We all know that Enid Blyton wrote a lot of books, an awful awful lot of books. As well as being phenomenally popular she has been a controversial figure both during and after her career. So it’s perhaps not surprising that there have been a lot of books written about her. I have most of these books, though I haven’t read all the ones I have, and I have two more on order.
The Story of My Life is Blyton’s only autobiography. I would have loved for her to have written one for grown-ups, but most of her attempts at writing for adults had ended in failure. So instead, we have this short book, full of photos, aimed at her child readers.
It’s a lovely book but it glosses over a great deal of what makes Blyton’s life interesting. For example it makes no mention of her first husband, Major Hugh Alexander Pollock. Instead it features her second husband, the surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters, along with her two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, as a happy little family. It makes out that there has only been one husband, and that he is the girls’ father, a pretence that I believe she kept up in real life too.
Likewise it doesn’t mention her parents’ divorce or her estrangement from her mother, instead focussing on the books she read as a child and how her father taught her about nature.
The biographies of Blyton’s life
There have been many more biographies than there have been biographies, from a number of different writers. The ones in this section focus primarily on Blyton’s life but as it’s nearly impossible to do that without mentioning her writing they do all feature various elements of her career.
Enid Blyton by Barbara Stoney
This is generally considered to be the definitive biography of Enid Blyton, and the one which most later biographies refer to.
After her mothers’ death many people reached out to Gillian Baverstock, wishing to write a biography of her mother. However, it was Barbara Stoney, who had already done a great deal of research on Enid Blyton after writing about a master thatcher who happened to have worked on the roof of Old Thatch, that Gillian chose to be the writer.
Gillian was adamant that she wanted the book to be the story of her mother’s life, rather than a literary criticism or an examination of how she wrote.
Stoney had access to what remained of Blyton’s papers and diaries (many of which were destroyed, reportedly by her second husband) and although many people she would have wished to interview had already passed away she nonetheless spoke with some thirty or more people who had crossed paths with Blyton at some time or another.
Enid Blyton: A Biography first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1974, with revised editions in 1992 and 1997.
Enid Blyton by George Greenfield
George Greenfield was Blyton’s literary agent, having first worked for the publisher Werner Laurie where he contacted Blyton to request permission to reprint some of her books. He was her agent for the final 15 years of her writing career, and also considered himself a friend of Blyton’s.
This biography is a short one, at around 100 pages as it is part of a ‘pocket biography’ series.
Enid Blyton published by Sutton Publishing, 1998.
Blyton also has chapter six of Greenfield’s memoir – A Smattering of Monsters – dedicated to her.
A Smattering of Monsters published by Little, Brown and Company, 1995
Tell Me About Enid Blyton by Gillian Baverstock
This is a very short and simple biography, written for children and covering the basics of Blyton’s life and career. It has got a lot of photos across its 22 pages, and it is nice that it was written by Blyton’s elder daughter.
My review can be found here.
Tell Me About Enid Blyton published by Evans Brothers, 1997. Cover above from the 2003 edition.
Gillian Baverstock Remembers Enid Blyton
This is a similar book to the above, but aimed at slightly older readers as it has less photographs but more details. The first half has Gillian’s biography of her mother, followed by a significant section written by Sheila Ray (author of The Blyton Phenomenon, see below) who writes about Blyton’s books and the criticisms of them.
It is part of Mammoth’s Telling Tales series on authors.
My review can be found here.
Gillian Baverstock Remembers published by Mammoth, 2000
The Real Enid Blyton by Nadia Cohen
Relying particularly heavily on Stoney’s biography this book purports that Enid carefully crafted her public image to ensure her fans only knew of [her] sunny persona, but behind the scenes, she weaved elaborate stories to conceal infidelities, betrayals and unconventional friendships, lied about her childhood and never fully recovered from her parents’ marriage collapsing.
Whilst I would agree that Blyton presented a happy family life to the outer world (see her autobiography, above) I suspect that where this book deviates from copying Stoney’s painstaking research it veers into the realms of sensational rumours of naked tennis and lesbian affairs.
As much as I dislike linking to the Daily Mail, I think this article about the book – bizarrely written by Nadia Cohen herself, will tell you all you need to know.
It’s one that I am unlikely to read or add to my shelves unless I came across an extremely cheap or free second hand copy.
The Real Enid Blyton published by Pen & Sword History, 2018
The biographies of Blyton’s career
Whilst the above books are mostly about Blyton’s life, there are a few that are the opposite and focus primarily on
The Blyton Phenomenon by Sheila Ray
Starting life as a thesis by librarian and lecturer Sheila Ray this book delves into the changing attitudes towards Blyton’s books during and beyond her lifetime. Ray was a children’s librarian during Blyton’s career and not only experienced but seemingly shared the attitudes of the time that Blyton’s books were ephemeral and insignificant. Moving on to teaching librarianship Ray says that she delivered a lecture guaranteed to ensure that my audience of potential children’s librarians would never buy a single Blyton book. However, soon after Blyton died and Ray began to collect written references to her, culminating in her writing the thesis that appears to have more or less changed her attitudes to Blyton.
