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Five Have a Wonderful Time

Review by Keith Robinson (July 26, 2005)

The eleventh book in the series sees the Five camping out in two hired caravans. This is their second caravanning holiday, the first time being Five Go Off in a Caravan (no surprises there!). This time, however, they've borrowed the caravans from a friend at school, whose family has gone off to France this year. The caravans are the "old-fashioned types as used by gypsies"; they're bright and colorful and gay, one red and one blue, both picked out with black and yellow trim. They have a line of bold carving running around the edges of the jutting-out roofs, and large wheels. Inside the caravans are modernized and fitted out with bunks, a sink, cupboards and shelves, and cork carpet and warm rugs on the floor! I always loved the look of these old horse-drawn caravans, and I completely agree with Enid Blyton that they're much better looking than the more modern caravans that have to be towed by cars.

The story opens with George moaning about not being with Julian, Dick and Anne, who have already set up camp in their caravans on a hill at Faynights, opposite Faynights Castle. George has been suffering from a cold, caused by swimming around in the freezing April sea (I thought catching colds that way was just old wive's tale?) but she is just about recovered so can catch a train to join her friends the next day. She writes a postcard to let them know she's on her way, so they can meet her at the station. My, the postmen were efficient in those days! There's no question that the postcard will arrive that very next morning, and it seems to matter not a jot that Julian, Dick and Anne are living in caravans on a hill; the postman dutifully delivers the postcard anyway, and the cousins meet at the station as planned.

(It's mentioned later in the book that they nip to the post office to check for mail, but there's no mention of this at first. In fact, I double-checked and it clearly says that Julian and Dick leapt down the steps of their caravan and rapped on the door of the next, where Anne is making breakfast. Julian says "The postman has just brought a card from George.")

There's some brief talk of two scientists going missing, presumed traitors to their country since they've upped and left after buying plane tickets to Paris. Still, they never arrived at the other end, and Enid Blyton doesn't mention this kind of stuff for no reason, so we already know by this point that this book involves missing scientists. And since there's a castle opposite, no doubt that's involved too!

Next, a travelling fair arrives and sets up camp right by the Kirrins. This is a very interesting turn of events, because as much as the children would like to be friends with the fair-folk, the feeling is not mutual! The fair-folk are positively rude, each saying "no kids allowed in our field" and generally being bad-tempered. There's Alfredo the Fire-Eater, Bufflo the Whip-Cracker (and his assistant Skippy), Mr India-Rubber, and the snake-man (who is later named Mr Slither). Each of these fellows is rude to the children, declaring that "us-folk" and "you-folk" don't mix. Julian makes a comment that "There's a lot of that kind of feeling about these days, and it's so silly. We're all the same under the skin." Ha! That's very magnanimous of dear old Julian.

Occasionally I get quite riled up by the audacity of some of the characters in Blyton's books. The last time I got this riled up was while reading The Ship of Adventure, when Mr Eppy kept stealing the map from the children as if he had every right to take it from them. In Five Have a Wonderful Time, the fair-folk irk me a great deal because they came trundling in and then started telling the children to clear off, even though a) the children were there first, and b) the field is for general use and not exclusively for use by the gypsies. The fair-folk wait until the Five have gone off for a walk and then sneakily hitch up their horses to the Five's caravans and move them off to another field! Grr! The audacity of these people! I wanted Julian to get on his biggest soapbox and have a go at them, but I could quite understand his reluctance to get too rude; the fair-folk really come across as quite a sinister bunch, and there's no telling what they might do if angered.

Matters worsen when the farmer who owns the field that the Five's caravans have been dumped in arrives and tells them to clear off too! Now, the farmer has a right to evict them—but that's not much help to the Five, who have no way of getting the caravans back to the campsite without borrowing the fair-folk's horses. Should Julian get the police involved? He doesn't want to, but he will if he must. First, though, he and Dick go to speak with the fair-folk—and get laughed at.

