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Five On Finniston FarmReview by Keith Robinson (November 25, 2005)
I couldn't wait to get to the end of this book... for all the wrong reasons. It started out pretty much true to form, with Julian and Dick riding their bikes on a hot, sunny day, on their way to Finniston to meet the girls off the bus. From there they would walk to Finniston Farm for a holiday. Julian makes a point that he would never have come on this biking trip if he'd known it was going to be so hot, and that it was a good job Anne hadn't come or she would have given up on the first day. So presumably the boys have been cycling for a few days now, and staying at unmentioned bed and breakfasts along the way. This whole set up is a little vague, but it doesn't really matter. The boys meet the girls and, together again, they walk through the village to Finniston Farm.
Cue a set of twins. I'm sooooo bored with twins by now, especially as they're named "the Harries"—the boy is named Henry which "naturally" became Harry (I never understood that logic), and the girl is named Harriet, which "naturally" became Harry too. And because Henry "can't grow his hair like a girl," it's down to Harriet to crop hers so that the two look like peas in a pod. Except for a scar on Henry's hand, apparently the only way to tell them apart. They have a dog called Snippet, a small black poodle. The twins are characterized as quiet and sullen, perhaps resentful at first, because they see visitors to the farm as more work for their poor hard-working mother, Mrs. Philpot. And while the twins are in this stand-offish mode, they speak in unison. Literally every piece of dialogue is spoken by "the twins," no matter how much is said. It's okay at first, when they say things like, "He's OUR dog!"—but it's a little unbelievable when they apparently say in unison, "Nosey. He's ours. He fell down a chimney and broke his wing. So we kept him till it was well and now he won't leave us." Later, when the twins do start being more friendly and speaking one at a time, they actually lose any of the character they had and become cardboard cutouts, almost completely surplus to the story.
There is, however, an obnoxious American boy staying at the farm too. He's known only as Junior, and his pop is Mr. Henning, visiting the farm to buy up some interesting old stuff that he can take back to the States. Junior, though extremely irritating, manages to liven things up a little. It's not stated how long this American father and son have been in England, or how Mr. Henning appears to have a bank account that he can write cheques against... I don't know, maybe things were different back in 1960 when this book was written. Where's the man's wife? This all reminds me of Five Have Plenty of Fun when another American man, with his daughter Berta (who has a small poodle like Snippet), stay at the Kirrins. Again, no wife in sight. What is it with these Americans?
Speaking of similarities... no, I'll come back to that later.
The Five settle in at the farm and of course put Junior in his place. There's a nice scene when Bill takes them out in the old Land Rover, which bumps and rattles along and nearly throws Anne from her seat. But all this fun and messing about has to give way to an actual adventure sometime, doesn't it? Well, eventually it does—and at the end of chapter eight, the author actually makes a point of saying "it was just at that moment the adventure began!" Hurrah! At last! But it starts with a tale, like in Five Have Plenty of Fun, and as the old man at the antique store starts telling of a castle that once stood in these parts, a castle that was burned to the ground and lost forever, along with its treasures, I started to get the awful feeling that I'd just read the plot for the rest of the book. And I had. I would warn of spoilers, but what's the use? This tale has been done to death in some form or another.
Apparently the castle "burned down"—that is, it collapsed inwards and was reduced to rubble. Then, over the years, it was leveled and the stones taken away, leaving nothing but bare rolling hills. Lord Finniston was killed in the battle, but it's said that Lady Finniston took the kids to the old chapel nearby, "maybe through a secret old underground passage that led from the castle cellars to the abbey itself." Groan. Can you see where this is leading? "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night," the old man says regretfully, "and wonder what's underground there. Bones of prisoners? Chests of money?"
The Five naturally set out to find this old castle. It must be somewhere on the grounds of Finniston Farm. Perhaps up a hill, one of them suggests. And near the old abbey that's still standing, suggest another. So they start hunting—and by gosh, do you know what? They find the castle! They find the very thing that has baffled the townsfolk and countless professional historians and archeologists for 800 years. And all it took was wandering up the hill, looking around, finding a few small bones and grass that's a different color, and a bit of help from a dog who goes down a rabbit warren, stumbles into a tunnel, and bring back a valuable artifact ot two. Phew!
I think we can guess the rest. So, back to the similarities with other books in this series. We have the twins—yet another pair. We have the name-sakes: Harry, Harriet, Henrietta, Henry, etc, not to be confused with other girls wanting to be boys. Five Go To Mystery Moor, for instance, has a Henrietta wanting to be a Henry, and here we have a Henry wanting to be a Harry and a Harriet also wanting to be a Harry. Confused yet? Then we have the Americans, a father and child team as in Five Have Plenty of Fun, only this time the daughter is a boy and he's been given the personality of Edgar Stick from Five Run Away Together. Then we have the friendly hostess/cook in the form of Mrs. Philpot, and her husband Trevor, the serious man of the house, both reminiscent of Five Go Down to the Sea and Five Get Into a Fix. And then there's the old, old Grandpa, who turns up from time to time, shouting from the corner. But best of all is the plot itself. Secret tunnels and passages abound in the Five series, and this particular one is rather like Five on a Secret Trail, where they discover it against the odds, go down it, find treasure, nearly get blocked in, but manage to get the treasure to safety before the "bad guys" get it. Actually that's like Five on a Treasure Island too.
What we have here, then, is a sort of amalgamation of every other Famous Five book in the series. If this was the only Famous Five you ever read, well, it still wouldn't be very good because the plot is so predictable and silly.
Five On Finniston FarmReview by Nigel Rowe (November 25, 2005)
Here we go again then, on the eighteenth adventure of the Famous Five. It is now 1960 (publishing date, anyway), 18 years after Five on a Treasure Island was first published. We should expect to see much maturity since those early days—the four should be well into puberty by now... we'll see!
