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Literature / Five Find-Outers

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The Five Find-Outers are five children living in the Home Counties village of Peterswood who solve mysteries together during the school holidays in a series of novels by Enid Blyton. They are are Frederick Algernon "Fatty" Trotteville, Laurence "Larry" Daykin, Margaret "Daisy" Daykin, Philip "Pip" Hilton and Elizabeth "Bets" Hilton. There's also a dog, Buster, who belongs to Fatty.

Aside from tackling criminals, the children have to face the wrath of the bumbling village policeman, PC Theophilus Goon, who bears a grudge against them (especially Fatty) for solving crimes before him. Recurring characters include Inspector Jenks, Goon's superior who (unlike him) is friend of the children, and Ern, Goon's nephew who sometimes comes to stay with him for the school holidays.

The Five Find-Outers books are one of the more popular of Blyton's novels about groups of children who have adventures, perhaps due to the sense of old-time and nostalgia (the series was started in the 1940s). It's worth noting that, unlike Timmy in the Famous Five books, Buster does not officially count as one of the Five, which is why they are sometimes referred to as the Five Find-Outers and Dog.

Books in the series:

  • The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage (1943)
  • The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat (1944)
  • The Mystery of the Secret Room (1945)
  • The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters (1946)
  • The Mystery of the Missing Necklace (1947)
  • The Mystery of the Hidden House (1948)
  • The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat (1949)
  • The Mystery of the Invisible Thief (1950)
  • The Mystery of the Vanished Prince (1951)
  • The Mystery of the Strange Bundle (1952)
  • The Mystery of Holly Lane (1953)
  • The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage (1954)
  • The Mystery of the Missing Man (1956)
  • The Mystery of the Strange Messages (1957)
  • The Mystery of Banshee Towers (1961)

Tropes present in this work are:

