Tag Archives: Enid Blyton

Updating Enid Blyton: Banned Books Week 2010

29 Sep

The Three GolliwogsEnid Blyton is one of the most translated and most sold authors of all time. But her books have also made many an appearance on lists of challenged and banned books for many years.

I have been reading for a while that Hodder who publish Enid Blyton books like Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Naughtiest Girl and Secret Seven is giving the Famous Five books a make-over. They want to bring the language out of the 1940s and make the stories timeless! Certain gender sensitive issues are also getting some gentle updates.

According to Telegraph’s “Enid Blyton’s Famous Five

To this end the books have been revised line by line, leaving the plots intact but cutting many of the old-fashioned expressions, such as “golly”, “rather” and “awfully”, and replacing numerous other words: “Mother” and “Daddy” with “Mum” and “Dad”, “bathing” with “swimming”, “jersey” with “jumper” and so on. There are photographs of actors posing as Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog on the covers, rather than the original illustrations by Eileen A Soper, whose line drawings previously also brought the key incidents of the books to life within the pages. (The old editions are still available for more traditionally minded readers.)

Traditionally minded, yes, that’s me.

Taking the nuances of language out of these stories is bound to change the experience of reading them. To place a story in a time period certain language and social markers are needed. Stripping the books of these markers is going to change the story even if the publishers are very careful not to change plot points.

When we were reading Enid Blyton in the 1980s and ’90s it was already completely outdated, both in ideas and language. Add to that, the geographical distance and cultural differences. We didn’t call our parents “Mother” and “Father”. We didn’t mean “swimming” when we said “bathing”  and we didn’t wear “jerseys”. I’m still not sure what “awful swotter” means, but none of this detracted from our enjoyment of these stories. We went ahead and devoured those pages of adventures.

A story can’t, for the most part, be separated from its time. These books were written post WWII and there are echoes of the fears and realities that were prevalent at this time. Enid Blyton might have been racist and not much of a feminist. But she was writing about her time, and her writing reflects the world that she saw around her. I’m not saying that racism and gender inequality is okay, but maybe we should admit that’s the way it was at one point in time.

Famous FiveMaybe the publishers and parents should stop taking the books so seriously and appreciate their ability to entertain kids even when the language is not familiar.

Language was different and it keeps changing – so why not give kids a taste of a world that is different from the one they are used to? Rather than pretend that men and women were always considered equal or that no one was considered less of a human being because of their race or colour, maybe these books should be used to introduce kids to a time when things were different. Go beyond the adventures as it were, and get them thinking and talking.

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Enchanted by Enid Blyton

27 Jul

Thinking of Enid Blyton takes me back in time to a period of life that was by far the most fun in many ways. It was a time when hot scones, clotted cream, chocolate eclairs and tuck boxes were the stuff of dreams… Dreams that felt so close that I could almost reach out my hands and touch them. Enid Blyton

I recently read this article in the Caravan Into the Enchanted Forest and up the Faraway Tree. While I found myself nodding along and getting lost in the mists of remembrance through a lot of it, there are parts of this article that I don’t see eye to eye with. In discussing why Enid Blyton books enjoyed such popularity, especially with children in India, this was one of the observations.

…A very partial explanation of this is political. Upper-class Indian kids who had the reading habit were normally taught to look towards British culture as superior and worthy of emulation.

This might have been true at a certain point in time, especially when story books were the privilege of the upper classes.  But by the mid-to-late ’80s, children from middle class families also had recourse to books. I found myself immersed in the worlds created by Enid Blyton much before I was aware of any aspiration based on “superior culture”. What appealed to me was that these kids could go exploring, cook outdoors, play detective and most importantly, thwart the evil plans of villains and actually make a difference. This was at an age when we kids had little power over our lives. These were the children we admired and wanted to emulate. Even the most anti-social of us learnt about good and acceptable behaviour, learnt the concepts of friendhip,  kindness and honour and understood these as something to aspire to. We enjoyed these magical stories during a period of real freedom, which is possible only during childhood. It was a time when lack of imagination & time and responsibilities didn’t get in the way. Meeting

Some hot favourites like Naughtiest Girl, Malory Towers and St. Clare’s introduced the idea of a perfect boarding school set-up. And the idea of boarding school life grew so powerful that for years I wanted to wake up one day and find out that my parents had made good on their threat to send me away to boarding.

It wasn’t just me. I also had some enthusiastic companions who shared this passion. We took our enthusiasm seriously. One Saturday morning, my friend and I found ourselves at the nearby golf course where we had gone “exploring”. Unclear about what this really entailed, we wandered around. It was a wonderful afternoon, thanks to her indulgent father who facilitated this bit of craziness. We found pixie footprints in the sand and hunted all over for toadstools. We saw clues everywhere – clues that took us closer to discovering a magical tree in our part of the world! Our imaginations ran riot and we were the better for it.

Summer vacations were of course the best time to really stretch those imagination muscles. One of our favourite games that was played out over several days was a mystery solving one.  We rode on our bicycles round and round the apartment block pretending to be our own band of mystery solvers. We made up the mysteries, found clues and solved puzzles. The little watchman’s shelter at the corner of the building was turned into our home for the duration of the game. And Indian reality meshed with British ideal – we had a maid to clean our house while we went off “adventuring”.

The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage Enid Blyton’s portrayal of a country far from home still holds sway over me. The world was rather bigger in the 1980s than it is now. The worlds she created were far away and ones where adults were understanding, or just very far out of the picture and where children got to chase their dreams. She also painted a picture postcard version of the country itself – especially the schools and the country side, the snow and honeysuckle. I have wanted to visit these lands ever since I was 10.

Some of the authors in the article have said that reading Enid Blyton was detrimental to them as writers. To me, it was the beginning of my love affair with stories and new ideas, introduction to new cultures and the opening out of possibilities. We were so much under the spell of Blyton’s magic that my friend and I wrote our own adventure mystery stories very much a la Enid Blyton. (This is the same friend with whom I went exploring at the golf course).

No longer are we reeling from colonial hangover. I’m not really aware of what kids in India are reading these days. But definitely the kind of books that young kids have access to, when they can get away from television and video games, I guess is a more global selection.  And being a grown up doesn’t prevent me from topping up on children’s fiction. Harry Potter (of course), Artemis Fowl, Inkworld Trilogy, Isabel Allende‘s children’s stories, Percy Jackson and some others are favourites, some of which I’ve even managed to reread. Leven Thumps, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Books, C.S Lewis’ Space Trilogy and Bartimaeus Trilogy have found their way to my to-read pile. Famous Five Treasure Island

Enid Blyton is one of the top selling authors of all time – her books sell more than 600 million copies a year worldwide. She is also one of the top translated authors. I didn’t even think about the writer behind these stories until much later in life, when I came across criticism of racism. Until then, having been exposed only to brown India, the black and white aspect didn’t really occur to me. There were curly-haired golliwogs, sure, but there were also talking bears, extra clever children, and magical lands at the top of a tree. I don’t believe this criticism had any merit 30 years ago, and today it holds even less merit. The distance, both geographical and of time, mean that many of the ideas, ideals, outlooks and prejudices are outdated.

What endures is a child’s love for magic, adventure, freedom, imagination, good food, great friends and wonderful holidays.

Adventure Series