Classic Book Collection: The Famous Five

The adventures of Julian, Anne, Dick, George and Timmy have enthralled young readers since 1942. Find out what makes these books so popular and where to start if you'd like to read them.

The Books

Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series, which includes 21 books (published from 1942-1963) and numerous short stories, follows the riveting exploits of four children - Julian, Dick, Anne and their tomboy cousin, George - and George's beloved dog, Timmy. The group embarks on thrilling adventures on the coast and in the countryside, unravelling mysteries, thwarting crooks and smugglers, enjoying scrumptious picnics and exploring secret passageways, caves and islands. Whilst these books have captivated children for decades, they have also been criticised on several grounds, accused of racism, sexism and overly-simple writing. Nonetheless, half a million copies of The Famous Five books are still sold every year. So why have they proved so persistently popular?

Fans and critics alike agree that the books are thoroughly engrossing. They are driven by fast-paced dialogue and peppered with gripping incidents that compel the reader to turn the next page. In particular, Enid Blyton seems to have had a gift for understanding the adventurous mind-set of children, including the childhood dream of embarking on marvellous quests with no adult supervision. Some might consider the very idea of a group of children going off for hours or days at a time too far-fetched, but this misses the point, Alice of Sandstorm Reviews contends. The point is escapism: to leave the stringent world of grown-up rules and guidelines and disappear into an enthralling realm of adventure. 'Blyton's world is a technicolour adventure playground, full of secret passages, soft bracken and convenient caves, and is nice to revisit for a while', Alice writes. 'Who doesn't want to run around on their own private island, no grown-ups involved, thwarting baddies and finding pirate gold?'

Writing for the Telegraph, Lorna Bradbury agrees. She claims that 'their pacy, dialogue-driven plots - with a juicy cliffhanger placed tantalisingly at the end of each chapter - continue to have a remarkable appeal'. Lorna writes that her 5-year-old daughter, to whom she is reading the stories, is 'hooked' by the series; she 'loves the adventures with burglars and smugglers, in which the adults are absent often for days on end'. This may be a parent's idea of a nightmare, but it is a child's idea of the most exciting dream. Max Davidson writes for the Telegraph that the books 'plug into timeless childhood occupations', including 'the search for adventure'. Enid Blyton has undoubtedly successfully appealed to the adventurous spirit of children, and has consequently caused millions of kids to love reading.

Some deem Enid Blyton's simple writing style a key feature that makes her books so engaging and accessible for children. Peter Cash writes: 'It is by no means a weakness that her straightforward syntax and her compact vocabulary set up no resistance to the pace at which a ten-year-old wants to follow her narrative.' Her simple writing style gives the books an unimpeded flow and pace that keep readers immersed in the dynamic narrative, rather than preoccupied with unnecessary details. Indeed, the stories are largely driven by lively dialogue rather than description, which enables them to progress in a swift and stimulating way.

The characters can also convey their individual personalities through this dialogue: the responsible Julian; the feisty George; the brave Dick; the girly Anne, and - of course - the excitable Timmy. Most young readers can relate to one or other of these different characters, which makes them feel all the more part of the adventure.

Where to Start

If you'd like to start reading the books, you might like to read them in the order they were published, beginning with Five on a Treasure Island (1942). It's a very exciting start to the series as the Famous Five explore a shipwreck and try to stop some cunning baddies from getting their hands on the hidden gold in the castle. You can get the whole series here, numbered from 1-21, with an additional book of short stories.

If you've already read the books, you'll love the hilarious spoof series, Enid Blyton for Grown-ups, which includes Five Go Gluten Free, Five Go Parenting and Five Go on a Strategy Away Day.

A Brief Biography of Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton was born on 11 August 1897 and spent her childhood in Beckenham, Kent. One night, when she was a baby, she was diagnosed with whooping cough and was not expected to survive until morning. Her father refused to accept the doctor's prediction and sat with Enid all night. As she grew up, Enid and her father would remain very close, enjoying walks and gardening together, as well as the theatre, art, music and literature.

Enid enjoyed her first school years and excelled in art and nature study (though she struggled with mathematics). Her favourite books were Lewis Carroll's Alice books and The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

When Enid was 12 years old, she and her two brothers heard their father furiously state that he was leaving and would not be returning. It turned out he had been having an affair with a secretary named Florence, and would now be living with her. Enid found this difficult to accept, as did her mother, who instructed the children to pretend, if asked, that their father was merely away on a visit, fearing that their marriage breakdown would cause a terrible scandal.

At senior school, Enid threw herself into school life, playing in sports teams and organising concerts, and was appointed Head Girl in her final two years. She embarked on a teacher training course in 1916, and, after a year teaching at a school, she became governess to four boys in Surbiton, Surrey. She remained there for four years and called this 'one of the happiest times of my life'. However, in 1920, she was told that her father had died from a heart attack whilst out fishing on the Thames. (He'd actually died at his home in Sunbury, where he lived with Florence and their three children, having suffered a stroke. It seems that Enid's mother was still trying to hide their separation from the public.)

In 1922, Enid's first book - Child Whispers, a book of poetry - was published. More books, articles and stories soon followed. In 1924, Enid married the editor Hugh Alexander Pollock, and their honeymoon location in Jersey would be the inspiration for Kirrin Island in The Famous Five books.

The couple's daughter Gillian was born in 1931, and Imogen in 1935. However, Enid and Hugh grew apart, and ultimately divorced in 1942. Enid married the surgeon Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters in October 1943 (just six days before the wedding of Hugh to his new partner, Ida Crowe). Enid denied Hugh any access to his daughters; the last time he would see them was in June 1942.

