Detail from the cover of Five on a Treasure Island. Photograph: PA
Huzzah! Channel 4 is bringing back the Famous Five - Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the dog - but with a rather splendid twist. This time round, we'll see them in middle-age, with normal lives, brought back together to solve a mystery one more time. Well, Timmy won't be middle-aged, obviously, but we're promised one of his descendants, with equal adventure-sniffing skills.
I so hope this is great and not awful - remember Robin Williams in Hook? If there's anything creepier than Robin Williams in that Peter Pan outfit it would be ... well, Robin Williams in almost anything, I suppose.
It's an astonishing 25 years since the seminal Comic Strip version, with Dawn French as George announcing that she did want to be as good as a boy actually; the lashings of ginger beer (though given the reported proclivities of the middle-aged these days, in the updated version it's more likely to be lashings of pinot grigio in large-unit glasses); and the hefty suspicion of anyone foreign.
How are the gang likely to have turned out? Well, Julian, the natural leader, may have found the post-war world a little difficult, with a lot more people questioning his authority. I suspect he's a retired colonel in Surrey, writing furious "why oh why?" letters to the Daily Mail and railing against the indignities of modern life.
Dick would have fared rather better: with his notable talents for sucking up to the boss and keeping in the background, he'd have done rather well in our modern executive world. He'll also have made some successful but conservative investments, thus being better off than Julian (which drives Julian crazy).
I hope Anne, the timid girl who likes cleaning and making the sandwiches, did best of all. She was in her 20s at the start of the feminist movement (the Favous Five series finished in 1963 - between the end of the Chatterly ban and the Beatles first LP). With her experience of danger and adventure, I do hope Anne seized the opportunities with both hands, burned her bra and waltzed off to raise her consciousness.
And what about tomboy George, the character Blyton based on herself? Ballsy, funny and by far Blyton's most three-dimensional character until Darrell Rivers (also based on Blyton) came along. I can't wait to see what the writers have done with her as a grown up. I hope bolshy, argumentative George stayed exactly as she was. Lesbian seems too obvious; gender reassignment a step too far; single, probably. Perhaps a much-loved games mistress in a far off public school?
How do you hope the characters have turned out?
I've Been Reading A Book With A Transgender MC And I Never Knew It: Or The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
I can't even tell you how many times I read these books growing up. They were a huge part of my reading material - right up there with Redwall. It's like Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys...but WAY BETTER. And it's interesting how my reading of the characters has changed as an adult.
When I was growing up, I was very much like George. In fact, in 3rd grade I made everyone call me George. I thought she was the coolest character I'd ever met, and we agreed on a lot of things (mostly on how being a girl sucked). Reading this as an adult is interesting. In some ways George being adamant about being a boy comes off as that boys seem more interesting/have more control/independence (certainly where my wish to be a boy came from). But it seems pretty clear to me upon reading this that George is transgender, and I can't even tell you how incredible that is in a novel written in 1942. It just seems so clear when you get lines like this:
"So it is,' said her aunt. "But George hates being a girl, and we have to call her George, as if she were a boy."
"I'm George,' said the girl. 'I shall only answer if you call me George. I hate being a girl. I won't be."
George is the strongest character by far, and I don't think I was close to being alone in having her as a favourite. Apparently Enid Blyton based the character on herself, which might have a lot to do with it. I also think it brings up some interesting thoughts on Enid Blyton herself. I'm not certain how much was none about transgenders in the 40s, but I'd love to know if maybe Enid herself felt like George, because while other characters (particularly adults) don't approve of George's adamance that she is a boy, it doesn't reflect a disapproval of the character herself. Instead, she's by far the most interesting character of the lot. Or perhaps she had someone in her life who was. It just surprises me that something that even today is such a controversial subject that it would be approached with so much positivity in a book from the 1940's. Or perhaps that's just me coming from a modern point of view and that's not at all what Enid intended (the general consensus around the interwebs after some searching when I first was struck by this thought). But I'm of the opinion that whether Enid Blyton intended it or not - George is clearly transgender.
On the flip side of things, Anne is painted in a bad light. As both a girl who likes girly things AND the youngest child, Anne is the most easily frightened and is the only one who likes things that are looked down upon by the others as being childish or girly. I remember growing up that I always thought Anne was a bit of a wet blanket and that she was terribly dull. I hated that her name was my middle name. And I think that's a shame, because the book paints only boyish things as interesting and worthwhile. (This may change in the later books, it's been so long I can't remember.) I almost wish that Dick had been the youngest instead of Anne because I think that Anne's characterization is actually pretty spot on when it comes to being the youngest child and a girl who likes girly things - it's just how she's framed by the other children that makes her interests and temperament dull. Or if she got to have a bit more of the discoveries (she does discover the entrance to the dungeons, but she discovers it by being tired and sitting down, so it takes away from her being the one who discovers it).
All of that being said, I loved the adventure just as much as I did when I read the books as a child. It made me just as excited, even though I knew how it ended, and I'm so excited to be rereading the series. I can't wait to introduce the kids to it, I'm hoping it's going to be a big hit!