While seeking inspiration for an article to thrill you all with tonight, I took desperate measures and turned to the internet’s most used search engine, Google, to help me find some. And boy, did Google deliver!
I found an article from the Telegraph website dated the 4th May 2013 to co-inside with the opening of Seven Stories Enid Blyton exhibition in Newcastle. The article, written by Nicolette Jones (a familiar name and face from my first Enid Blyton Society Day in 2o07– a whopping six years ago!) asks us all the important question;
Jones starts off by explaining the reasons why last year and this are so good for the Blyton bashing to end, stating that Blyton’s Famous Five have been around for 70 years and have celebrated new covers by well known illustrators, and Tony Ross, best known for illustrating the Horrid Henry books and writing the Little Princess books, has redrawn the covers for The Secret Seven.
The reinvention, and use of modern illustrators to bring these much loved classics back to life seems to suggest that Blyton is back in vogue. Is Blyton bashing at an end?
Jones looks carefully at the statistics in favour, and in fact during the Enid Blyton Society Day in 2007 looked into Blyton’s modern contemporaries by drawing parallels with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Jones carefully states that Blyton has never been out of print, even with the public backlash against her work from teachers and the BBC and has sold over 500 million copies around the world. And it seems the libraries have done quite well with Blyton being the second most popular “classic” author to be borrowed from libraries (Roald Dahl only just pipping her to the post even with the her advantage of 700 plus books).
The whole idea that Blyton was banned in libraries seems to have been made up by media hype at the time as Jones mentions, “although the “library bans” often alluded to in the press were more myth than reality,” and was accentuated by the BBC’s banning dramatisations of her work from the 1930s to the 1950s (and could maybe suggest why the two TV series in the 1970s and 1990s have been produced for ITV).
There is clearly something in Blyton that still resonates strongly with today’s children- maybe its the clearly straight-forward characters, or the freedom Blyton’s children enjoy compared to the molly coddling way of childhoods today. And it appears that she still holds some nostalgia for adults as well as “In 2008 the Costa Book Award named Blyton the nation’s best-loved author in a poll of 2000 adults” (Jones 2013). Blyton was in good company as she headed the Top 50 with 5 other prolific authors as you can see from the beginning of the list:
Top 50 best-loved authors 2013
1. Enid Blyton
2. Roald Dahl
3. J.K. Rowling
4. Jane Austen
5. William Shakespeare
Yes, the stigma attached to Blyton’s work seems to be fading, maybe helped in kind by the BBC4 biopic starring Helen Bonham Carter in 2009. As Blyton works her way in modern consciousness again however, I found the part of the article where Jones suggests that the age of the stories now makes them “quaintly retro” to be a good way of explaining why Blyton is on her way back onto children’s shelves. Also that the appeal of the books is that there is a lack of adult presence and “the language and manners have acquired charm.” I have always found a great deal of charm in Blyton’s stories and have adored the manners and language used. I think one of the biggest things that people forget about the more “classic” authors and Blyton in particular that these people realised the intelligence of children and this has been a great success of the books as a whole.
The only consistent change to the books that certain questionable aspects of race have been removed in a bid to make sure people are not offended by the significant difference in attitudes from the 1930s to the 1960s when Blyton was producing reams of children’s literature. Blyton’s very traditional gender stereotypes also come under scrutiny as groups of feminists take offence to girls being left to do the cooking and more traditional jobs while the boys explore and go on dangerous adventures. A few girls form the exception such as Dinah from the Adventure series, Wilhemina “Bill” Robinson from Malory Towers and possibly Blyton’s most famous tomboy, Georgina “George” from the Famous Five and have been advocates for change for a while.
However Jones makes a point of saying that “Even Anne’s domesticity (which readers were intended in the originals to find wet, as George does) seems only mildly unenlightened when compared to the glitter and pink jackets of so many of today’s appearance-obsessed girlie publications.” On the shelves in libraries today are a vast supply of Daisy Meadow’s “Fairy” books which are the same story repeated over and over again with different names in the titles, and glittery stars on the front, no substance to the stories but lapped up by little girls. Blyton’s books contain exciting plots and twists and turns that beg to be read and the excitement jumps off the page. Daisy Meadow’s fairy books cannot compare.
Jones ties up the article by quoting a well balanced piece from Anne Fine, a former Children’s Laureate:
“Though Enid Blyton’s work is still just as easy to criticise on grounds of literary quality, we have become infinitely more grateful for sheer readability in our children’s authors. In times of falling reading levels and limitless other distractions, we
grasp at any author who has that turn-the-page quality. And for reasons that may remain entirely mysterious to reading adults, she certainly has that.”
Overall this article has a wonderful positive outlook on Blyton’s work, encouraging people to embrace her creativity and uniqueness once more. Jones also talks about the support from internet based sources, such as the Enid Blyton Society, websites and blogs, and even fan fiction. In fact Jones mentions one of our fan fictions by name, something that struck me when I first read the article. Our own Abi’s Five Go to Hogwarts appears to have made a great impression on Jones and makes a special mention in the article as she praises the diversity of support for Blyton.
And I think, yes, the Blyton bashing is on it’s way out, but there will always be critics. As long as children keep reading her books, Blyton will live on in minds and hearts as one of Britain’s great children’s authors.