We commence this adventure in Blyton's beloved Dorsetshire. The opening chapter's title is almost a book title in itself—"Five are all Together Again". Julian and Dick are holidaying on their own to start with. It is not clear as to why, but Julian says, "Good thing Anne didn't come—she'd have given up the first day." "George wouldn't have minded," Dick replies. "She's game for anything." As Ju says, it is fun to be on their own, but things start to happen when the four of them are together (Five you mean, Dick points out!).
Anyway, they are all going to stay at Finniston Farm, where guests are now being taken in because times are hard and the farmer and his wife are in need of some extra cash. This intro seems to balance out Five on a Secret Trail, where it is George, Anne and Timmy that start the story without the others. The boys get to the bus stop just as the bus arrives. What timing! Perhaps puberty has arrived—George has a spot on her chin and Anne's hair is longer, now tied in a pony tail. We also discover that Anne has a new hobby, collecting horse-brasses. She's growing up! Anyhow, the Five are all together again—Hurrah!
We are treated to another delightful village shop; half dairy, half baker's shop. A ten-year-old girl is in charge, as "Mum's lying down." In spite of a poster on the wall proclaiming that "Orange Delight is the best drink for all times", they all drink ginger-beer anyway. After making enquiries about Finniston Farm, they find out there's yet another elderly relative (Great-Grand-dad), father, mother and a set of twins, (Five on a Secret Trail again). The twins are called "the two Harries"—sound familiar yet?—but before the four can find out why they're called that, "Mother" returns and the ten-year-old is tasked to look after the baby. My, kids had it hard in the sixties.
We now arrive at the farm. There is a "special note" from Enid at the beginning of the book, explaining that Finniston Farm is a real farm in Dorset, owned by her family. This farm is, in fact, Manor Farm at Stourton Caundle near Sturminster Newton, which Enid and her husband bought in 1956. We are treated to a delightful scene of the walk to the farm. A winding lane, red poppy-heads jigging in the breeze, and the description of the farm, although sounding familiar, still conjures up a pretty picture. The five are greeted by the identical twins—the Harries. They get a rather frosty reception from them, and are introduced to Mrs. Philpot, their mother and the farmer's wife. In spite of (I presume) the Kirrins' parents coughing up the accommodation costs, Dick volunteers that he and Ju camp out under a haystack or in a barn, as they're used to roughing it. No AA five-star rating here, then. Apparently they are not the only guests; there is an American gentleman and his son staying too.
We are again treated to a slightly annoying period, again reminiscent of Five on a Secret Trail, concerning the twins. They act and speak together, and as Dick points out, "they are jolly rude and unfriendly." Anyway, camps beds are a-plenty, and are set up in the barn for the twins and the boys to sleep in. Enid's obsession with animals/birds is satisfied with the introduction of a jackdaw called Nosey. He fell down a chimney and now considers himself one of the family. You can bet he'll have some part to play in the adventure!
It seems ages since food has been mentioned; all the kids must be wasting away. Lets hot-foot back to the farmhouse for tea. We are not disappointed. Hot scones, running with butter; home made buns and biscuits; a great fruit cake; dishes of home-made jam; a big plate of ripe plums and a big teapot! What about the Rennies? We are now introduced to Grand-dad. Elderly men are always great favourites in Famous Five books, usually very tall, loud, smoking a pipe, and with an opinion on everything—but also with a heart of gold. There is a lovely illustration on p35 (H&S) showing Timmy resting his head on Grand-dad's lap—the old gent's beard reaching below his waist. Grand-dad is obviously very displeased that they have to take in guests now, to make ends meet. He is a very proud man with ancestors dating back to medieval times and beyond. It is at this meal that we meet the farmer and the remaining guests. Trevor, the farmer, groans at the prospect of more guests—a crowd of children. He obviously has to work long hard hours, with little help from his wife as she is so busy looking after the guests. Next, in come the others—two Americans, the Hennings. Mr. Henning is a burly man and his fat, pasty-faced son of about eleven is called Junior; both are pretty obnoxious.
Enid is an incredible story-teller, but this is all rather deja vu. Henning, the American, is over here to buy up as many antiques as possible. Guess what! There was once a castle on this site, burned down in Norman times, its location forgotten. Cue the Five plus the Harries to find it. There is some good dialogue between the characters at times—especially between Grand-dad and Henning.
I won't reveal any more of the plot; it is all pretty obvious anyway. It seems to me that Enid had a big pot containing villains, secret ways, twins, obnoxious children, farms, farmer's fat wives, great amounts of food for meals, very old cantankerous men, and so on, and mixed a few up to produce another story. This is also another story where everything is named after one family, in this case Finniston; the farm, the castle, the village, and the surnames! I'm sorry to be a bit hard on our beloved author, but compared to, say, the first eleven books, the latter ones are from a different mould (Five Go To Mystery Moor apart, though this also suffers from similarities). There isn't the same atmosphere in these later volumes. I am tiring of countless twins with nearly the same name, horrible kids (Edgar Stick was okay, he was the first of his kind—it was novel then), old men, girls wanting to be boys and all the rest of the clichés. Don't get me wrong, this is still an enjoyable read—it just hasn't got the originality and 'X' factor of the earlier stories. It certainly is not in the same league as Five Go To Smuggler's Top or Five on a Hike Together; I suppose there is a limit to what four kids and a dog can get up to, especially when you consider the other series' adventures too. Perhaps the Famous Five just went on a bit too long. Maybe the next story will be different. Maybe at Demon's Rocks there won't be an old man, secret ways and the like! Maybe... or maybe not!
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