This is one of those posts that requires an explanation first, so buckle up.
As you all probably know, I love books. I also love books about books. So much so I have a whole virtual shelf of books about books on Goodreads. (I also have one titled books about bookshops and libraries.) I like books where people talk about their favourite books, or their experiences of loving books as they grew up. Or books full of bookish facts.
And so, when I got The Book Lovers’ Miscellany for my birthday last week I dove straight in. As with any book about books I always hope and/or expect to see the name Enid Blyton crop up. Sometimes she does, but never as often as I anticipate. Surely she should be on everyone’s favourite authors list?
That then brings me to this post. Reading the miscellany I found myself inserting Blyton into several different lists, and being pleased when she was already in some of the others. And so this post will include my imaginary insertions, plus the real ones.
The Book Lovers’ Miscellany
Written by Claire Cock-Starkey and published by the Bodleian Library (who get mentioned quite a few times inside) this is a short book full of facts all about books, authors, publishers, booksellers and more.
Ever wondered how ink is made? Or what is the bestselling book of all time? Or which are the oldest known books in the world? Highbrow to lowbrow, all aspects of the book are celebrated and explored in The Book Lovers’ Miscellany…
Between these pages you will discover the history of paper, binding, printing and dust jackets; which books have faced bans; which are the longest established literary families; and which bestsellers were initially rejected…
Also in the ‘series’ are A Library Miscellany (which I also have, but am yet to read) and A Museum Miscellany.
– Noms de plume
I’m not sure how many sections are in the book exactly, but I’d guess around 100. Even I couldn’t shoehorn Blyton into them all, but the very first one I could.
Quite a few examples are given, some I knew and some which I didn’t. I knew that the Bronte sisters wrote with men’s names but I didn’t know that Nicci French was actually Nicci Gerard and Sean French.
Absent was Enid Blyton writing as Mary Pollock*. There could even have been a footnote (there are many in the book) postulating the reason for the pen name, as I don’t think it’s ever been conclusively settled whether it was the war-time paper rations or Blyton wanting to see if her books still sold well without her name on them.
Personally I prefer reason number two. She was already getting around paper rations by having multiple publishers and had several books a year out without adding just six to the total.
She also wrote as Audrey Saint Lo and Becky Kent(short stories) plus Justin Geste (a play for grown ups).
*I couldn’t resist my own footnote to name the books written as Mary Pollock – The Children of Kidillin 1940, Three Boys and a Circus 1940, The Secret of Cliff Castle 1943, The Adventures of Scamp 1943, Smuggler Ben 1943 and Mischief at St Rollo’s 1943.
– Trilogies, tetralogies, pentalogies and so on
I now know (but will likely forget very soon) that a series with two books is a dilogy or duology, then it’s a trilogy, tetralogy or quartet, pentalogy or quintet, hexalogy or sextet and then heptalogy.
It was nice to see Lynne Reid Banks’ series The Indian in the Cupboard is a pentalogy or quintet, as although I knew it had five books I haven’t seen it so named – unlike, say, The Time Quintet (Madeline L’Engle) or the Millennium Trilogy (Steig Larsson).
Blyton could have been given as an example as she wrote some duologies (the Adventurous Four, The Wishing Chair), trilogies (Mr Galliano’s Circus, The Naughtiest Girl, The Faraway Tree), quintets (The Secret Series), sextets (St Clare’s, Malory Towers, The Barney Mysteries).
But what I need to know now is what do you call a series with eight books? Fifteen books? Twenty-one? Twenty-four? (The Adventure Series, The Secret Seven/The Five Find-Outers, The Famous Five and Noddy).
– Continuation novels
Listed are several famous examples but Blyton has dozens. Perhaps they weren’t mentioned as they are generally pretty rubbish!
The best I’ve read is probably the unofficial Return to Kirrin and the worst is a tie between any of the Naughtiest Girl ones.
+ Most prolific writers
I’m not surprised that of all the headings, Blyton also comes under this one, despite no exact number ever being settled on as to how many she wrote. (It’s hard to quantify as many of her works, even during her life time, contain partly or fully reprinted stories).
The number given here is ‘over 800’ though it is most often given as ‘over 700’, putting her in third place behind Corin Tellado (4,000!) and Kathleen Lindsay (904).
– Alternative book titles
I think everyone knows that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in America, but who knew that Casino Royale was renamed You Asked for It?
Likewise who knows that The Island of Adventure was renamed Mystery Island?
– Publishing rejections
Everyone knows that J.K. Rowling was rejected for Harry Potter several times, and there are several other high profile names on this list like Beatrix Potter and James Patterson. Gone with the Wind was rejected an incredible 38 times! There must have been a lot of publishers kicking themselves over that.
Blyton’s biggest rejection was for her only (known) attempt at a novel for grown-ups, The Caravan Goes On, though some of her short stories for grown-ups were published in magazines and newspapers. A play for adults (The Summer Storm) as also rejected.
+ Most translated authors
I knew Blyton would have to be on this list.
She is in fourth place with 3,921 distinct translated editions, after Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.
– Lost books
So many tragedies of lost books like Shakespeare’s Cardenio, but it got me thinking of The Caravan Goes On – mentioned above in rejected books. The original story has never been published and the contents aren’t known but there are theories that it was reworked into one of her children’s books. Mr Galliano’s Circus is suggested, but a more likely candidate is probably Come to the Circus, which deals with slightly more grown-up themes.
– Most popular children’s books
How could Blyton not appear here, you ask. Well, I don’t know either, but she doesn’t. It has been done by sales, and although Blyton has sold over 600 million books worldwide, none of her books individually have sold over 20 million, the lowest of the fourteen books listed.
I suppose this is fair enough, as you can’t argue with numbers like that, but I wonder how far down the list we would have to go before a Blyton book showed up?
Lack of Blyton aside this is a very interesting little book. Unfortunately my memory is terrible and I will likely forget most if not all of the facts I have learned, but that just means I’ll have to read it again some time.
Great post, Fiona!
And yes, I knew about the US title for “The Island of Adventure”.
What amazes me until today is the fact that EB never became as popular in the US as she is in Europe, Australia and India and other parts of the world.
I’ve read 3 or 4 Carolyn Keene books on her character Nancy Drew and I must say that it’s really no competition at all, Nancy Drew doesn’t contain much suspense compared with Blyton’s books.
At first I thought, well, American children don’t know any castles or underground passages, so maybe that’s why. But there are no castles or underground passages in India and Australia and yet EB is popular over there. Go figure…
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Thanks, Fiona! I always enjoy your posts. Happy Christmas to you, Suzy
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