Enid Blyton’s Fatty as Hero
by Mark Wallace
Enid Blyton rarely bothered to characterize her creations in any but the most generic sense. Such a formulaic approach allowed her to write some 800 books over the course of her career. But even the strictest formula features occasional deviations, and Blyton occasionally presented characters who were somewhat sui generis in her canon. Belonging to this class is young Frederick Algernon Troteville, better known as Fatty, leader of the group known as the Five Find-Outers.
The Find-Outers books, 15 in all, were written between 1943 and 1962, roughly contemporaneously with the Famous Five (the latter group being indeed more famous). There are similarities between the two series – both are groups of pesky, meddling kids who happen upon an unfeasibly large number of criminal conspiracies – but the great difference between the two is in the character of Fatty, leader of the Find-Outers.
The Famous Five have no Fatty. Julian is their leader, because he’s a boy and the eldest, so it’s a simple validation of the patriarchal norm. Julian has no outstanding qualities of his own, and his speech is often indistinguishable from that of the other characters: if he’s giving an order, it must be Julian, because he’s the leader, and this is an indice of status rather than individual character. His dialogue contains few if any indices of character to differentiate him from his brother Dick or myriad other Blyton characters.
Fatty, though, is very different, and is a recognizable Hero in many respects. He is an outsider: where the other 4 Find-Outers have been friends all their lives, he turns up out of the blue, fully formed, but of unknown provenance. This unknown, possibly divine origin, is common to many mythological Heroes, and also reminds this blog of Thomas Carlyle’s great Hero, Diogenes Teufelsdrockh of Sartor Resartus, left as a baby to a childless peasant couple in a basket by a stranger “close-muffled in a wide mantle”, who leaves as suddenly as he came and of whom nothing more can be found (Bk. 2, Ch. 1; clearly modelled on the Biblical birth of Moses). Similarly, in the first Find-Outer book, The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, Fatty comes without warning, an object of interest and suspicion both, and of parents unknown and unseen. After one expedition undertaken by Fatty and Larry (at this point the nominal leader of the group) in the book, Blyton notes as follows:
The children all felt excited as they went to bed that night. At least, Fatty didn’t go to bed, though Larry did. But then Larry’s mother usually came to tuck him up and say good night and Fatty’s didn’t.
This intriguing aside is the only clue to Fatty’s family life we get in the book, but it suggests both that Fatty is a neglected child, starved for attention, and that he is a Hero – one who has fulfilled every child’s great wish, to be father to himself, as Freud put it. It’s quite a subtle characterization for Blyton, as Fatty’s arrogant boastfulness is placed in a different perspective by the insight, but the connection is never made explicit.
Fatty’s mother does come into the series in later books, though. While the other parent’s are strict if benign authority figures, Fatty has his mother “wrapped around his finger”. His father, I think, doesn’t come in at all, so he is indeed father to himself, and his relationship with his mother takes on an Oedipal complexion.
Fatty is also a Hero because he is preternaturally gifted. If we remember our Thomas Carlyle, we will know that the Hero is always gifted: never at one thing, but at all things, because that’s what a Hero was. A Hero is emphatically not a “specialist”; he contrasts with the modern notion of the “expert”, who focuses narrowly on one field. In On Heroes Carlyle starts by noting:
I suppose the right good fighter was oftenest also the right good forest-feller – the right good improver, discerner, doer and worker in every kind; for true valor, different enough from ferocity, is the basis of all. (kindle free edition, p 19)
Later, he finds:
I have no notion of a truly great man that could not be all sorts of men […] The grand fundamental character if that of the Great Man; that the man be great. Napoleon has words in him which are like Austerlitz battles. (p. 46)
Accordingly, Fatty can be all sorts of men, because he is a master of disguise, constantly fooling his fellow Find-Outers, Mr. Goon the policeman, and whoever else he needs or wants to fool. When being himself, he is quicker, smarter and more inventive than everyone else. As Bets, the youngest Find-Outer and Fatty’s worshipper-in-chief often says: “Fatty can do anything” (The Mystery of the Strange Bundle, ch. 1). Even his very fatness is an indice of his excess, his being more than everyone else, or muchness, as it were. When he asks for two helpings of pudding, his mother laughingly replies: “Oh, Frederick, you do go to extremes” (Strange Bundle, Ch. 2). Fatty is an embodiment of a state of being more extreme and more interesting than that otherwise available to the everyboys and girls of the Find-Outers.
Fatty is so called for two fairly obvious reasons: he’s quite fat, and his initials are F.A.T. But it’s also a mark of his otherness. It’s not a real, human name, and Fatty isn’t really human, but something more. It initially comes about as a mark of disrespect, because initially the others don’t like him, boastful interloper that he is. Yet he is of the Natural Aristocracy, as Carlyle would say, and once he is allowed within the circle, he quickly shoots up to a leadership position, ousting the everyboy character Larry. His betterness cannot help but be acknowledged. Carlyle opined that a sincere person cannot, in the long run, help but acknowledge true talent, provided he be sufficiently exposed to its. The Find-Outers pass the test of sincerity, recognizing Fatty’s superiority and offering him leadership of the gang.
It is notable, too, that Fatty’s given name has a strongly upper-class ring to it, almost parodically so. So he is an aristocrat in every sense of the word, and his nominal aristocracy is given validation by his conduct. All the others can do is sit back and let him take over, let him be the Hero that he really is. The world of the Find-Outers is transformed by Fatty’s leadership: now no longer the Valet-World of the undistinguished everyday conduct of Larry et al., but a world of Heroism and excitement. Hurrah!