  • The Ace: Fatty excels in both his studies and sports (including poetry), is a highly gifted actor, able to solve crimes better than the police, and is very rich too.
  • Adults Are Useless: Wherever there is a problem the Find-Outers must resolve it. Even if their parents actively try to stop them from getting involved in solving the mystery, which the Hiltons (Pip and Bets's parents) do more than once.
    • Subverted with Inspector Jenks, though he rarely shows up before the last chapter.
    • Also subverted by Fatty's parents, particularly his mother, who always have his back when it comes to Goon throwing around unjustified accusations. One heartwarming moment in Banshee Towers has Fatty putting up Ern in the Find-Outer's headquarters (the shed at the bottom of the garden) because Ern's too terrified of Goon to stay in his house; Mrs Trotteville finds Fatty raiding the linen closet for blankets and when he reassures her that he's doing a good deed, trusts him enough not to question him further.
  • Beneath Suspicion: One of the suspects in The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat has such an airtight alibi the Find-Outers initially don't think it's worth checking. Guess who turns out to be the robber?
  • Big Brother Mentor: Fatty towards Bets, more than her real brother.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Attempted. During Missing Man, wannabe Sixth Ranger Eunice gets Fatty to take her along on a stakeout. When he's caught and imprisoned in a caravan, Eunice finds him, realizes she can't get him free, and tells him she's going for help. Unfortunately, she's a stranger to Peterswood and gets lost in the dark, foggy night. She sensibly waits for daylight and races to the nearest Find-Outer, however Pip's already got the wind up enough to call in Inspector Jenks.
  • Comic-Book Time: avoided. The timeline's a little shaky, but by the end of the series all the Find-Outers have aged five years.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Fatty is rather lucky in that whenever he gets locked in a room (which happens a lot), there is a significant gap (say, half an inch) between the bottom of the door and the floor, in addition to which, the person locking him in always leaves the key in the lock. Both factors need to be present for his escape-from-a-locked-room technique (put a piece of paper under the door and use a straightened-out paperclip to push the key out of the lock and onto the paper) to work.
  • Cool Garage: A variant. Fatty's 'shed at the bottom of the garden' is quite possibly a prototype of a man cave. It's Fatty's personal sanctuary, home to all his disguises, and the Find-Outers' headquarters. Ern even secretly moves into it in Banshee Towers.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: In Missing Man, Fatty's family host entomologist Mr Tolling, a classic absent minded scientist. His teenage daughter, Eunice, keeps their life running smoothly, and is almost as much The Ace as Fatty. As a result of growing up alone with her father, Eunice is annoyingly competent at everything in sight and isn't very good at reading social cues, thus not realizing how much she tends to annoy people - especially Fatty.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: In one of the books, Goon starts receiving these from an anonymous source, trying to get him to look into a specific house. Goon, who initially assumes that it's the kids playing a prank on him (which is how the kids find out about the letters in the first place), is particularly annoyed by the fact that his name is always written in lower-case. This becomes a plot point that allows one of the kids to figure out which newspaper is being used for the words. The reason for the lower-case "goon" is because the full word is "Rangoon", and Fatty happens to spot a Burmese gentleman in the vicinity...
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: reading the first book, Burnt Cottage, it's a bit strange to see Larry as the obvious leader of the Five. Additionally, Larry, Daisy and Pip have trouble getting along with Fatty (who meets the others for the first time at the start of the story), and constantly call him out on his boasting (which is always true).
  • Elective Broken Language: Downplayed in The Mystery of the Vanished Prince: Bets and her friends pose as "Princess Bongawee" and her retinue as a part of a prank. They speak broken English and their own made-up language.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Fatty only prefers being called that because it's preferable to his first name, Frederick. On this subject, while it's never stated outright, surely Mr Goon has some issues with being named Theophilus?
  • Embarrassing Initials: Frederick Algernon Trotteville. And yes, he is fat.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Downplayed. Fatty doesn't really like being called Fatty (for obvious reasons), but he dislikes being called "Frederick" even more, so he puts up with it.
  • Fat Bastard: Goon. Totally averted with Fatty.
  • Flat Character: Daisy, in comparison to the other Five. Larry is this to a lesser extent as he starts out as the leader but gradually gets less characterisation as the series goes on. This trope also applies to any police officer who temporarily replaces Goon as the local constable, with the possible exception of PC Pippin in Pantomime Cat.
  • Food Porn: The children's tea-time food is described often. A popular place for them to eat is a tea-shop, where they order buns and cocoa. There is also a dairy mentioned in The Mystery of the Vanished Prince, where they have ice-creams. As with The Famous Five, Blyton's tendency towards this can be partly explained by the fact that she started to write the books at a time when food rationing was in force in Britain.
  • Fair Play Mystery: All of them, though Banshee Towers is more of a 'howdunnit' than 'whodunnit'. Even the book where an alibi is pulled off via Twin Switch has an earlier remark about twin jokes in the theatre.
  • Fake Mystery: In The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat, the Five plant a bunch of suspicious trail as a prank to lead Goon into a wild goose chase. This gets played for drama later on when a real case inevitably shows up and the false clue they planted winds up almost incriminating an innocent suspect.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in Tally-Ho Cottage, when the Find-Outers meet the Larkins, they're such caricatures that Bets immediately asks Fatty when he'll disguise himself as Mr Larkin. Later in the book, Fatty does just that, and the events of that night help Fatty figure out that the fugitive Lorenzo's - already stated to be unsuccessful actors - have swapped places with and are impersonating the Larkins.
