independent kiwi spirit of invention.
Research Topic: How old were the Famous Five?
By Ian Mander, 25 December 2005; updated 13 June 2006; updated 4
March 2009 including data and analysis of Timmy's age; updated 17 November
2010 including relocation of book 16 and the actual years added that
the adventures occurred in; updated 15 May 2014 with book 2 notes and resulting changes; updated 19 November 2014 minor wording changes in article and change book notes to tabs, updated 22 November 2014 on dog aging.
The Famous Five aged over the course of their adventures – the humans,
at least, there's not much mention that Timmy aged at all once he got
past the puppy stage, although he was affectionately referred to as "old
Timmy" occasionally. Unfortunately if the adventures are in sequential
order a lot of holidays are "wasted" and the "children"
are decidedly adultish by the end of the series.
How old was Timmy?
When we are introduced to Timmy in book 1 he's
apparently fully grown. George found him a year before that, and
doesn't specify his age then other than him being "just a
pup". Wikipedia says most dogs mature at 12-15 months.
How long do mongrels typically live? The
answer is a little worrisome:
Life expectancy is based on averages. Actually the average
lifespan of any dog whether purebred or of indetermin[ate]
descent is between 10 to 12 years of age. However individual
breeds may have shorter or longer average lifespans depending
upon their breed.
However, some dogs have lived into their late teens or even twenties, especially if they have lots of exercise. Smaller dogs typically live longer than larger dogs. For more information see the Wikipedia article Aging in dogs:
According to the UC Davis Book of Dogs, small-breed dogs (such as small terriers) become geriatric at about 11 years; medium-breed dogs (such as larger spaniels) at 10 years; large-breed dogs (such as German Shepherd Dogs) at 8 years; and giant-breed dogs (such as Great Danes) at 7 years.
It's probably fair to assume that George gave Timmy lots of exercise
(he often runs beside them while they're cycling) and not much
chocolate (as she seems to do on page 34 of book 1 –
chocolate can give dogs heart attacks), but Timmy's age by the
last story may present a problem if the books are taken in sequential
order, especially all the running around he would have had to do
in the last few stories.
If we place the adventures in sequential order this is what we get:
Obviously, this raises all sorts of questions, like why would young
adults in their early twenties want to holiday with a nine year old in book
19? (Admittedly, a lighthouse is a pretty good reason.) How did a very old dog cope with the huge amount of running around
with bicycles in the last couple of books? Why didn't Julian and Dick
have at least one car between them? These are issues that probably just
won't ever have answers.
Sometimes aging was expressed by Enid Blyton, most of the time it has
to be inferred. If we assume the children did actually age*, we can take
one of two views: Either Enid Blyton was rather careless with how the
stories related to each other because it was too much trouble making
sure the Five didn't get too old, or she was very clever, and omitted
mentioning their ages but left important clues which allow us to place
the Famous Five adventures in the "actual" order they happened,
which means we can work out the "actual" ages of the children
in each of the adventures. Surprisingly, they almost all fit, with only
one serious contradiction that's easily resolvable with a single-word
*We have to remember they're only kids' books. And it seems very likely
that she only intended to write the first six, but found she was onto
a good thing, so kept going.
George's birthday is between the Christmas and Easter holidays (they
have a three term year), so there's the implication the others had their
birthdays at other times of the year. However, in book 2 (winter) they are all still the same age as book 1 (summer the same year), so their birthdays are all in the first half of the year.
It's desirable for Anne to be as
young as possible in April (due to an irreconcilable contradiction with
Richard's age, where the single correction comes in), so I've arbitrarily decreed her birthday to be between
the Easter and Summer holidays. Of course, this also slightly helps explain why
she tends to be looked down on, and is often given special consideration
by her brothers for being small and/or weak – she's a year and a few months younger than George.