But then there's a great surprise, and the situation is diffused in a flash. Jo arrives on the scene! Jo from Five Fall Into Adventure, the sneaky, fiery tomboy who, to my mind, is an essential sub-character to the Famous Five series in much the same way that Ern is to the Five Find-Outer series. Hurrah! Welcome back, Jo! Suddenly all the fair-folk are apologetic and friendly as can be...but Julian has mind up his mind to leave anyway, "on principal," he says. I tend to agree.

Before they leave, however, the adventure suddenly gets underway. We're now halfway through the book and the first "strange" event takes place as the Five (and Jo) are sitting around having a picnic on the hill. Dick is using George's new field-glasses to check out the birds when he happens upon the slit-window of the single remaining castle tower. Is that a face in the window? Julian looks too, and confirms that it does look like one. But when the others get their turn, the face is gone. Naturally this needs investigating, so Julian decides they will not to leave the next day after all. They must visit the castle!

They've already got it into their heads that the face at the window might belong to Terry-Kane, one of the missing scientists. He, does, after all, have great bushy eyebrows and a domed forehead, like ALL scientists do in Blyton's world. But a search of the castle grounds (via the standard five pence tour) yields disappointing results. The steps in the remaining tower have crumbled away, and it's impossible to access the rooms at the top. But Julian discovers from the turnstile lady that two men, supposedly from the Society for the Preservation of Old Buildings, visited the grounds recently—and yet a phone call to the Society's offices indicates that no one has been there! Something very queer is going on! Could the two missing scientists be hiding out in the tower?

Of course this requires a full investigation—in the dead of night! The Five (and Jo) find a huge block missing from the castle wall, and although the castle wall is about eight feet thick, it happens to be hollow right at this spot—so the missing block allows entrance to a secret passage running along the length of the wall. Then it leads down some steps and turns inwards under the castle courtyard. Eventually it leads up into the tower itself where, much as they have suspected (and what us readers have known all along), the missing scientist Terry-Kane is being held captive. What readers may not have realized up to this point is that the other scientist, Pottersham, is the bad guy—but this all becomes apparent fairly quickly.

There follows a failed rescue, imprisonment of the Five, Jo on the run through dark passages, capture by Pottersham, escape again, and finally a daring rescue by the fair-folk. Since the door to the tower room is locked and Pottersham has the key, the fair-folk seek access through the tower window itself. It's this rescue that I remember most of all from this book, and I'm gratified to know my memory served me well in all the little details. But on reflection it's a bit silly to think that climbing up through a high tower window is easier than bashing down the door to the tower room with an axe, or picking the lock. It's just an excuse for Enid Blyton to make the rescue more daring and exciting than it really needs to be.

If I had read this one book alone I probably wouldn't have had much to say about the antics of the bad guys as they are defeated by the children (with the help of a huge snake). But after Five Fall Into Adventure, also featuring Jo and a locked tower room and a daring rescue up the wall, and a number of secret passages beneath the grounds, this stinks a little of repetition. I've heard it said that many of the Five books are basically the same adventures over again, and I definitely got that feeling with the latter half of this book.

However, the first half was first-rate. I loved the whole caravan thing, and the rude fair-folk. So okay, the entire first half of the book went by without hardly a sniff of actual adventure, but that's okay; it was a fun read anyway. It's just a shame to me that the last few chapters turned into a bit of a pantomime with the so-called villains having all the fight scared out of them and therefore happy to give in to the police without a word. I think the villains in Blyton's world need to spend some time at the School of Evil so they can perfect their evilness and come across as a little more threatening and realistic. As it is they all seem to have the same plan: lock someone up and wait a few days before carrying out some really dastardly plan, thus giving the prisoner(s) time to be rescued by "those meddling children" (sorry, I always seem to parallel the Famous Five with the Scooby Gang).

All that said, and despite its atrocious title, I still think Five Have a Wonderful Time rates quite highly in the series.


The Five get off to a bad start with the surly fair folk.


The Five keep a safe distance.


Alfredo runs from his fierce little wife!


News in the paper about the mising scientists.


As things get heated between the Five and the fair folk, out of the blue a small figure comes running. It's Jo!


All on friendly terms now, the fair folk treat the Five to a meal and fire-eating!


Jo shows off with the python.


Julian finds a prisoner in the locked tower room!


Trouble is afoot now that the bad guys have turned up.

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