  • Hero Worship: Bets for Fatty. Justified by Bets being four years younger than the others, and the only one who doesn't go to boarding school; only child Fatty sees her as a treasured little sister rather than a tagalong pest like Pip (whose younger sister she actually is) or too far apart in age to have much in common, like Larry and Daisy. Ern also becomes this for Fatty, seemingly never realising that it was Fatty who wrote the "pome" that insulted Goon, which led him to physically punish Ern (who he thought wrote it).
  • Hidden Depths: She may be the youngest, but if Fatty's having trouble working out the clues, a remark by Bets will usually put him on the right track - she's the one who tells Fatty where to find the titular Missing Necklace, for example, and it's her noticing something odd about her favourite painting at Banshee Towers that kicks off the plot. She's also the only Find-Outer who has ever seen through one of Fatty's disguises — although to be fair, by the time Fatty showed up in disguise after promising the others that he would do so, she had already incorrectly guessed that several strangers were Fatty in disguise.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: A non-lethal example in Burnt Cottage. The owner of the aforementioned cottage mentions seeing a flying display that took place on the day the cottage burnt down, at a time when he was meant to be miles away on business; prompting Fatty to start the chain of deductive reasoning that leads to the children working out that the man burnt down the cottage himself as part of an insurance scam.
  • Master Actor: Fatty; not only is he a Master of Disguise, but he can create a new character to match each disguise and act and react in that persona. He's never seen in-series as part of a formal stage performance, but he's downright brilliant at improv - look at how he finishes all of Ern's poems.
  • Master of Disguise: Fatty. The escaped convict in Missing Man is explicitly described as this.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: in both Hidden House and Pantomime Cat, a prank played by the children on a substitute policeman leads said policeman to the spot where a crime is being committed. It's especially awkward for the children in the second, because their most outlandish clues directly implicate one of the (innocent, naturally) suspects.
  • One-Steve Limit: Played with. There are two Elizabeths in the series, but use very different nicknames: series regular "Bets" Hilton, and Tally-Ho Cottage guest star "Liz" Woosh.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: All of the Five. Their actual first names are sometimes mentioned at least once a novel in Fatty's case, very rarely in Daisy's. A less obvious case is Ern, who is only ever known by the abbreviated version of his name (Ernest), a trait shared by his twin brothers Sid and Perce and his cousins Liz and Glad — although not by their Uncle Theophilus (Goon) - who is sometimes referred to by the Five as "Clear-Orf", as that's what he frequently tells them to do.
  • Police Are Useless: Goon, big time. Several times he befriends the criminals (and, being the idiot he is, he never realises that his new friends are the criminals), and refuses to rescue Fatty from their clutches. This gets taken to the extreme in Missing Necklace when not only do his actions inadvertently cause Fatty's capture, Goon actually witnesses Fatty being captured but chooses to do nothing to stop it — making him a Dirty Coward as well as an incompetent copper. He is also abusive towards Buster, kicking him several times and at one point striking him with a fire-poker. He is also very fat and unable to run fast. The children always end up solving the crime before him.
    • Averted with Inspector Jenks, who befriends the Five in the first book and is promoted several times during the series.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, by PC Pippin who takes over Goon's duties for part of Pantomime Cat when Goon goes on holiday. He helps the Five solve the mystery (albeit inadvertently), and to their delight turns out to be a nice man who dislikes Goon; the feeling is mutual.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Fatty's disguises. The scenes during Missing Necklace where he disguises himself as a waxwork figure are the peak of this trope in-series.
    • The thief in The Mystery of the Invisible Thief, who goes into houses he's just robbed to search for the thief.
  • Running Gag: There are several minor ones (including Fatty using his ventriloquism skills to prank Goon), but the most enduring (and the funniest) is Ern's 'pomes', his constant Writer's Block, and Fatty always being to improvise a funny continuation to them. Also Fatty coming home to Peterswood later than the others, who try to find him in disguise at the station; sometimes Bets figures out who he is (after incorrectly guessing that several other people who arrive before Fatty are him in disguise), but usually none of the others spot him.
  • Sixth Ranger: in several books, Goon's nephew Ern shows up; he becomes almost as big a fan of Fatty as Bets. His attempts at poetry is the series' longest Running Gag. Whenever he visits, Ern spends as much time as possible far away from his uncle, because Goon's treatment of him varies between shouting at him, threatening him with corporal punishment and (at one point) actually inflicting corporal punishment upon him.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The early books set up the Find-Outers around the Larry, Daisy and Pip trio, with Larry as the leader and Fatty and Bets as unwanted hanger-ons. By the third book Fatty takes over as leader and the rest of the series is pretty much all about Fatty, with Bets acting as his sidekick while the others become supporting characters. By the end of the series, readers more or less know that they just have to wait for Bets to drop an innocent observation that triggers Fatty cracking the case.
  • The Butler Did It: in Spitefull Letters the vindictive anonymous letter writer turns out to be Mrs Moon, the cook at the Hiltons' household.
  • Those Two Guys: Seems to run in Goon's extended family. Ern has twin younger brothers, Sid and Perce, and also his cousins Liz and Glad.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Whenever the Find-Outers go out to eat, Fatty is the one who pays for it all, since he has much more money than the other kids. (It's also how he accumulates all his disguises; it's made clear it's not a very cheap hobby.) This is occasionally lampshaded in the narrative; whenever Larry or Pip are unusually flush for some reason, they insist on paying the next time.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Averted; Peterswood may be fictional but it is mentioned several times that it is located in the county of Buckinghamshire, not far from Marlow. It's based on the village of Bourne End.
  • You Meddling Kids: They are kids in an Enid Blyton series of adventures, so it more or less goes without saying that they are this. Although some of the villains do actually say this. Goon frequently complains about the children interfering in his job, despite the fact that he never manages to solve the cases on his own.