Six months ago, though it feels like less than that, I wrote about English Heritage vs Enid Blyton. The furore that time was over English Heritage updating their website to mention some criticisms of Blyton’s writing. I found the update poorly done, giving undue prominence to accusations of racism, sexism and so on, but defended their thought process in doing so. I was therefore pleased when they made a further update which added more positive information on Blyton, while retaining a slightly reworded paragraph on her controversies.
Although I have titled those posts English Heritage vs Enid Blyton, it would probably be more accurate to say it was English Heritage vs Enid Blyton’s fans, who on the whole took it very badly. There were some reasoned arguments both for and against, but also a great deal of ridiculous over-defensive nonsense.
And unfortunately we appear to be right back at that point with words and phrases like snowflake, PC brigade, woke, wokeism, (and for some absolutely inexplicable reason wokey cokeys), being thrown around by rather a lot of people who do not appear to know what they are talking about.
What on earth has Jacqueline Wilson done?
Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘crime’ is to have written a book. The book is The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure.
Primarily known for writing original children’s novels (my favourites include The Suitcase Kid, The Lottie Project and the Hetty Feather series) Wilson has, more recently, begun to write her own versions of classic stories.
The first, Four Children and It, came in 2012, and is a modern story based on Five Children and It by E Nesbit. I have read this and found it very enjoyable. It retained much of Wilson’s storytelling style but also the whimsical yet often troublesome nature of making a wish to a Psammead.
Then came Katy, in 2015, a modern retelling of What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, and then another E Nesbit retelling, The Primrose Railway Children, in 2021. I have read and enjoyed both the originals of these stories, and I would like to read Wilson’s versions too, at some point.
And now, of course, it’s the Faraway Tree’s turn. There seems to be some confusion at the moment, as the book is not out yet. It is due out at the end of May, and so, naturally none of the foaming-at-the-mouth ranters on Facebook have actually read it.
What they have read, though, is the Daily Mail’s version of events. Judging by the Daily Mail’s article(s) they haven’t the foggiest clue what’s going on either.
When is a rewrite not a rewrite?
The Daily Mail doesn’t seem to know if this book is a rewrite or not. Hint: it’s categorically not. The clue is rather in the title of the book – The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure.
In their sensationalist headline they call the book a woke rewrite, a phrase they use later in the article too.
But they also admit that Wilson has said the book is a follow on… rather than a rewrite. They also quote Wilson as saying I had such fun writing a brand new Faraway Tree book.
They follow this (in their style of writing an article then adding related / contradictory / repeated content as captions to the photos used) with A beloved novel by Enid Blyton has been rewritten by Jacqueline Wilson to airbrush alleged sexist elements.
Then Mrs Wilson said: I would agree with you in that I’m not actually updating it, I’m following on.
They then quote the The Free Speech Union, Classic works of children’s literature should not be rewritten to make them more politically correct.
And claim that this new book is the second time the book has been changed. It was updated in the 1990s to change the children’s names from Dick and Fanny to Rick and Frannie.
And lastly: This year’s rewrite will also not be the first time Mrs Wilson has change other classic authors’ works.
So… is it a rewrite or not? Because the author (and the Editorial Director at Enid Blyton Entertainment) has clearly stated that this is a new book, yet the Daily Mail use the word rewrite (or a variation of) seven times, not to mention their uses of updated and changed. It’s almost as if they are trying to stir the pot by claiming that Wilson has done a rewrite of the original.
The Daily Express isn’t much better, though they stick to the rewrite story right until the end of their article, before extensively quoting Wilson saying that it isn’t a rewrite.
Enid Blyton ‘wouldn’t be thrilled’ with woke The Magic Faraway Tree rewrite..
ENID BLYTON’S The Magic Faraway Tree is being rewritten again for political correctness… undergoing a ‘woke’ gender-neutral rewrite…
After more than 70 years, Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series is being rewritten to appease the political correctness of today…
The original book, which was released in 1943, will also be tweaked…
After Jacqueline Wilson was confirmed to be making some significant changes to The Magic Faraway Tree…
They also try to accuse Wilson of making alternations to the book, before finally getting to the truth.