The Blyton Phenomenon published by Andrew Deutch, 1982
The Enid Blyton Story by Bob Mullen
This one begins with a personal biographical chapter but then gives way to an analysis of some of Blyton’s main series and book themes, drawing on her personal life to give context. The last few chapters examine some of the controversies and criticisms of her works. I haven’t seen it, but apparently the book is related somehow to the TVS television programme The Story of Noddy.
The book has lots of books covers and illustrations reproduced (some in colour) as well as various photographs of Enid.
The Enid Blyton Story published by Boxtree, 1987
The Enid Blyton Dossier by Brian Stewart and Tony Summerfield
This is an unusually large book – very much a coffee table book! It’s so tall I had to scan it in two sections and join the two images together, and it’s wider than I show as well. Tragically the publishers of this book went under at the time of publishing and the small print run was remaindered, all copies being sold in places like The Works. Copies do appear second hand, though, but often at inflated prices.
The book is packed full of illustrations, photographs and book covers, most of which are in full colour. It begins with a chapter covering the basics of Enid’s life before going on to examine a variety of her books and series, providing context from her life along the way.
The Enid Blyton Dossier published by Hawk Books, 1999
Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children’s Literature by David Rudd
Described as an academic study of Enid’s works, I assume that this is either a thesis, or like above, a thesis that has evolved into a book. I have a copy on order (if you want one of your own I would shop around – it’s selling for £119 new at Waterstones, but was around £60 when first published and second hand copies vary wildly in price, mine was a little under £40.) so I will update this when I know more!
For now the synopsis will have to do:
Blyton has captivated children worldwide for almost eighty years, but there has been very little serious critical attention paid to her. This book remedies this, looking particularly at her three most popular and well-known series, Noddy, the Famous Five and Malory Towers . It is the first study to draw extensively on the view of her readership, past and present, and to use a variety of critical approaches to show how adult criticism has consistently missed the secret of her appeal.
Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children’s Literature published by Macmillan, 2000
Enid Blyton – The Untold Story by Brian Carter
Despite the title suggesting tales of naked tennis and lesbian affairs, this is a serious look at Blyton’s writing career and particularly the parts that are less well documented. It examines primarily her non-fiction writing, especially that written early in her career for teaching purposes. It does segue into a chapter about clairvoyance, and so your mileage may vary with that part of the book, but otherwise this is very much a book worth having.
My review can be found here.
Enid Blyton – The Untold Story published by Bloomsfield Publishing, 2021
Enid Blyton’s literary life by Andrew Maunders
Published at the end of 2021 this is another quite academic book, attempting to reveal some of the secrets of the enigma that is Blyton. It does look at her personal life, but also her evolving career, her reputation, and some analysis of both well-known and lesser-known books.
Enid Blyton – A Literary Life published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2021
These two probably fall under the broad category of biography, but both are told through the lens of the author rather than taking a more unbiased approach.
A Childhood at Green Hedges by Imogen Smallwood
Imogen’s book has the subtitle a fragment of autobiography by Enid Blyton’s daughter. I think it is well-known that Imogen, Blyton’s younger daughter, had a more difficult relationship with her mother when compared to Gillian. Despite this she was heavily involved in the Enid Blyton estate and was still attending events celebrating her mother’s life as late as 2012, aged 76.
This book Imogen’s story, which of course is entwined with her mother’s, and gives an unparalleled insight into what went on inside Green Hedges, albeit from the viewpoint of a child.
A Childhood at Green Hedges published by Methuen, 1989
Looking For Enid by Duncan McLaren
I have chosen to put this alongside Imogen’s book as although this isn’t a story about Duncan McLaren’s personal life, it is partly the story of a sort of pilgrimage he takes, visiting locations that Blyton did, rereading her books and making up stories of his own about her life.
It has divided fans, I believe, as it is quite irreverent at times and clearly doesn’t appeal to everyone but I found it fun.
Looking For Enid published by Portobello Books, 2007
Lastly, a slightly odd sounding category, books that focus on places that Blyton had a relationship with.
Enid Blyton and her Enchantment with Dorset by Dr Andrew Norman
I haven’t read this one yet but even I know that Blyton used several Dorset locations in her book, she holidayed in the area and there is an endless belief that she based Kirrin Castle on Corfe Castle.
This book is an account of the various visits Blyton and her family made to Dorset, interspersed with chapters about the Famous Five books which are set in the area.
Enid Blyton and Her Enchantment with Dorset published by Halsgrove, 2005
Enid Blyton at old Thatch by Tess Livingston
This is a slim book which, by no coincidence, I bought while visiting the Old Thatch Gardens back when they were open.
Naturally the book contains information about Old Thatch but also expands the story out to encompass Bourne End, and its fictional counterpart of Peterswood.
Phew, well that was supposed to be a quick and easy post but turned into about six hours work and 2,000 words.
This will be one of the posts that I update when new books come out, or I actually get around to reading more of the ones listed. I have read more than the reviews might suggest, but how many have you read?