To keep them as young as possible (for those who wishfully think they
never grew up) Julian's and Dick's birthdays might also occur at the
same time of year, between the Easter and summer holidays. However, that would mean that all spring/Easter adventures
(of which there are a lot) have George the same age as Julian – in whole years, anyway. This is very unlikely
since Julian bosses George around quite a lot (mostly based on her being
a girl, the male chauvinist pig) and George goes along with it, albeit
angrily for the most part. In all the many spring and Easter adventures she never once mentions that she is the same age as Julian. This implies that Julian is slightly more than a full year
older. It's possible George's birthday was mentioned simply because she had the most recent birthday before that adventure.
Since this timeline is an "optimised" timeline, many adventures
have been moved from their sequential positions. This optimisation of
the timeline means the final story is three years earlier than it would
be if all stories were in their numerical order, and subtle "clues" from
the books are incorporated to eliminate contradictions. Extra characters
have ages given or calculated where information is available from the
books. The rest are just guesses.
Boxes with a green background are definite
placements of the adventures in the timeline.
While book 5 through book 8 could
all technically be a year later, with book 9 and book
11 filling in the gap – which would age Jo by a couple of years
between her second and third appearances – it is undesirable because
it would make the mistake of Richard Kent's age worse by one year.
At present that problem can be resolved by simply replacing the word "older" by "younger". See the notes on book 8 below.
Boxes with blue or pink or yellow backgrounds
or green border are required placements
of those adventures relative to each other of the same colour. They
are in the required order but not necessarily the required spacing –
so book 12 at optimised position 20 could be swapped
with book 15 at optimised position 18. The exception
is book 18 which could be before book
9 (although book 9 must still be before book
Update 13 June 2006: I've moved the placement of book
10 because of the requirement for book 14 to
be the 14th adventure. It makes that year a very busy one.
Update 4 March 2009: Green boxes are now emphasised a little
more, and the colour key above has been clarified. Also minor typos fixed,
and an explanation added to the book 2 notes as to why
that book in optimised position 2 doesn't have a background colour when
there is probably ample evidence to firmly place it in the timeline.
(Since rectified!) Also an extra note for book 15 about the minimum age
for first aid courses.
Update 17 November 2010: The biggest change is moving book
16 to as early as possible – I think this is a better placement
instead of after book 21 and before book
14; it means several adventures get renumbered, but significantly allows the years to be assigned. I've given book 14 a
green border since it's a relative placement to the first few adventures.
I've written a few extra comments on some of the books, including several
confirming that book 19 isn't placed too early. Also,
I checked the life span of monkeys. In the optimised order Mischief,
Tinker's monkey, ages by four years instead of two years in the sequential order, but that
isn't a problem as monkeys live much longer than that.
The children are introduced as being 10 to 12
George says she found Timmy "out on the moors when he was just
a pup, a year ago" (page 30).
Alf (known in some later books as James) is described as being "about
fourteen years old." (Page 40.)
2. Five Go Adventuring Again
Have misplaced my copy, so I haven't been able to read it for positioning
Nigel Rowe says Julian
commands Timmy to shake hands with the tutor, but Timmy refuses. So
Timmy at this point knows how to shake, but this isn't a spontaneous
offer to shake as he first does in book 16, so it
doesn't affect the timeline.
Update: May 2014, a friend has supplied a copy.
There are multiple references to adventures (plural) they have had, but never mention of any adventures since the summer.
"The three of them had stayed with George in the summer, and had had some exciting adventures together on the little island off the coast." (Page 13.)
"The two looked out to sea, where the old ruined castle stood on the little island of Kirrin – what adventures they had had there in the summer!" (Page 16.)
"'Do you remember our marvellous adventures in the summer?'" (Page 20.)
"'I wish we could have some more exciting adventures.'" (Page 21.)
It seems George had been homeschooled before going to Gaylands School (pages 11 & 17), placing this story early in the timeline, and the first one to mention her at or going to school.
Joan/Joanna the cook is new (page 18).
