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Five Get Into a FixReview by Keith Robinson (September 19, 2005)
The seventeenth adventure for the Famous Five is surprisingly good, at least in my opinion. I say surprising because the last couple have been poor and I thought that the series was on a steady decline. Five Get Into a Fix almost seems to breathe new life into the series—a blast of fresh air almost as crisp as the cold mountain air enjoyed by the Five on their little skiing trip.
A departure from the done-to-death moors and coastal villages with hidden tunnels and caves and secret passages, this story takes place up a snowy mountain in Wales. And okay, there are hidden tunnels and caves and secret passages too—but this adventure seems so different to the usual Famous Five adventures that I'm prepared to be lenient. This story actually reminds me a lot of the Adventure series, with Jack, Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann. In The Castle of Adventure you had the castle on the hill and a local young scamp of a girl called Tassie. In Five Get Into a Fix you have an old house with a tower on the hill, and a local young scamp of a girl called Aily. In both books there are funny pets tagging along—a fox cub and lamb in Castle, and a small dog and lamb in Fix. Then there's The Mountain of Adventure, which of course had the strange rumbling mountain, the eerie red smoke, and sinister goings-on. Five Get Into a Fix has a similar rumbling mountain, an eerie shimmering effect, and sinister goings-on. Oh, and both mountains are in Wales. Incidentally, there's also Morgan, a giant of a man who doesn't say much—a lot like Mr Penruthlan in Five Go Down to the Sea. Both Morgan and Mr Penruthlan are assumed at some point to be involved in shady activity.
But aside from all these oddly familiar settings and characters, this book is a lot of fun and hardly ever lets up on the action. The Five are themselves amazed at how things keep happening one after another!
The book starts with another familiar scene: the children are ill, and mightily annoyed that the holidays are nearly over and they've been laid up in bed coughing most of the time. This calls for some mountain air! For once we're not at Kirrin but at the home of Julian, Dick and Anne for the Christmas hols. As we're informed in typical Blyton fashion: "Bad luck on George, coming to stay with us for the Christmas hols—and then us all going down with those awful coughs and colds," said Julian. A minor distraction here: I've been told that in the original books Julian's mother is referred to as Mrs Barnard. There's no mention of her name in the later version I have, and I have to assume it's been altered due to the fact that it's a glaring error on Blyton's part—for as we all know, Julian's father is Uncle Quentin's brother, which makes both families Kirrin. Anyway, Mrs Kirrin (as we shall call her) arranges to send the Five away to the mountains, where Jenkins—the old man who helps in the garden—has an aunt who rents out rooms. Normally she only rents rooms in the summer, but on this occasion she agrees to let the rooms to the Five for the rest of the Christmas hols. Hurrah!
The drive to the mountains is quite interesting. The Five load up the car with not only themselves and their clothes, but their toboggans and skis too. Now off to Magga Glen! The drive is a long one, and they eventually reach the Magga Glen area in the evening—but the driver takes a wrong turn somewhere and ends up climbing a hill to an old house with a tower. This can't be right! A big sign on the gate says "Keep Out" and the driver is a little cross that there's no one around to ask directions except a big dog that comes bounding out, barking its head off. The driver heads back down the hill, and it's at this point they all realize something strange—the car appears to be straining to move, even downhill. It suddenly feels very heavy, and even though the driver has his foot well down on the throttle, the stupid thing won't pick up speed. But suddenly it does—and everything is normal again. How odd!
Arrival at Magga Glen is a little later than expected and the children are tired out. But not too tired to tuck into a slap-up meal provided by the lovely host, Mrs Jones, who is small, old and silver-haired, but spry for her age. Not surprisingly the Five sleep like logs that night...
In the morning they meet Morgan, the giant-like son of Mrs Jones. He has seven dogs, and George is at once wary about coming across them. Meanwhile the driver, who stayed the night, informs the children that the house they ended up at the night before, Old Towers, is a very private place where an old woman lives. "She's off her head," the driver says, repeating what he was told. "Won't let anyone in." But the most interesting thing is that there's something magnetic down under the ground that pulls on metal objects and makes them seem heavy. This explains why the car seemed sluggish all of a sudden, and furthermore even the postman leaves his bike at the bottom of the hill rather than struggle with it. Julian, immensely interested, decides there must be a powerful deposit of metal in that hill. Good old Ju for working that out!
Then the children come across three of the seven dogs—or rather Timmy does. What a noise! Four dogs bark at each other and get into a scuffle, and George, terrified her poor Timmy will get hurt, throws herself in front of him and tries to scare off the others. Then comes Morgan's enormous booming voice: "Dai! Bob! Tang!" At once the dogs take off and are gone in a moment, leaving Timmy with a bleeding ear and the four children white-faced and shocked. Poor Anne is leaning against a wall feeling sick (the wimp). But all this has a more long-term effect: George decides she can't stay at Magga Glen while those other dogs are about, in case they rip Timmy apart. She decides she must go home.
