The Land of Far-Beyond, reviewed by Chris

I have been planning for a while to write about The Land of Far-Beyond, but have been held back by no longer having a copy. It seems to be out of print and second hand copies are often eye-wateringly expensive. But I have taken the plunge and for a ‘mere’ £26 have acquired a late reprint of the 1970 Dragon paperback edition (since doing so I have discovered that a new edition comes out in October 2016). The edition I have is the one shown here (this and all other images taken from the Enid Blyton Society website):

the-land-of-far-beyond-2 (1)

This book is not much discussed on Blyton sites, including this one, although there is one excellent review by Anita Bensoussane on the Enid Blyton Society website. I have always remembered it as being an unusual book and it has been interesting to re-read it now for the first time since I was, perhaps, 10 or 12. First published by Methuen in 1942, it is indeed very different to the other Blyton books, or the ones that I know, anyway. It is a loose re-interpretation of John Bunyan’s 1678 religious allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. Whilst Blyton’s story are often ‘moralistic’, sometimes gratingly so, The Land of Far-Beyond is a morality tale, with explicitly religious themes.

The book starts with a depiction of children running wild in the City of Turmoil, playing cruel tricks, stealing, and sadistically throwing stones at animals. A mysterious stranger makes ‘burdens’ appear on their backs which represent all their cruelty, flaws and sins. What used to be carried in their hearts and souls is now externalised to be part of their bodies. These burdens appear in the illustrations to look like large, rough rucksacks but they are physically unmovable and, of course, heavy and painful to carry. The only way to be rid of them is to travel the arduous journey to the Land of Far-Beyond and enter the City of Happiness (the Celestial City in Bunyan). This they can only do by following the narrow path and not departing from it.

The children are joined by five adults who have also had burdens placed on them by the stranger. They are Sarah Simple, Mr Fearful, Gracie Grumble, Dick Cowardly and Mr Scornful. As in Bunyan, the characters have names to express their characteristics. Actually, the children are the exception as they are called John, Lily, Anna, Peter and Patience, but it is explained that Anna means ‘merciful’, Peter ‘rock-like’ and Patience, well, patient (John and Lily alone are omitted from the general pattern). So the ten characters set off on their journey.

Although the details are different to Bunyan’s story, the basic principle is the same. The path to salvation is a narrow one and the problems arise from being tempted off that path. These temptations are represented by characters such as Mr Doubt, the Demons of Boredom or Lord Arrogance; or by hazards such as the river of Hate, the house of Lies or the tunnel of Disgust. On the other hand, along the way there are some allies such as Comfort, Courage and Mr Industrious.

Mostly, there is an internal logic to all this – Miss Flatter leads the travellers into the Meadows of Conceit, for example. But they only end up in the Castle of Giant Cruelty because they are helping Temper, Rage and Wrath who have injured each other fighting. It is not that the travellers themselves have exhibited these failings. At all events, gradually they all fall by the wayside or go back to the City of Turmoil, and only Anna, Peter and Patience enter the City of Happiness and lose their burdens. The book ends very abruptly at this point.

Mr Scornful does reach the City of Happiness, but is turned away at the gates because he has not lost all of his scorn or learnt all the lessons of the journey. However, an alternative route is offered to him so he may lose his burden eventually, although we are not told. He is the only one of the characters with any depth, and he does show himself often to be both brave and sensible, and acts as the leader, and the children value this. Other characters are rather hard done by, I felt. Miss Simple gives up the journey because she believes the warnings of Mr Doubt, but being simple is hardly a sin and she is kind and good-natured so it seems harsh to imply that salvation is reserved for the intelligent.

Despite being very different to Blyton’s other books, as I re-read it I thought that it was in a way slightly similar to the Faraway Tree stories and the Wishing Chair stories in that it is a series of mini-adventures, with each encounter with a new set of characters being like, say, a new land at the top of the Faraway Tree. As with Bunyan, the descriptions of the landscape of the journey are very evocative, and have an eery, dream-like quality. There is also a sense, not intended by Blyton of course, of the kind of computer games where you have to navigate various rooms or hazards to progress to the ultimate goal. I’ve since read that some computer game designers are indeed influenced by the Pilgrim’s Progress.