"They were very much of an age – Julian was twelve, George and Dick were eleven, and Anne was ten." (Page 21.) This fixes the book in relation to book 1, and means they all have their birthdays in the first half of the year.
Dick mentions wanting to see "Aladdin and the Lamp, and the Circus" (page 21). It could be a reference to anything, but Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp was a 1939 short film with Popeye as Aladdin. This book was first published in 1943.
Tim doesn't shake hands with Mr Roland, the tutor (page 31).
Anne (age 10, remember) plans to buy Mr Roland a packet of cigarettes as a Christmas present (page 62). But even in 1943 she was too young, as it was illegal from 1933 to sell cigarettes to anyone under 16. For more on that see book 19 where Julian is not old enough to buy tobacco.
Timmy hasn't seen snow before (page 123). He's about a year and a half old at this point.
3. Five Run Away Together
Set in summer one year after book 1, so children
must be one year older than in that book, ie 11 to 13 years old.
George has been by herself for the first three weeks of the summer
holiday and Julian, Dick and Anne had gone away with their parents,
so there are no adventures in this summer prior to this one.
Mentions (page 7) that the Five "usually joined
up together and had plenty of fun." The "usually"
implies they probably met up and had fun (but no adventure) the Easter
before book 3.
George's mother said two or three years ago that George could have
Kirrin Island (page 9).
Jennifer Mary Armstrong is described as "a small girl" without
any age given.
Jenny is old enough to recover quickly and for the Five to want to
have around for a week on the Island after the adventure.
Alf/James still Alf.
4. Five Go To Smuggler's Top
Starts "One fine day right at beginning of the Easter holidays".
Cold, windy; fishermen expecting a big storm.
The Five "haven't been [to Kirrin Island] since last summer"
which isn't specifically mentioned in book 15 but
is in book 14.
Anne says Dick's book can't be as exciting as "some" of
the adventures the Five have had (page 8).
George says Julian has "gone thin" – a growth spurt? Or
just not eating enough? She doesn't say he has "gone tall" so
it's unlikely to be a growth spurt in his early teens.
Timmy spontaneously offers his paw to Mr Lenoir (page 181). If book
16 is the first time he does that, this places this book at least
six years later than the natural (consecutive) positioning of it,
but solves the problem for Timmy climbing spiral stairs in book
19 because that adventure can simply swap with this one – two
problems solved at once.
"George found herself twinkling at him [Sooty] in a way quite
strange to her..." I have no idea what that's supposed
to mean (and don't think I want to know), but I suspect it must be
her teenage hormones finally kicking in.
5. Five Go Off in a Caravan
August, first week of summer holidays, so cannot be set in any earlier
year, as it can't be before book 3.
Dick rules out cycling as an option because Anne couldn't ride as
fast as the others (page 9), so Anne is still quite young.
They have a horse, Dobby, which has the implication that Julian,
Dick and Anne no longer live in London. This places the move quite
early in the timeline. They also live out of London in book
19 and up.
George thinks Anne already knows what Kirrin Island is like at Easter
– how? The only Easter adventure written at this point was when they
went to Smuggler's Top, book 4 – they never got to
Kirrin Island then.
No other book set at Easter includes visiting Kirrin Island, as they're
all set somewhere else.
However, book 3 (page 7) mentions that the Five "usually
joined up together and had plenty of fun." It's possible they
had fun on Kirrin Island but no adventure the Easter preceeding book
Five have not stayed together since they went caravanning in book
5 – ie, no adventures can be squeezed in there.
George has Timmy at school.
Timmy went up the tower (page 38) "having managed the spiral
stairs with difficulty." On his way down (page 40) Timmy pushed
passed Anne and "disappeared below her at a remarkably fast pace."
No trouble at all now – almost as though it took a while to remember
how to do it. Or maybe he's just having a problem with gravity. See book
19 for another spiral staircase he learns to climb.
