Tag Archives: Hodder Children’s Books

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When we were reading Enid Blyton in the 1980s and ’90s it was already completely outdated, both in ideas and language.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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