The Famous Five: Five Have a Mystery to Solve

This is about an episode of the 1990s TV version of the Famous Five, rather than the 1970s version. 

Five Have a Mystery to Solve is the penultimate Famous Five adventure that Blyton wrote and it's a cracker, with a mysterious island full of old treasures, on which of course the kids gets trapped and discover what's going on there, before we all go home for lashings of ginger beer. The island is known as Whispering or Wailing Island and this of course represents exactly the sort of mysterious local folklore which appeals to me.

It also seems to be a popular episode judging by the interest online. It had a film version made in 1964 (which is available on DVD from the BFI) although as far as I can see wasn't televised in the 1970s series. I've seen the 1964 version and in my humble opinion this is better. It's short, for a start, and perfectly paced. It's also slightly different from the other episodes of this series in extensive use of very arty camera techniques to build up the feeling of fear on the island. If you think of the sort of arty approach used in The Owl Service, uncharacteristically transposed to this series, you won't be far wrong.

One thing strikes me in particular on watching this series again, which is that the world depicted by Blyton is largely a fantasy. When I first wrote about the Famous Five on here years ago somebody commented that he had learned right from wrong by reading the books. All I can say is that you would end up with a very twisted sense of right and wrong if you only learned it from Enid Blyton. She depicts a world of broad moral judgements which would invariably be wrong in the real world. It also only depicts upper middle class Britain, and even a world where children own their own islands and have famous international scientists as fathers - the world it depicts is so rarified as to be basically a fantasy. It strikes me that it's the sort of fantasy of Britain that white people in former colonies often have, and in some cases continue to live out. They tend to get some horrible culture shock when they actually come here! This is of course the exact same fantasy that brexiteers have, and I think we have now shown anyone with an IQ in double figures or above, that it isn't possible to live in a tiny balkanised island these days. It is perhaps important to state that these people who aspire to Blyton's fantasy world certainly don't live in this fantasy world themselves! It is perhaps significant that I'm watching this on a Dutch-released DVD box set and as far as I can see that remains the easiest way to get this whole series in the UK.

Blyton does, however leave us hints that things aren't quite right with this world. Uncle Quentin is so grossly disorganised that in the real world he would sertainly never attain to the position he has because he could never get his notes together for a first degree, let alone a PhD, and if he did he would lose them! As the main adult so often in this show, his care-giving attempts are so inept as to leave the five in need of serious therapy once they reach adulthood. In fact they repeatedly have to resort to caring for themselves, and the nurturing of Uncle Quentin leave way too much to be desired. This means that at the heart of one of the great British classics of childhood we have a relationship which is just plain unsupportive.

There is also one mammoth great plot hole in this adventure, which I would suggest is ignored because this is still a great mystery. It is that Whispering Island is a wildlife sanctuary, but lo and behold off the kids go with their animal-loving friend. Is Miss Blyton seriously trying to tell us that the Famous Five would intrude on wildlife in a wildlife sanctuary? Such irresponsibility, verging on hooliganism, is shocking in the extreme. 

Otherwise this is a great story, much more atmospheric than this series normally is, drawing on folklore of haunted islands and benefitting from some very arty camera techniques.

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