Enid launched Enid Blyton's Magazine in March 1953. It became hugely successful and raised around 35,000 pounds for charity over six years. However, in the late 1950s, Enid's health began to deteriorate. By the early 1960s, it was clear she was suffering from dementia; she became confused and experienced worrying memory lapses. Kenneth also grew ill and died in September 1967.

Enid was left alone and vulnerable. Her daughters visited regularly and did everything they could to help, but in late summer 1968, Enid was admitted to a nursing home. She died peacefully in her sleep on 28 November 1968, aged 71.
  • FFV2 7 years +
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    Despite being over 60 years old, Enid Blyton's Famous Five adventures are a timeless treasure trove for newly independent readers to discover.

    With their action-packed plots and likeable characters, the Famous Five tales have established themselves as classics that can be enjoyed over and over again and by different generations.

    This bumper bind-up includes Five on a Treasure Island, Five Go Adventuring Again and Five Run Away Together.
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    7 years +
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    A mysterious light on Kirrin Island, a stolen safe, a bag hidden in the woods, a runaway horse, dog thieves, a Christmas Eve robbery and a whole lot of fun for the Famous Five! Read all about their exciting adventures in this delightful collection of short stories.
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    Enid Blyton for Grown-ups is a hilarious parody series that finds George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy the dog facing a host of new challenges that will resonate with adults. In this book, the gang face what could be their toughest task yet - parenthood.

    With all the missions they've completed in the past, you'd have thought that bringing up a baby would be kid's play for The Five. However, when they find themselves looking after Cousin Rupert and his wife's baby, they have to deal with all sorts of issues - from fear to tiredness and responsibility.

    They have no idea if what they're doing is right or why the baby is crying. They use Dr Google constantly and are frustrated by the responses that range from 'don't worry about it' to 'rush her to the A & E'. Soon, the Five are reduced to trembling wrecks and all of them are quietly seething. Could this be an adventure too far?
  • Five Go Gluten-Free - Hardback - 9781786482228 - Bruno Vincent
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    Enid Blyton for Grown-ups is a hilarious parody series that finds George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy the dog facing a host of new challenges that will resonate with adults. In this book, they confront a brand new challenge - is it possible to get a gluten-free cream tea?

    The Five are all feeling rather rum and whatever they do in their attempts to get better doesn't seem to work. As they try to cure themselves, all sorts of terrifying issues occur. Julian goes online and self-diagnoses that he has pancreatic cancer and bird flu, Anne decides to have herself exorcised, Dick goes to witch doctor who calls himself a 'homeopath' and George is the one who discovers they need to go on an exclusion diet - hence the group enter a world of hard-to-find and maddeningly expensive specialist food.
    • £3.99
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    Enid Blyton for Grown-ups is a hilarious parody series that finds George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy the dog facing a host of new challenges that will resonate with adults. In this book, they confront a brand new challenge - can they understand what a 'strategy away day' actually is?

    The Five have been sent on their greatest adventure yet and it's one that they've been assured will make them an even better team. They're booked in a nice hotel right next to the jolly motorway services and are taught a host of team-building exercises by a nice (but somewhat depressed) man.

    But then they come across some sneaky messages. Is there are a smuggler's plot afoot? Or is it just office gossip. This laugh-out-loud book is perfect for anyone who just can't stand office jargon.
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    Enid Blyton for Grown-ups is a hilarious parody series that finds George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy the dog facing a host of new challenges that will resonate with adults. In this book, they test themselves to see if they can go for a full month without touching any booze.

    The Five old friends think it will be easy to give up alcohol for charity for four weeks but they're soon surprised by how difficult this seemingly simple task is. The days are longer, they're getting to see each other for who they really are and the empty laughter of conversation is getting harder to fake.

    They're fully aware they're saving money and losing weight but the world itself is turning into something quite slow and dreary. Soon the friends are snapping at each other - and then they fight. Is this the challenge to defeat The Famous Five once and for all?
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    Enid Blyton for Grown-ups is a hilarious parody series that finds George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy the dog facing a host of new challenges that will resonate with adults. In this book, they face perhaps their toughest challenge yet - will their friendship be able to survive the trials and tribulations of the Brexit referendum?

    On the night of the referendum, the gang have retired to Kirrin Island to escape the rancour of public debate and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. George is in favour of remain while Julian is a 'Brexiteer'. As the gang camp out, things get heated when George rigs up a satellite link with the mainland so they can keep up to date and then things take a turn for the worse when her initial hope that remainers triumph proves premature...

    Meanwhile, a violent storm whips up and as the new day dawns , George declares that Brexit means Kirin Island is also exiting Britain. But there's far too much red tape to get through for everyone to live happily ever after...
  • The Famous Five Collection - 22 Books - Collection - 9781444936278 - Enid Blyton
    FFCC 7 years +
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    • Just £1.14 per book
    With mysteries, adventure and lashings of ginger beer, The Famous Five have entertained generations of young readers. In fact, the books have never been out of print!

    Here, in a keepsake box, you can enjoy all 22 novels that follow Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog as they visit some thrilling places and explore and uncover all sorts of secrets. To complete the set, there's a book of short stories about our favourite would-be detectives.

    From Kirrin Island to the lighthouse at Demon's Rocks and farms, castles, caves and secret passages galore, the gang outwit thieves, seek hidden treasure and encounter spook trains in their exciting journeys. Illustrated by Eileen Soper, this complete set of books shows how courage and determination can always help children achieve great things.

    Book People and Enid Blyton - A Lifetime of Adventure
    Format: paperback
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    This is a very special edition of Enid Blyton's classic novel, Five on a Treasure Island. It includes a selection of beautiful, full-colour illustrations by Babette Cole.

    A wonderful gift, this is the book that introduced Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog and it follows the gang as they search for treasure on a shipwreck off Kirrin Island. However, they're not alone...