A book with a number in the title
Five on a Treasure Island
George is initially standoffish towards her cousins but she warms to them after they give her ice-cream and agree not to tell her parents that George has a forbidden pet dog (Timmy) who stays with her friend, the village boy. As a cynophobe I may be unfairly biased, but I found it infuriating how infatuated the children are with the unruly Timmy. The dog is a nuisance, barking at strangers and getting into trouble (what’s that, Enid Blyton? Did Timmy fall down a well?), and George is a pretty incompetent owner. The children repeatedly take the poorly trained dog to an island where the dog torments the rabbits on several occasions despite George’s attempts to call him to stop.
I wouldn’t mind so much, but the narrative goes to great lengths to assure the reader how intelligent Timmy is supposed to be – “of course he can understand me!” George exclaims at one stage – and for most of the book I assumed that this was intentional. While written in third person, the narrative is heavily skewed to resemble the children’s thought patterns, so I wondered whether the reader was meant to pick up on the discrepancies and realise that Timmy is described in the same way as everything is described – through the rose-tinted lens of childhood. But at the end of the story, after the Famous Five prevent a robbery of hundreds of gold ingots, George’s mother gets gooey-eyed over Timmy, too. And even Uncle Quentin, who had quite rightly forbidden the badly behaved dog from entering the house, has a change of heart and allows the dog to stay.
In fact, the entire last chapter was a huge let down. Up until that point I was prepared to suspend my disbelief and let Enid Blyton away with the idealised childhood scenario she was creating, but this overly simplistic resolution to the plot was unsatisfactory, for me: finding the treasure solves all of George’s family’s problems, which seems like a bit of a copout. Uncle Quentin no longer has any money worries and can now pursue his passion for academia without having to feel guilty for not providing for his family. As stated above, George is allowed to keep Timmy and the family now has enough money to send George to the same boarding school that Anne attends – a boarding school that just so happens to allow children to keep pets. So Timmy can come too!
Seriously, though. That last one got to me. What kind of boarding school allows its pupils to have dogs? What about the kids with allergies, or fears of animals? And who’s going to look after these dogs when the children are in lessons? And who’s going to be making sure that the children treat these pets correctly? And, yes, it seems kind of unfair that I’d argue against this minor point when I’m perfectly fine with four pre-teens and a dog taking down a robbery – but the latter is the main driving force of the story, so I can get behind that. As far as I can tell, the whole boarding-school dog scenario adds nothing except to reinforce the idealness of the already over-the-top conclusion.
That said, there were sections of the book that I very much liked. I thought it was sweet that the children learn the new word ‘ingots’ from the treasure map and then gleefully use it as much as possible throughout the rest of the book. I liked George’s idea to sign the note that the criminals force her to write to her cousins with ‘Georgina’, thus indicating that something was wrong. I enjoyed the frank dialogues between the children – especially towards the beginning before they become real friends. And, despite being a relatively short book, the pace is very relaxed (at least until the last chapter).
All in all, it was a cute read with distinctive and relatable protagonists and a leisurely, summer-holiday feel. I’d probably have really got into these books as a kid, and they certainly beat Scooby Doo any day. 'Lovely'!