The Facebook fans have either not read the article or have not read it properly because the majority of them are bemoaning a rewrite that doesn’t exist.
Some of the more ridiculous criticisms included accusing Jacqueline Wilson of using Enid Blyton’s name to make herself famous.
Jacqueline Wilson. Dame Jaqueline Wilson, awarded an OBE for services to literature in schools. Author of over 100 books, books which have sold over 10 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages. Dame Jaqueline Wilson, Children’s Laureate from 2005-2007, a holder of five honorary degrees from UK Universities… I think she’s already pretty famous, don’t you?
Then, as usual, the cries of What next?? Shakespeare? Well, first, it’s not a rewrite, and secondly, Shakespeare’s ideas have been adapted, lampooned and rewritten many times over. (Also suggested have been Dickens and Austen, who I’m sure have both had their ideas reused, though probably less often than Shakespeare.)
Here are ten books based on Shakespeare’s plays just as an example. It’s not on that list but even Moby Dick was heavily inspired by Shakespeare. And of course, there are countless films, including many which take the original plot and characters and plant them in a different environment. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) for example. Or my favourite bizarreness, the film West Side Story (1957) which is also based on Romeo and Juliet, then has a cheerleader remake (Bring It On 5: In It to Win It) where two opposing teams (also called the Sharks and the Jets) compete. I know these are films and not books, but as Shakespeare’s works are plays, designed to be performed rather than read, I think they’re still relevant.
There were also the usual accusations of trying to ‘erase’ history, which is blatantly untrue, as this is a new story set in the present day.
And lastly, there seems to be a lot of ‘leave Blyton alone’ comments. This isn’t an attack on Blyton. This is an author who loved the books, read them over and over as a child, and is now writing her own story – an homage, if you will.
Buried amongst all the woke rewrite nonsense is a bit of information on what this new book is actually about.
Three kids, Milo, Mia and Birdy, are on a countryside holiday when they wander into an Enchanted Wood. Among the whispering leaves, there is a beautiful tree that stands high above the rest. The Magic Faraway Tree is home to remarkable creatures including a fairy called Silky, her best friend Moonface and more. Birdy is delighted to find that fairies are real. Even her older brother and sister are soon won over by the magic of the Faraway Tree and the extraordinary places they discover above it, including the Land of Unicorns. But not every land is so much fun. Danger looms in the Land of Dragons. Will Moonface’s magic work in time to save the children?
I really like the idea that the Faraway Tree is always there, and now and again, children discover it. Perhaps not that often, but maybe once in every hundred years the right group of children come along and befriend Moonface and Silky and the Saucepan Man, who are of course, immortal.
To be honest, I’d have been happy if she had plonked Jo, Fanny and Bess in the 21st century and have them visit more or less the same lands and have the same adventures, but against a modern backdrop, because that sort of thing fascinates me. I often wonder about how the Famous Five would have fared in the present day, and have even come up with a few stories in my head about them as grown ups today.
But then again I love fan fic, and all the what-ifs it offers. What if the Famous Five were from 2022? What if Philippa Mannering loved animals, and her brother David hated them? (I created that one on the spur of the moment but now I’m definitely intrigued and will probably spend too long thinking about it).
And to me, that’s what this is. It’s fan fic of the most epic kind. Wilson is in the privileged position of being a famous author who is able to have fan fiction published on a large scale with powerful advertising. Anyone could write a Katy novel or anything by E Nesbit as they are in the public domain, but not just anyone could get them professionally published on a large scale. Only a select few are given permission to write in the Blyton canon.
If you don’t like fan fiction, or films which wildly reimagined the classics then this might not be for you. You also might not like it if you aren’t a fan of Wilson’s, and that’s OK. But otherwise to dismiss it out of hand purely because it’s based in the now, and therefore reflects more modern attitudes is, in my opinion, just daft.
I will of course be reading it and reviewing it when it comes out, and I would be interested in the thoughts of anyone else who reads it too.
If you want to hear what Wilson said in full you can listen to the Radio 4 programme for another couple of weeks, the interview is at around 2 hours 45.