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Five On a Treasure IslandReview by Keith Robinson (June 15, 2005)
Ah, the Famous Five! In this first book, we open with Julian, Dick and Anne at home with their parents, chatting around the breakfast table. Julian asks his mother if they're going to Polseath as usual for the summer holidays—but to the childrens' surprise their parents have decided they want to go away on their own to Scotland. The children must go to stay with their Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin, down by the sea at Kirrin Bay. They have a daughter by the name of Georgina, who is very lonely and could do with the company of a few cousins. And so plans are made, and they all pile into the car and set off.
We're introduced to Uncle Quentin, a clever scientist who spends all his time studying. He's a fierce-looking, short-tempered man who tries to be nice but can't help getting irritable at the slightest thing. We learn that he carries a heavy burden because his work, though important, just doesn't bring in enough money to ensure financial security for his family. The extent of this burden is unclear, but at this stage in the series there's no sign of a hired cook, which means they must be poor! Aunt Fanny makes all their picnics in this book, and she's a sweet woman who the children adore from the outset.
And then there's Georgina, who looks and acts like a boy and won't answer to her proper name. They must call her George, she tells her cousins, or else she'll ignore them. She makes a big deal about how boys are better and stronger at everything, and that she's a stronger swimmer than most boys and can row a boat like any boy can, and so on...and so therefore she wants to be treated as a boy and not a sissy girl like Anne, who still plays with dolls. There's a lot of tension at first; George has always been alone and believes she has no use for silly cousins. She hasn't decided whether or not she wants to be friends with them, she says. Julian, tall and bossy from the start, insists that he, Dick and Anne are keen to be friends but they're not going to beg for her friendship, and he makes the point that they might not want to be friends either—something George never considered. After that George decides that these cousins might be all right after all.
She then introduces a great friend of hers—Timothy the dog, whom she has hidden away at a fisherboy's house for a year because her father got annoyed one day and ordered she get rid of the mongrel. She pays Alf, the fisherboy, all her pocket money for dog food, so she has none to buy a round of ice creams with—something that Julian likes to do frequently, much to George's embarrassment. The children take to Timothy immediately, and he to them, which makes them "all right" in George's book. After that Julian insists he buys ice creams for George in return that she shares her dog with them all, and shows them around. That settled, she promises to take them all across to Kirrin Island, which belongs to her mother but has been promised to George when she gets older.
And so the adventure begins. The children visit the far side of Kirrin Island and peer down into the water to see an old wreck below the surface. It once contained gold, George explains, but no one ever found it. They return another day, this time bringing a picnic and staying longer so they can explore the castle and roam about the island. But a fierce storm comes along, so fierce that it brings up the old wreck and dashes it on the rocks, where it finally rests above water. The children are excited! The ship has been explored by divers before, but never above water! Perhaps they can find the missing gold!
The third visit to the island is very early the next morning. They want to get to the wreck before anyone else sails past the island and spots it up on the rocks. So off they go—and what a discovery they make! An old wooden box lined with tin, with something inside!
Without wanting to give too much away, the rest of the book follows the discovery of this box and its contents. The story flies by, very nicely paced and not entirely unbelievable. The discovery of the box on the old ship was only possible because a storm brought the ship up above the water...Being really critical you could make a comment about it being very coincidental that the storm comes along the very day the children are on the island, after the ship has lain underwater for hundreds of year. But somehow this doesn't matter, and that means the discovery of the box and its contents, along with the eventual discovery of the old entrances to the castle dungeons, comes into play in a fairly natural, believable way. As do the bad guys, who show up fairly late when the missing gold is found—and this isn't giving much away, because let's face it: we know the children are going to find the gold from the outset! What complicates things, and gives everything a real sense of urgency, is that these bad guys are about to buy the island after offering a very "reasonable" amount for it—an offer that Uncle Quentin feels he can't refuse.
I couldn't help feeling for George when visitors were gawping at her ship and setting foot on her island. If I owned an island, I don't think I'd like people just turning up and having picnics on the beach either. I'd jealously throw up signs everywhere saying "PRIVATE PROPERTY"...but maybe that's just me. In any case, I completely identified with George in that respect!
All's well that end's well. The gold is found, and because the island still belongs to Aunt Fanny, the Kirrins suddenly find themselves very rich. And the bad guys are rounded up by the police. Hurrah! If I have any nitpicks about this book, it's that Uncle Quentin seemed incredibly stupid to accept an offer for the island without first delving a little deeper into the contents of the box and checking to see if there was indeed any gold left lying around.
Another small nit is that Dick's character is almost non-existent in the first half of this book. He pipes up occasionally, but doesn't get a major role until the bad guys are on the scene. It's particularly noticeable at first because Julian is such a strong personality against George's equally strong personality, and Anne, by contrast, is incredibly weedy and (ahem) girly. Dick is an in-between character, who apparently was a bit of a cry-baby when he was younger but is now almost as strong and grown-up as Julian...but not quite. So he sort of sits on the side while the strong personalities argue and the weedy personality gets teased.
While Julian is twelve years old, Dick and George are eleven and Anne is ten—but what a world of difference between Julian and Anne! Julian acts like a grown-up, and Anne is still playing with dolls. I remember I was nine or ten when I read these books for the first time, and I looked up to Julian as an adult figure. Meanwhile I thought Anne was just a baby, despite my being her age. So although these characters are all aged between ten and twelve, they act more like they're aged between seven and fifteen.
A final word: George's dog is very much "Timothy" or "Tim" in this book, whereas later he becomes "Timmy" and nothing else. There's nothing wrong with that, I suppose—characters evolve and maybe Julian, Dick and Anne's influence on George caused the subtle change in name. In any case he's a first rate character considering he's an animal, on a par with Buster the dog and Kiki the parrot. I don't know any other author who breathes such life into mere pets!
An excellent read, and a very enjoyable trip down memory lane.
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