Five Go to Demon’s Rocks by Enid Blyton, 1961.
Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny are expecting their daughter George and her three cousins and dog to come for a visit because their parents are going away on a cruise when Uncle Quentin hears from a friend of his, a professor, who also wants to come for a visit to discuss his latest invention. Aunt Fanny says that they won’t be able to accommodate the children and the professor at the same time, and Uncle Quentin had better tell the professor not to come. However, Professor Haling is already on his way, and he’s bringing his son with him. The children have also already left home, so there’s nothing for them to do but try to accommodate their guests as well as they can.
It’s not going to be an easy visit. Uncle Quentin and Professor Haling both want quiet to discuss their work, but the professor’s nine-year-old son, Tinker, is obsessed with cars and keeps making noises to imitate them. Tinker has also brought his pet monkey, Mischief, with him. At first, Mischief and George’s dog, Timmy, don’t get along with each other. The animals eventually make peace with each other, but Uncle Quentin and Professor Haling decide that they can’t put up with the children’s noise. Uncle Quentin insists that Aunt Fanny send the children away somewhere so they can continue their important work.
Aunt Fanny doesn’t like it that such important men, who are admittedly working on things that will help people, don’t seem as interested in making their families happy, and George points out the hypocrisy that Uncle Quentin can’t stand their noise when he often slams doors that interrupt her studies and that he wants to push her out of the home where she lives, too. Aunt Fanny says that part of the problem is that George and her father are too much alike, but the noise issue and overcrowding in the house are still problems that have to be solved.
The children ask if they can go camping, but Aunt Fanny says that it’s too cold for that. Tinker suggests that they could all go to his lighthouse. They ask him what he means by “his” lighthouse, and Tinker happily explains that he owns a lighthouse. Actually, his father bought it when he was working on an important project and wanted a quiet place to stay where he wouldn’t be interrupted by phone calls or visitors or other distractions. When his project was finished, he no longer cared about the lighthouse, but Tinker love it, so his father gave him the key and told him that it could be his lighthouse now. The other children are amazed at the idea of a private lighthouse, and they agree to go there. Aunt Fanny agrees to let them go, and they begin planning for the trip. It’s at a place called Demon’s Rocks.
On the way to the lighthouse, their taxi driver, who was born at Demon’s Rocks tells them a little about the history and legends of the place. He says that it’s called Demon’s Rocks because there are formidable rocks there that people say could only have been placed by demons. The old lighthouse was meant to steer ships away from the rocks, but one time, some wreckers captured the lighthouse keeper and turned off the light to intentionally wreck a ship so they could raid the wreck for its cargo. The driver says that his great-grandfather still lives in the area, and if they ask him, he can tell them more stories about the place and maybe show them the cave where the wreckers used to hide out.
When the children meet the taxi driver’s great-grandfather, Jeremiah, he is an eccentric old man, but he likes children and even knows how to get along with Mischief the monkey. The children ask him about the wreckers, and he tells them the story about how One-Ear Bill and his wreckers put out the light in the lighthouse and used a lamp to misdirect a ship to make it crash. Jeremiah says he witnessed what they did and reported them, sending One-Ear Bill to prison. But, he says that One-Ear Bill didn’t care that much about going to prison because he hid the treasure that he took from the wrecked ship and expected to be rich when he got out. However, he died in prison, and nobody ever found the hidden treasure. The relatives of the other wreckers have tried to find it, but nobody has ever succeeded. The children are fascinated by the story and ask Jeremiah if he will show them the wreckers’ cave, and he agrees to show them sometime.
A local shopkeeper says that there is a kind of rivalry between Jeremiah and the descendants of the wreckers because the wreckers’ descendants make a marginal living by giving paid tours of the wreckers’ cave. The children don’t really expect that there’s still a treasure hidden in or around the cave. They think that, probably, someone found the treasure years ago and didn’t tell anyone or that the treasure might have been in some insecure spot and got washed out to sea.
However, strange things soon start happening. Someone steals the key to the lighthouse when Tinker leaves it in the lock and some other things from the lighthouse. The local police discover one of the wreckers’ descendants, Jacob, stole the things from the lighthouse, and the children get them back, but they can’t find the key on Jacob.
Then, when Jeremiah gives the children a tour of the cave, Mischief gets lost and finds a gold coin. The children aren’t sure where Mischief found the coin or if there are any others, but they begin to think that maybe the treasure is still in the cave after all. They also begin to consider that there may be a tunnel that leads from the lighthouse to the cave. However, someone else seems to have the same idea, and they’re trying to stop the children from finding the treasure before they do!
Part of the concept of the Famous Five series is that the children are very independent and have adventures that are unsupervised by adults. Children like stories about independent kids, but as an adult, I’m still struck by the family relationships the children have. I’ve noticed that the adults in Enid Blyton’s stories often have personal issues or dysfunctional relationships.
The reason why the children are having their independent adventure in this story is that the children’s fathers are too absorbed in their work and bothered by the presence of the children, so they just want them out of the house. Although George likes having adventures with her cousins, she does feel a little resentful that her father is basically pushing her and the others out of the house. I particularly noticed the part where Aunt Fanny reflects that important men who are working on things that will help people, don’t seem as interested in making their families happy. Uncle Quentin seems oblivious about the effect he has on his family, and when the children are getting ready to go to the lighthouse, he seems confused about where they are going, apparently having even forgotten that they were going anywhere. I keep getting the feeling that part of the reason why the children are so independent is that the adults in their family aren’t particularly nurturing and don’t make their home lives very pleasant.
Tinker’s home life isn’t terribly happy, either. His father is very permissive, letting him have a pet monkey and even giving him the lighthouse, but he also seems pretty oblivious to the things Tinker does. The other children find out that Tinker’s mother died giving birth to him, and with his father so utterly absorbed in his work, Tinker hasn’t had much supervision or guidance in how to behave, which is why he’s so wild. Tinker’s father takes him places and lets him have things or do things that other children can’t, but he doesn’t seem to get much personal attention or affection from his father. At one point, the other children are sending post cards home, and Tinker says there’s no point in sending one to his father because he won’t read it. That says a lot, and the other children feel sorry for him.
What I’m saying is, while I like the adventure and would have loved that sense of freedom as a kid, as an adult, I recognize that behind the children’s independence in many of the stories are some unresolved family issues and self-absorbed adults. The adults don’t worry as much about the children as most parents would, not only because they trust them on their own, but because they seem too absorbed in their own issues to think that much about what the children are doing and what could happen to them. The children go to boarding school much of the time, but their parents don’t seem too eager to spend time with them and bond as a family during their breaks, content to let them go off by themselves so they can get back to what they were doing. This also seems to be the case in other series by Blyton, like the Adventure series, which starts off with a pair of siblings going to stay with an aunt and uncle who seem to have a dysfunctional marriage and a pair of orphans who live with a strict uncle who seems to see them as a nuisance. Since the kids are fictional and the children’s circumstances are only there to set up their adventures, it’s not that big of an issue to enjoying the adventure, but yet, as an adult, these things do jump out at me.