We read that Martin Curton looks about 16 and the coastguard tells
Julian that Martin is "about your age, I should think." (Page
Enid Blyton obviously meant for the children to get older if Julian
is looking this old already. However, aging at this rate is another
indication that the adventures (especially the later ones) are not
all in sequential order (or that she only intended to write the first
After the first six books started selling so incredibly well she started writing more of them. Wikipedia says By the end of 1953 more than six million copies had been sold. Today, more than two million copies of the books are sold each year, making them one of the biggest-selling series for children ever written. Over a hundred million books have been sold.
Book starts with planning the trip, six days before they leave for
As Nigel Rowe points
out, they are being allowed to go camping "in spite of
the terrific adventure we had last summer, when we went off in caravans".
No mention of the shenanigans on Kirrin Island at Easter here, though. Or
of any other adventures, such as book 16 which
could be conveniently squeezed in between.
8. Five Get Into Trouble
Easter, the first time they go camping after book 7.
Anne must be older now because she can keep up with the others
cycling (see book 5).
Richard Thurlow Kent being "not much older than Anne" (page
34) is probably the only serious boo-boo on Enid's part in the whole
timeline (apart from them still being referred to as children when
they're into their twenties!). However, the description is clearly
incorporated as part of Anne's first impression of him, so needn't
be strictly accurate.
We know when this story is set relative to book 5,
and that's OK as it allows Anne to grow up a bit to be able to cope
with the cycling (which she wasn't able to do then), but book 5 couldn't
itself be any earlier because it can't be the same summer as book
3 (or book 1, obviously). In other words, Anne
is a minimum of 13 years old in Five Get Into Trouble, a few months
short of 14.
Richard Kent is thus at least nine or ten months younger than
Anne; hence the line should read "not much younger than Anne".
As an aside:
Describing Richard as "not much older than Anne" is
a bit hopeful anyway, really. Does he look a very similar age?
It's not like all children look exactly the age they are, so the "not
much" can only be a very loose comparison.
Why not describe his age
in relation to Dick? Something like "a little younger than
Dick" – which being both boys would make more sense. (It does say he
was "not as big as Julian or Dick".) This lends weight to
the idea that Anne is more than a year younger than Dick and George.
My conclusion is that if Anne thought Richard looked older than her
it's probable that Richard looks older than he is (but is small for his age compared to Julian and Dick) or that she developed
an instant crush on his "laughing blue eyes" and thus simply got it
wrong (especially since being a very demure girl would have wanted
her "man" to be older and thus more authoritative than her). So the
description isn't a death blow for the optimised timeline.
9. Five Fall Into Adventure
Starts on 2 September! Last two weeks of eight week (!) summer break.
Julian and Dick have been in France for the first six weeks, so no
adventures can be squeezed into the first part of these hols.
First appearance of Jo. Introducing younger characters without any reference to the Five's ages was a clever way of keeping the stories relatable for young readers.
10. Five on a Hike Together
October, mid-term break.
Miss Peters (a name that seems very familiar) isn't worried at all
by the idea of them going off by themselves for a weekend, so even
Anne must be quite old by this time.
George has Timmy at school.
The Five are old enough to have "coffee and cream" for
breakfast in a village.
11. Five Have a Wonderful Time
First hols since George's birthday, implying that the others have
their birthdays at some other time of year – there's no mention that
they've all had a birthday since the previous hols.
Previous adventure with Jo (book 9) was "the
12. Five Go Down to the Sea
Summer, very hot.
Yan is more than 80 years younger than his great grandfather, who first saw the wreckers' light "near 90 years ago".
Yan gets unceremonially dunked in a tub to be bathed, so is probably quite young, and/or rather slight of frame.
Julian and Dick are presented with Clopper, but the suit is never mentioned again in any other book.
13. Five Go to Mystery Moor
Is anyone not yet tired of girls trying to look like boys?
14. Five Have Plenty of Fun
Summer, hot, three weeks left of holiday.