Naturally Julian persuades her to stay on, at least for one more night. In the meantime he and Dick head off up the mountain for a walk, and to take a look at a small chalet Mrs Jones lets from time to time. It's well stocked with food, she says, so the boys can have lunch there if they like. But oh!—what a place! It's a one-roomed cottage with six fold-down bunks, and really is well stocked with tins of food. And the view across the snow-covered mountains is breathtaking. If only the Five could stay there rather than down at the farm with Mrs Jones, then—
As soon as the idea hits them, Julian and Dick know they must persuade Mrs Jones to let them do just that—stay at the little cottage. Then George won't have to worry about Timmy getting ripped apart, and the Five will be where they like to be—on their own! The boys hurry back to convince Mrs Jones it's a wizard idea.
They get their way and the Five settle in at the cottage. And that's when the trouble starts. Strange rumblings underground, like an earthquake...eerie shimmering in the air, rising out of the ground and floating off into the night... It's all too much for weedy Anne, who wants to return to the farm. But the boys, and George, are having none of it. Before long they're spending their time skiing down the slope and part-way up the opposite side, where Old Towers stands, and near to where the strange rumblings and shimmerings are coming from. But the caretaker of Old Towers comes out and tells the kids to get off the hill—it's private property, he yells, and Julian promptly yells back that they're not doing any harm, just skiing. What's all the hostility about? Why keep the place so private?
There's another characer that turns up while the children are staying at the cottage on the hill. Little Aily, a young scamp of a girl as mentioned above, with her pets Fany and Dai—a lamb and small dog respectively. It didn't escape my attention that there are two dogs in this book with the name of Dai. Maybe Enid Blyton couldn't think of any other Welsh-sounding names? Anyway, Aily is a little monkey, always out and about when she should be at home. She hardly speaks a word of English so communication is a little awkward, but the Five manage all right.
Another similarity with other books crops up around this point too: a face at the window of Old Towers. Let's see... Five Have a Wonderful Time springs to mind here, among probably lots of others. Who is the face at the window? Most likely the old woman who owns Old Towers, who is said to be "off her head" these days... Could she be a prisoner?
Aily then makes a startling announcement. She claims that she can get into the grounds, and into the house itself, via some underground passages. Of course! I wonder why the Five don't just ask outright, "Hey, are there by any chance some secret passages we can use to get into the place?" Anyway, Aily also shows them a note thrown out of the window by the old woman as Aily was creeping about the grounds of Old Towers one day. The note indicates that the woman is indeed being held prisoner—by men that have killed her son!
Julian decides to show the note to Morgan, and is startled when Morgan angrily forbids them to do anything about it. He commands them to stay out of it. The Five naturally assume at this point that Morgan is in cahoots with whatever bad guys are involved, and they decide to rescue the old woman themselves.
Aily shows them the way into the passages. She has an uncanny sense of direction, and even though it's snowing hard on the mountain, she finds the hole in the ground that drops into a tunnel. She warns them to be careful, as Dai (her small dog) once fell in. So down the hole the Five and Aily go, along with Fany and Dai...
What follows is a fairly exciting romp through passages, up the steps of the tower to a room where the old woman is being held (no big surprise there), and then into some caves where Very Strange Things are happening. Here things get a little weird as the rumbling starts up again and the shimmering rises out of the ground. Earlier in the book, Julian made a solemn comment that this shimmering has a color he has never seen before—something else that reminds me of The Mountain of Adventure. How can something have a color like no other? I feel sure we humans have seen all the colors available—but then again, in the forties and fifties children didn't have computers so they couldn't view 16 million color palettes in paint programs. ;-)
And a final parallel with another book—this time The Island of Adventure. Can anyone guess what it is? I won't tell here, because that might give away the biggest secret...not that it's much of a surprise anyway. Needless to say it's what the bad guys are up to—and that should be enough of a hint.
The rumbling and shimmering are never fully explained; they just happen. The rumbling is very alarming, and I should think there would be meteorologists out, trying to determine whether there's an active volcano or some tectonic shifting going on under the ground. But no, the rumbling is left as a simple bit of local folklore. The shimmering, in my opinion, is ridiculous. It rises up out of the ground, through the rock, and floats away in the air, twisting like fog and a color unknown to humans? Come on. I'm not sure what Blyton was on when she thought this one up, but I suspect she saw a similar shimmering while she was on it. (Gosh, what a tongue-twister!—say that last bit again out loud: I suspect she saw a similar shimmering...)
Despite the questionable science and predictable plot, this book is a blast. Not the best in the series by a long chalk, but a welcome improvement over the likes of Five on a Secret Trail and Five Go to Billycock Hill. And as for the magnetic deposit of metal in the ground under the road leading up to Old Towers... My old grandad once told me a similar story, although in his case the car engine just quit inexplicably and wouldn't restart until he'd got it towed away. He swore blind it was something under the ground affecting the mechanics of the car—but he might have just flooded the engine.
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