My Enid Blyton books were some of my bedtime stories, and the first books I had when I was learning to read as a kid. Looking at them now there’s obviously a theme because I enjoyed all the ones with a naughtly little girl at the centre the most.
Before I go on, dear reader, I feel like I ought to insert some sort of disclaimer; When I got these books off the shelf it was the first time in maybe 20 or more years I’d properly looked at them, and seeing the illustrations and skimming through the pictures as an adult is quite a reavealing experience; not only for the nostalgia and memories for me personally, but also for the fact that Enid Blyton stories are so of their time and some of the societal prejudices they reveal are quite shocking.
My Bookshelf posts are all tied together by my own personal experiences of these books, with a main focus on the visual. I am someone who has been very influenced by the ‘picture books’ throughout my life and writing these blog posts has given me the opportunity to revisit childhood and adolescent memories and also research the authors, illustrators and stories behind these titles.
Following on from Mabel Lucie Attwell, Enid Blyton was a good fit, as a nostalgic English female children’s author. But phew! She is a controversial one. I did hesitate and think a bit before sharing these. But this has always been about books that I have loved, have related to or that have influenced me, and my personal reflections on them. And I’m not a racist housewife from the 50s. So there.
Enid Blyton was born in Dulwich in London in 1897. It is estimated she wrote 800 books over 40 years, and is most famous for The Famous Five series, Noddy, and The Secret Seven. I never read these.
Blyton’s books are generally split into three types. One involves ordinary children in extraordinary situations, having adventures, solving crimes, or otherwise finding themselves in unusual circumstances. The second and more conventional type is the boarding school story; the plots of these have more emphasis on the day-to-day life at school. This is the world of the midnight feast, the practical joke, and the social interaction of the various types of character.The third type is the fantastical. Children are typically transported into a magical world in which they meet fairies, goblins, elves, pixies, or other fantasy creatures. Examples of this type are the Wishing-Chair books and The Faraway Tree. In many of her short stories, toys are shown to come alive when humans are not around. I guess the Amelia Jane books I read are a bit of a combination of all three in some ways.
Much of Blytons work has been edited in reprints to change or remove passages that are deemed racist or sexist. There are lots out there on the web about the controversies surrounding some of her titles and I don’t see my blog as the place to wade in to the debate, but needless to say you can probably tell from some of the cover illustrations, we are talking about a writer from a quite different era in her attitudes. There has been many bans of her books due to the strong gender stereotypes, class-system snobbery and in some cases horribly racist content too.
For me it’s just really fascinating to look at these now and reflect on how differently we speak to children through books today. Reading some of these is like watching a comedy sketch – they are so stuck in the 50s. I’m not going to be all politically correct for the sake of it and be dishonest – I loved these stories at the time, for all the school-age drama, jolly japes and high jinx. Charming. But I can now also recognise all the dark, xenophobic, discriminatory attitudes running through them too.
Read more on Wikipedia