Boys have been abroad for the first four weeks of this holiday while
Anne had been to camp and had a friend stay (page 17) so can't fit
any other adventures in the same holiday.
Fanny mentions George first met her cousins "a few years ago"
Dick mentions it's their 14th adventure and refers to two previous
adventures with Jo (book 9 and book
Adventure includes a trip to Kirrin Island (fulfills requirement
for the summer preceding book 4).
Timmy is straight away great friends with a black poodle (page 51)
which places this story after book 18 where he apparently
meets a black poodle for the first time.
15. Five on a Secret Trail
August, hot at night, different hols from book 14.
Fanny to Anne: 'Will they [Julian and Dick] be coming down at all these
holidays?' 'I don't know,' said Anne. 'They're still in France, you
know, on a school-boys' tour.' (Page 16.)
A particularly big gorse bush (page 108) has "a few yellow blooms
on it still" possibly implying late summer, although Wikipedia says "common gorse is thought to be always in bloom".
Julian ("like everybody else") is old enough to have done
his First Aid Training (with capital initials).
A quick web search indicates 16 is the present minimum age for first
aid courses in Britain, which is great, as the present optimised placement
of this book has even Anne age 17.
Julian gets stuck in the tunnel but Harry has no trouble, implying
that Julian is much bigger (and older) than Harry.
16. Five Go to Billycock Hill
Whitsun (seven weeks after Easter).
"The may was over now ..." Huh? Does that mean it's June?
A big gorse bush in this book also has a few yellow blooms on it
still (see book 15) – a strange thing to say when
it's early June. Mind you, Wikipedia says "common gorse is thought to be always in bloom".
Timmy spontaneously offers his paw to someone (Cousin Jeff), supposedly
for the first time – 'Timmy's never done that before!' said George
(page 73). What about book 4? It must be after this
I think Toby is said to be about Julian and Dick's age.
There are a few implications this adventure is set quite early.
Anne doesn't consider the kids grown up yet (page 14).
The boys are still small enough to be easily held by the men
at the Butterfly Farm. It must not have anything to do with Julian's
height, because he's tall even in book 3. It could
be all relative, or maybe the men were quite determined.
Strange noises are enough to make them run out of the caves.
Julian is normally ever-so-mature, but Toby convinces him to
ignore a Keep Out sign to go swimming.
It must be after the war, because they're allowed to camp
near the airfield. Perhaps the war should just be ignored in this timeline.
They have a small wireless radio, which were first developed in 1954
(this book was first published in 1957) but it wasn't until November
1954 that the first one was for sale. February 1955 saw a much better
model released, albeit very expensive for children to have on a camping
trip. However, being repeatedly referred to as posh children, it's
quite believable for the Five to be early adopters of the new technology.
This means 1955 is the earliest year this adventure could have taken
place. Placing this adventure reasonably early in the timeline thus
gives an earliest possible year for book 21.
17. Five Get Into a Fix
Christmas holidays, winter, one week before school is due to start
Must be after book 16, as Timmy spontaneously offers
his paw to Mrs Jones (page 28).
It really stretches credibility to think that the Five (Julian in
particular) would think that Morgan was a baddie after their lesson
from misjudging Mr Penruthlan in book 12. Since they
had evidence that Mr Penruthlan really wasn't on the level (eg, going
through pockets, lying to his wife, etc) it's probable that this story
is before that one.
Julian, Dick and Anne's mother is Mrs Barnard. The children are introduced
as Kirrins in book 16. There's no mention of her
Arguably the lamest story because the Five don't solve the crime,
and only get in the way as they try to figure out what's going on.
But they have lots of snow fun in the process.
18. Five on Finniston Farm
It's twice mentioned (in separate locations) that there are fields
of corn waving in the breeze – mid to late summer?
