Five Get an Update

five1First published on 1st August, 2010 in StarMag

SO YOU must have heard by now that Enid Blyton’s Famous Fivebooks will be revised in order to make them more accessible to 21stcentury readers.

No, the five young detectives will not be carrying iPhones and Tweeting about their adventures: “Something fishy’s going on at the abandoned mill”, “High tea at Cherry Tree Farm was simply delicious and now I can’t button my jeans”; “I hate doing the dishes. I wish I were a boy L”; “Woof … wooooof .. grrr!”), but certain expressions will be updated because research has shown that phrases like “mercy me”, “awful swotter” and “very peculiar” are keeping children from truly understanding and enjoying the books. Those phrases will be changed to “oh no”, “bookworm” and “very strange” respectively.

Well, I don’t buy it for a moment. After all, Malaysians have enjoyed Blyton’s books for decades and had no problems with the “queer” language. If children can cope with specially and newly invented words like muggles and apparate (in Harry Potter), why shouldn’t they be able to make sense, from context, of terms like “school tunic” and “school mistress”?

It’s all very peculiar … I mean, strange.

However, it seems that children will be totally put off by the time and effort taken to work out what George, Dick, Julian and Anne are on about. In The Guardian article, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five get 21st-century makeover, Anne McNeil, publishing director of Hodder Children’s Books said, “Children who read [the Famous Five books] need to be able to easily understand the characterisations and easily to get into the plots.”

What is there to understand? The main characters are two bossy lads, a girl who wishes she were a boy, another girl who prefers keeping house to having adventures, and a dog who’s more human than canine.

And the plots? You certainly won’t need to make notes to keep up with any unexpected twists and turns.

The Famous Five books are fun to read because they are interesting without being too challenging. Every thing about them is predictable and that makes them easy to understand. For young children, they provide some suspense and excitement without ever being too scary or stressful.

When I was growing up they also provided a peek into a world totally different from my own. I must admit that a combination of Blyton, other British children’s books and the sort of British television programmes that used to be screened by RTM, formed a totally unreal picture of England in my mind. But this is unlikely to happen today, now that the world has got that much smaller thanks to cable television and the Internet.

The Famous Five affords readers a glimpse into a past era, a certain class of people, and some of the social attitudes and prejudices of that time and community. To me, a bit of social history has been captured on the pages of those books and it would be a shame to erase that.

The original edition of the books will, however, remain in print so I guess readers will at least be given the choice of a jolly good read or just a very good one.

29th July, 2012
New covers for the Five. Read all about them here.
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6th January, 2014
P.S. Here’s a version of The Famous Five that will send your ginger beer shooting out of your nostrils. Five Go Mad in Dorset and the other comedy shorts based on The Famous Five books and characters star Peter Richardson as Julian, Adrian Edmonson as Dick, Dawn French as George, Jennifer Saunders as Anne, and some dog as Timmy.

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P. P.S. This scary lot were from the 1978/1979 Famous Five telly series. What’s even scarier is I can still sing the theme song …. Enjoy it here.

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P. P.P.S The latest Famous Five editions feature updated version of the Five. Well, at least Julian’s not smirking.
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