bearing in mind the target audience, it is perfectly acceptable. The pacing is also good – there is no opportunity for readers to become bored. However, probably the best thing about the book, at least for children, is that the characters are allowed to have a lot of responsibility and are treated like adults – even the policemen involved at the end take them seriously. It may not be realistic, but it is very appealing to children who are not allowed anything like as much independence.
There is much that is old-fashioned about Five Go To Mystery Moor. It was first published in 1954 when British society and its ideals were very different. There have been attempts to make the books more modern, but by doing so, the books have lost a great deal of their charm. Parents obviously need to make a decision about whether to let their children read books that could possibly induce offensive beliefs; however, children are rarely as gullible as adults believe and they are quite capable of understanding that the story was written in a different time and that life is no longer the one that The Famous Five led. In any case, anything that appeals to children and encourages them to read has to be a positive thing.