Timmy apparently doesn't know what on earth a black poodle is (page
28), which would place this story before book 14 where
Timmy is great friends with that black poodle straight away (page 51),
but it cannot be in the first half of the same summer holiday as that
A dog not knowing what another dog is – whatever it looks like – is really really dumb. (We know that Timmy was drugged in at least one story.)
The twins (described as "children" on page 17) must be
quite pre-adolescent to look remotely like each other since they are
fraternal, boy-girl twins. Yet even their mother can't tell them apart
at times (page 21).
The four human Five seem to be given the OK to drive the tractor
and the Land Rover (page 33), so they must be reasonably old and mature.
Janie, the ten year old girl in the shop, is "small" (page
12) and "little" (page 14). These sizes are possibly compared
to the four Five.
George doesn't know if Timmy will be able to climb the spiral staircase
in the lighthouse. This would either mean the story is set before book
6, or George was concerned because of Timmy's age.
In my research I've made a
note that this means it would have to be between books 2
and 3, but without any reason given.
It cannot be set just before book 6 in the same
holiday as they hadn't stayed together since they went caravanning in book 5.
Causing concern that the book is placed too early in the optimised
order are several hints that Julian is quite old.
Julian is old enough to make all the travel arrangements and
pay for them himself.
A policeman repeatedly addresses Julian as "sir".
Keith Robinson points
out "he [Julian] frequently puts on his "most
grown-up voice" to cower the bad guys, such as in the nineteenth
book, Five Go to Demon's Rocks." (Julian also gets very
back-chatty with adults in book 3 and very authoritative
with adults in book 8, so it seems to be just
something he does – along with his male chauvinism.)
However, and more importantly, Julian was not old enough to
buy tobacco. The Five just paid for it, leaving Jeremiah to
pick it up later. (A wording change between editions has added to the
confusion, changing the tobacco to sweets, but it wasn't a clean edit,
leaving the shopkeer keeping the sweets but the Five also giving them
to Jeremiah themselves.)
In 1933 the Children’s Act was repealed and replaced by the Children and Young Persons Act. Under Section 7 of the Act it was made illegal to sell cigarettes to children under 16. (From this PDF.)
In April 1986 the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act was passed which made it illegal to sell any tobacco product to children aged under 16. Previously the law applied only to smoking tobacco. (Ibid.) So products like chewing tobacco were also covered from this time.
In March 1992 the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 came into force, which tightened up existing legislation on the sale of cigarettes to children under 16. (Ibid.)
Prior to 1 October 2007 the UK had a purchase
age of 16; it was 18 from that date onward. If it hadn't changed since 1961 when this book was published,
this adventure could not be placed any later in the order because that
would double up in a holiday with another adventure.
Being placed quite early means Tinker, at 9 years old, isn't that
much younger than Anne.
Julian, Dick and Anne now live within cycling distance of Kirrin,
instead of the 8 hour drive from London in book 1.
They also clearly live out of London in book 5.
20. Five Have A Mystery To Solve
Starts on first day of one month long April holiday.
I have to wonder why the Five have never heard of the island if it's
just a little down the coast.
Julian, Dick & Anne live within easy cycling distance of Kirrin
(George's home) and the cottage.
End with "Good-bye, Five – it was fun sharing in your
grand adventure." It obviously refers to just this book, but unlike
many, it doesn't end with any mention of waiting for their next adventure.
21. Five Are Together Again
Starts on first day of Easter holiday.
Julian, Dick & Anne live within easy cycling distance of Kirrin.
" 'Tinker – do you mean to say you're still being fat-headed
enough to pretend to be cars and bicycles and tractors and lorries,'
demanded Julian." (Page 36.)
If there has been a circus in the field every ten years since 1648
the present year must end in an 8. 1948? 1958? It was first published
in 1963. If book 16 was in 1955 this adventure could
be 1958. There are problems raised by having it in 1968 or later, not
least the lack of cars owned by the Kirrins.
Finishes with "Hurry up and fall into another adventure... Good-bye
for now..." Makes it sound very much like it's not the last adventure.