When I joined the Enid Blyton Society in 2011 and started posting (albeit most infrequently!) on the forums I chose “Faraway_Tree” as my forum name for two reasons. The first reason was that I wanted “Shadow” as some of my very favourite Enid Blyton books as a young child were about Shadow the Sheepdog – but this name was already taken! The Faraway Tree Series were some of my other favourites, and moving from New Zealand to London felt a bit like how the children and other folk must have felt popping up the ladder at the top of the Faraway Tree to a land that was somewhat familiar, but at the same time full of strange and interesting people and places…
There are three stories in the main Faraway Tree series: The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk of the Faraway Tree. Siblings Jo, Bessie and Fanny go to live in the country with their Mother and Father and settle in a cottage on the edge of the Enchanted Wood. When exploring the woods they notice that trees are a darker green than usual and make whispering sounds “Wisha-wisha”. They soon discover the Faraway Tree, which is so tall the topmost branches reach right into the clouds, and whole lands come and go from the top. The children befriend the folk who live in the Faraway Tree, including Moon-Face, Dame Washalot, Mr Whatzisname and even the Angry Pixie, and have many adventures with their friends in the strange lands at the top of the tree.
The three books follow the same rough outline, familiar to readers of childrens’ books: a chapter or two of establishing characters and setting, a series of adventures where the children get into and out of danger and mischief, a penultimate adventure where they are in the greatest peril, and then a nice happy ending. In the Faraway Tree series this pattern is followed, with the children having a series of adventures in the strange lands up the top – some nice (e.g. The Land of Goodies, the Land of Do-As-You-Please), some nasty (Dame Slap’s School), some dangerous for over-curious children (The Land of Spells, The Land of Enchantments) and some just plain peculiar (The Land of Topsy-Turvy, The Rocking Land)! They are in the most peril in the penultimate land, and then the last land in the book is a fun land where they all have a lovely time, or a land which provides the story with a happy ending (in the case of the second book the land is not a fun one, but the Land of Magic Medicines where they get the medicine to cure their Mother’s illness). Other exceptions to this pattern are in the second and third books the three main children have a friend to stay. The other difference that strikes me is that at the end of the first two books it is the children and their friends themselves (and in the case of the second, their ill Mother) who are in peril, and in the third book it is the Faraway Tree itself which is in great danger.
What makes these books so appealing to children? Well, I can only answer what made them so appealing to me! The most obvious reason is of course pure escapism – what child (or indeed adult) doesn’t love the idea of visiting strange and wonderful lands and people? And the idea of sliding down a long curving slide, the Slippery-slip, all the way to the bottom of an enormous tree?
I think one of the primary reasons why children love these books so much is that the magical adventures happen in a somewhat familiar setting – what child doesn’t love to explore the woods and climb trees? It seems only a slight stretch of the imagination for a tree to reach right into the clouds (many do appear to, especially from the perspective of a small child), and who hasn’t thought, as a child, they have almost seen some of the little folk, or imagined how they might use rabbit burrows or toadstool rings? When I was about 8 I was half-convinced that a twisting branch leading up from the ground into a small tree was a staircase for the fairies.
The only part of these books which puzzled me as a child was the children’s Mother’s reaction (or lack thereof!) to all the strange folk her children were bringing to the house. I don’t know why in a world that included magic trees with strange lands at the top, pixies, and talking animals this particular point should strike me, but it did! I think I felt that the stories would be somehow more believable if Mother hadn’t met any of the Tree folk. I felt that only children should have the privilege of meeting fairy-folk and having magical adventures, perhaps.
It is quite ironic really that on the one hand what appealed to me about the books was their base in familiarity, and the thing that annoyed me as a child was the crossover between the children’s magical world and the adult’s “real world”!
Another aspect of their appeal must surely lie in the wonderful characters in the book – the fairy-folk, I mean. I personally find the three children to be a bit bland, and I kept getting confused between Bessie and Fanny (and I think the only reason I’m not confused about Jo is that he is the only boy sibling!). The two other children that come to stay in the second and third books, cousin Dick and Connie have slightly more personality – if it is just only a couple of points about Dick being greedy and Connie being curious and stuck-up.
The magical folk, however, are bursting with personality. My favourites are Moon-Face, who is very resourceful, but can also be very naughty, the Saucepan Man with his hot temper and funny songs, the Angry Pixie who values his privacy, and the humble red squirrel who works hard for Moon-Face collecting cushions at the bottom of the slippery-slip, and only wants a new red jersey without holes in it.
With a cast of such memorable characters and the endless possibilities of the lands at the top of the tree, it is really no surprise that these books are not only one of my personal favourites, but the favourites of many children all over the world, since they were written in the 1930s/40s right up to today.