Article by Keith Robinson
The problem with writing an ongoing series about children is that they grow up. With one mystery book a year, Blyton had to avoid a "real" timeline otherwise the Find-Outers would have aged fifteen years over the entire series! So Blyton slows things down by having one mystery per holiday, about three per year: Summer, Christmas and Easter. Sometimes a book mentions a specific month like April or January, other times it's "a hot summer's day," or "a cold winter." But more often than not it's "the summer hols" or "Christmas" or "Easter."
This would make things easy to work out except that some of the books skip a holiday period, making things a little fuzzy. The Five Find-Outers always seem so adamant about having a mystery every hols, and yet some hols have been skipped. After a quick scan through the books, here's what I could glean...
- The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage (Easter)
- The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat (Summer)
- The Mystery of the Secret Room (Christmas)
- The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters (not mentioned, so assume Easter)
- The Mystery of the Missing Necklace (Summer)
- The Mystery of the Hidden House (Christmas)
- The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat (Easter)
- The Mystery of the Invisible Thief (Summer)
- The Mystery of the Vanished Prince (Summer again!—see note below)
- The Mystery of the Strange Bundle (Christmas)
- The Mystery of Holly Lane (Easter)
- The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage (Christmas)
- The Mystery of the Missing Man (Easter)
- The Mystery of the Strange Messages (Christmas)
- The Mystery of Banshee Towers (sometime after Easter but before "Whitsun")
You can see the books started out in a logical pattern: Easter, Summer, Christmas, and then repeating. But Vanished Prince screws this pattern up by having another mystery set in summertime. What, two mysteries that summer? No, because in Vanished Prince the kids complain about the lack of mysteries so far those holidays, with four weeks already gone. So we have to assume a whole year has passed since the last mystery, Invisible Thief. So now we're down to two mysteries per year. I wonder if this was deliberate—or did Enid Blyton just lose track of the timeline? Hardly surprising since she had millions of other books to write!
Hey! What if there are MISSING MYSTERIES? Mysteries that were written but never made it into print! By my reckoning there are four missing, plus any others following Banshee Towers!
As for the kids' ages, and assuming 1943 is the year of their first mystery (when Burnt Cottage was written), it's obvious from above that they've all aged six years by Banshee Towers. In Burnt Cottage it's established that Larry is the eldest at 13, then Pip, Daisy and Fatty are 12, and Bets is 8. In Spiteful Letters, which happened in Easter, it's specifically mentioned that they're all a year older, with Bets at 9 and the others in their teens. So each subsquent Easter that rolls around must add a year to their lives.
Gads! This means that in Banshee Towers Larry is 19, Pip, Daisy and Fatty are 18, and Bets is 14! That doesn't sound right at all. Maybe it's best to gloss over the facts and assume time has stopped...
Added Feb 2, 2005: Just to throw a spanner in the works, Heli from Finland is quite right in pointing out that in Missing Necklace Fatty says he is fourteen when captured by the crooks at the waxworks museum. Arghh! That completely messes things up! Now look:
#1 Burnt Cottage (Easter) - Larry is 13, Fatty, Pip and Daisy are 12, and Bets is 8.
#3 Secret Room (Christmas) - Fatty's birthday is "next week" (so around Christmas), and he says he'll be 13. Fatty says Pip won't be 13 until the New Year.
#4 Spiteful Letters (assume Easter) - Larry is assumed 14 by now, while Fatty, Pip and Daisy are all 13 (because Bets said the others are all in their teens now). Bets is 9.
#5 Missing Necklace (Summer) - Fatty is 14!! But how? Did we skip a whole year?
At least now we know that the exact order from eldest to youngest is Larry, Fatty, Pip, Daisy and Bets.
Added Feb 7, 2005: I noticed a gaff in The Mystery of Holly Lane. Towards the end of the second-to-last chapter, Pip comments on how he's going to get into awful trouble for being out so late. Larry agrees and says, "You're lucky, Fatty, your parents never seem to mind." Fatty replies, "I'm older than you are, and wiser." Arrghh! While Fatty certainly is a lot wiser than Larry, he is in fact a year younger.
Added May 9, 2005: More clarification from Paul in Australia, who says: In Secret Room, it's Christmas and in the second chapter called "Fatty has some ideas" Bets wants to get a doll but isn't given one—until Fatty saves the day. The storyline states "Every one thought that as she was now nine, and liked to say she was getting big, she wouldn't want a doll..." So we know that Bets turned nine before Secret Room, and Spiteful Letters confirms she was still nine when that mystery occurred (assumed Easter on this site). Therefore, by some fairly basic reasoning, Bets' birthday is somewhere between Easter (book one) and Christmas (book three).
Anyone want to chip in further details? Email me!