Recently on a British talk show, someone mentioned the Famous Five. I assumed they were talking about a rock group – perhaps the Dave Clark Five? Then one of the panelists got a bit misty-eyed and said, “I love the Famous Five books. I read them all when I was young – multiple times.”

I searched for the books on the Internet. Here’s what I discovered.

The Famous Five is a series of 21 children’s adventure novels that were published from 1942 to 1963. In the 1950s, the books sold in the millions. Even today, a couple of million are sold each year, making it one of the best-selling children’s series ever.

The five main characters consist of two boys, two girls, and a dog.

Julian is 12; Dick, 11; and Anne, 10. They are brothers and sister. Georgina, their cousin, is somewhere in that same age range. She wears her hair short, dresses like a boy, and prefers to be called George. She is absolutely truthful, believing it cowardly to be otherwise. Her dog, Timothy, is a large, brown mongrel with a long tail.

In each book, these five go off on their own and get caught up in many a mysterious and dangerous situation, which they survive by grit, determination, and ingenuity.

Unlike children’s novels today, there are no witches or wizards, no time travel, no intergalactic visitors, no magic spells, nor fantastical beasts. There’s also little in the way of technology. The kids don’t watch television or even listen to the radio much. Despite this lack of modern literary necessities, the Famous Five books are fun and exciting.

An interesting aspect of the series is that it employs a technique called a floating timeline. That is, though time marches on from book to book, the main characters don’t age. This allows the kids to have adventure after adventure without the nuisance of teenage hormones or responsibilities.

Many comic books (such as the early Archie series) and animated shows (the Simpsons, for example) use a floating timeline. The Nero Wolfe detective novels by Rex Stout took the technique to the extreme. Through 39 years of crime-solving, the detective didn’t age at all.

Enid Blyton, the author of the Famous Five books, wrote other series as well. She is criticized by snoots who claim her work is sexist, elitist, racist, simplistic, and repetitive in plot. Our overprotective society, plagued by helicopter parenting, can’t imagine four young children (and a dog) off on their own, caught up in hair-raising adventures. Child Protective Services would scoop up the kids, and law enforcement would arrest the parents for child endangerment.

Despite these modern societal concerns, Blyton is the world’s fourth most translated author, behind Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, and William Shakespeare. Her books sell like proverbial hotcakes. Why? Because kids love them.

None of the books, near as I can tell, are available in Maine libraries. You can order hard copies through bookstores, but PDFs of all 21 novels can be read for free at archive.org.

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