Finally, re-reading the book what was most instantly recognizable and striking was not the story, although it is engaging, but the extraordinary illustrations by Horace Knowles. These are the same as in the original edition and they have a strange, mediaeval character that is most haunting. Blyton was very well-served by her illustrators. For those alone I think my £26 was well spent, but in fact reading the story again was also rewarding. It is as entertaining and thought-provoking as I remembered.

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9 Responses to The Land of Far-Beyond, reviewed by Chris

  1. pixieanna says:

    I’ve always loved this book, unusually for me because I’m not a religious person at all, I used to spend hours poring over the illustrations. The meaning of Anna has always grated on me; I’m an Anna and every book I’ve seen has said it means ‘graceful’ or ‘grace’, which could still be a virtue (as in the grace of God) but has nothing to do with mercy! Small quibble though.


    • Michael Edwards says:

           I read this story many years ago; my copy is the Dragon Books edition alluded to above, and I was lucky enough that I got it sufficiently early that it cost me only a dollar or two in some second-hand book-shop (probably some time in the 1980s).
           It is quite a gripping story with a very obvious moral message, and the opening scenes in the City of Turmoil are almost eerily prophetic of the grimy urban settings and anarchic behaviour that exist today in some cities. I think rampant drug use is probably the main missing ingredient of this scene.
           However, I found it a rather depressing story (in a fascinating sort of way), and perhaps the premises and settings of the story are rather gloomy: the totally selfish behaviour and cruelty of various people in the beginning, just considered normal; the burdens, almost like living things, placed on the backs of some of the characters (I found that quite creepy); the hardships encountered on the journey – and so on. The promise of something better at the end was not quite enough to overcome this, for me. Perhaps if the ending had been longer and we actually got to see more of the City of Happiness and how the characters who reached it settled in there, it might have been a big improvement. (In contrast, at the end of C. S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle”, we get a decent glimpse of the ultimate destination many of the characters reach after the end of the old Narnia, and we see how they fit in, meet old acquaintances and friends, and so on. It’s great – except, for me, the flaw that Susan was excluded, for reasons I didn’t find quite severe enough to justify that.)
           Another thing that caused me to find “The Land of Far-Beyond” a bit gloomy was the clear implication that only a small select few achieve salvation at all. Now of course I am aware that Christian doctrine says this quite explicitly, and that this story is a Christian allegory. But, to the extent that I have spiritual views at all, they are more universalist, albeit more vague and open-ended (as I do not claim to know anything definite at all), and so that restrictive salvationism itself is something I find rather unsatisfactory. So any story that is explicitly designed to underline a restrictive salvationist message will tend to strike me as rather gloomy or depressing – especially since I am fairly sure that, if a salvationist spirituality does indeed turn out to be true, I would probably not make it into that elite group (however it be defined by various Christian groups). So I freely acknowledge that at least some of my negative perception of this story has more to do with my own world view, than with any actual characteristics of the story itself.


  2. Francis says:

    I agree the illustrations are amazing although I am unfamiliar with the book. Thanks Fiona.


  3. Michael Edwards says:

         I have a King James Bible which is illustrated throughout by Horace Knowles – no doubt he was a good illustrator with a certain style which certainly suits the Biblical context. I was presented with this Bible as a leaving-school present aged 12, in 1966, when our family moved from Adelaide (South Australia) to Melbourne (Victoria). Anyone who likes Knowles’ illustrations and has an interest in the Bible (or may even doesn’t have such an interest) may like to look for this Bible, although I have no idea if it is quite common or very rare.


  4. Denise says:

    This story still gives me nightmares at the age of 66. Unremovable burdens digging into children’s shoulders is a horrific image. It should be given a PGR rating!


  5. Nobody says:

    Have no idea what “titty-poo” means; trying to find out, but not much help online. :-(((
    Sounds like potty-mouth jibberish.


  6. Christian Jacques Bennett says:

    Great to read your post. I have just taken the plunge and bought the same copy from Amazon. It says “Used – Acceptable” condition so I am hoping for £32 it will be okay; it gets delivered in April. My mother used to read this to my brother and I before bed time, many moons ago. Decades ago I kindly loaned a friend a copy and they never returned it. So it will be great and interesting read to compare with my memories. I think this is one of Blyton’s best books.

    Liked by 1 person

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