Meet the Characters
Article by Keith Robinson (March 15, 2006)
The Famous Five are four decidedly upper-class children with a mongrel dog who solve mysteries and get tangled up with smugglers and other criminals. They want nothing more than to have a great time strolling about the countryside and having picnics, but these adventures just keep coming along and getting in the way. Unlike the Secret Seven and the Five Find-Outers, the Famous Five get about a bit—usually to the moors, the countryside, Cornish villages and the like. The most remarkable thing about them is possibly that they're allowed to go all the country on their own despite being aged between eleven and thirteen!
The eldest of the gang is Julian, with George and Dick next, and then Anne. Julian's twelve in Five on a Treasure Island, the first in the series, and when talking about George he says, "So she's eleven—a year younger than I am—same age as you, Dick—and a year older than you, Anne." Nice of him to point that out so clearly. In the third book, Five Run Away Together, it's noted that they're all a year older since their last adventure on Kirrin Island, a year before. Beyond that, as far as I am aware their ages are inexplicably frozen in time—otherwise they'd be well into their twenties before the end of the series.
Julian is a strange character, someone that young readers seem to aspire to, and one that older readers think is a pompous ass. There are is a strong element of a 1940s-style chivalry in his character, which today is seen simply as condescending. For example, in Five on a Hike Together they're all arguing about where to sleep for the night. George insists she'll be fine in a barn with the boys, but Julian won't have it. "You know quite well," he says, "that if you ever go against the orders of the chief—that's me, my girl, in case you didn't know it—you won't come out with us again. You may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you're a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of." He frequently tells the girls they can't do something simply on the basis that they're girls. Of course, Anne accepts his orders readily, being the sort of girl that Julian believes all girls should be like! And that's Julian all over—demanding, domineering, always in charge... True, he is the eldest of the group, but only by a year. Yet he acts as though he's at least three or four years older than the rest, and certainly older than the young age of thirteen as he's supposed to be throughout the series. Indeed, he acts so stern and grown-up that nasty adult characters are frequently struck speechless. The Stick Family in Five Run Away Together are a prime example of this; Julian's clever tongue leaves Ma and Pa Stick bewildered and a little afraid of the tall boy with the determined face...
Dick was actually my favorite character when I was younger, perhaps because he seemed more my age at the time. (Julian seemed years older, despite being only a year older than Dick.) In the first book, Dick pretty much takes a back seat for the most part, letting the more interesting characters of Julian and George develop, and Anne—the weedy one—to be teased. But in later books Dick takes a more active role, constantly jumping in and backing up Julian like any good younger brother should! He shows himself to be unafraid of anything that comes along, no matter how scary the situation. I particularly remember Five on a Hike Together when he sleeps in a barn overnight, alone, with a storm lashing the windows. Then a hard-looking face appears at the window and whispers an urgent message. I remember being creeped out by the whole situation and admired Dick for holding it together so well. He's also the character most likely to joke around and tease the others—particuarly George over her being a boy.
George, or Georgina, is arguably the most interesting character of the four, and certainly the most popular as far as fans are concerned. She's feisty, obstinate, brave, strong-willed as well as strong physically, an excellent swimmer and impressive in a small rowing boat, loyal as can be, and quite foolish at times. She's also head-over-heels in love with her dog, Timmy, and this sometimes causes her to make the most ridiculous decisions in the face of danger, such as jumping between her beloved pet and a pack of other dogs when they threaten to tear Timmy apart. Brave—but oh so foolish! Also, most of George's tempers are sparked off by situations concerning Timmy; she often refuses to like people simply because they don't care for dogs in general. Yes, her loyalty to Timmy is endearing, but sometimes she loses sight of reality. What with people being rude to Timmy, and others waltzing about her island without permission, it's a wonder she doesn't blow a gasket. But the really annoying thing about George is her constant battle to prove she's "as good as any boy," to the point that she dresses as one, cuts her hair short, and calls herself George rather than Georgina. To all intents and purposes she is a boy, at least at first glance, and it pleases her no end when strangers mistake her for one. And the flipside of that, of course, is that she takes an instant dislike to anyone who calls her Georgina and tells her she's just like a girl. All these character traits, good and bad, make her one of the most consistently interesting personalities in Enid Blyton's career—so it's not surprising to learn that Blyton supposedly based George's character on herself!
Anne is a wimp. She's domesticated, loves setting up home (while camping out in caves and on the moors), likes to do all the cooking and washing up, and generally lives to serve others. She's a regular Susie Homemaker, everything a man in the forties and fifties wanted in a woman, and everything that women sneer at today! But more than that, Anne hates adventures. She quakes with fear whenever there's a sniff of anything ominous, and absolutely can't understand how George can be so brave, so like a boy when in fact she's just a girl. There are many characters, in many other series, that are like Anne, but Anne is perhaps the crème de la crème of Helpless Pathetic Girls, the one who other like-minded girls look to as a model of wimpiness. But Anne thankfully does have a few redeeming features. She's sweet and loyal, can be quite brave sometimes, and even has moments where she rears up like a tiger and puts little boys in their place (Five Have a Mystery to Solve). When all said and done, and despite earlier comments about her being a wimp, she's really a very nice girl and the sort of person you'd hope your own daughter to turn out like one day (unlike George, who would get on my last nerve).
Timmy is just a dog, and a mongrel at that—but what a dog! Lassie eat your heart out. Whereas Lassie would go and fetch help to rescue the imprisoned children, Timmy would go several steps farther and make the villains tie each other up and lock themselves in a room, and then recover the stolen plans, find a lost cave full of treasure, and finally go off to the police station to ask for CID rather than bother with the useless bobby on the front desk. Timmy is described as a brown mongrel with an unusually long tail and loving brown eyes, although in the 1970s TV series he mysteriously transmogrified into a Welsh collie, or border collie as they're called in the USA. He stuck in this guise for a long time afterwards, his distinctive black and white fur instantly recognizable from afar. I grew up with this image of Timmy, and assumed the original Eileen Soper artwork was wrong, but now I've come to terms with the fact that Timmy really is quite a funny looking thing. Loyal and strong, big and powerful, but still funny looking.