Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Tribute to Enid Blyton , my favorite children's author

Growing up in India in the early '70's, we didn't have much by way of entertainment. There was no TV (we got our first one in the early part of 1980), there was no computer ofcourse, radio catered mainly to adults and I hadn't even heard of video games. The circus came to town only once a year and we were taken to the movies only once every three months, so, when I wasn't playing hopscotch, seven tiles and five stones with my friends, I had my little nose buried in what I thought was the best thing since paper was invented - an Enid Blyton book!

Now, being a British author, I am not sure what her appeal was to children across the Atlantic. I am hoping my American friends will share with me what they grew up reading, but for all of us in India, Enid Blyton was to us what JK Rowling is to kids today.

What was Enid Blyton's appeal?
I think it's her versatility. She had the ability to write mysteries, silly tales, boarding school sagas (my favorite), fantasy, adventure and even circus stories. There was something for everybody. When I was around five or so, her tales about Noddy pleased me no end; from five to ten, I was totally captivated by her mystery series like the "Famous Five" and the "Secret Seven", so much so, my friends and I had our own little mystery-solving club with our special password (shhh, you can't make me reveal it) and so on. From ten onwards I was devouring every word of her boarding school series
"Malory Towers", "St. Clares" and "The Naughtiest Girl", often wishing I was a boarder in some wonderful school in England rather than just an ordinary day scholar in a Bombay school. She really did make boarding school like the most heavenly place to be! Sadly, when I turned thirteen my heart started to make way for other authors, namely Carolyn Keene of "Nancy Drew" fame, also, I had started to read the occasional Jean Plaidy.
Ofcourse, in today's sensitive political climate, Enid Blyton may come across as culturally insensitive especially when she portrays non-British characters like Claudine, the French girl in the St. Clare's series who was vain and over emotional (a French stereotype, ne c'est pas?) or Zerelda, the American girl who had more interest in being a film star than in her studies, (unlike her British classmates). She also comes across as sexist because in all of the adventure stories, the girls prepare the food and the boys protect the girls, but I say "so what", after all, it didn't have so much to do with Enid Blyton as it had to do with the period she wrote in- she was simply a product of her time. And, ahhh yes, she has even been accused of racism, for making "golliwogs" (black-faced woolen dolls) the anti-hero in the much-loved Noddy books. Noddy books today no longer have any references to golliwogs, someone told me they've been replaced by white goblins instead!


Les said...

What a coincidence! I recently mentioned Blyton in my blog and now you've posted a lovely entry in much more details (and gorgeous cover art!). I wonder if this is the Universe's way of telling me to read the two books I own by Blyton (probably have had them since 1965). I adored The Magic Faraway Tree and Well, Really Mr. Twiddle. I'm quite sure that I read these two books at least a dozen times and can still remember most of the individual stories. What a treat to reminisce about this author. I wonder if I originally came to know the books while living in Canada. I don't think any of my childhood friends in the States knew of Blyton.

booklogged said...

Just what I was thinking - What a coincidence! I had never heard of Edith Blyton until I read Les' blog.

Lotus, it's so nice to have you back in our blog-world. I feel like I missed a special part of childhood by not being exposed to these books. I checked with my library, they don't have any. Guess I'll have to search the online bookstores.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Les!

Thanks so much for the comment. I am always delighted to discuss Enid Blyton's work, and yes, I urge you to read the two books you have, I'm sure it will be a delightful experience. It's not easy to find her books in stores any more. At one time, Indian bookshops would have shelves filled from floor to ceiling with her books, but not anymore. I am planning on buying a couple of books from her boarding school series for my kids - let's hope I can still find them! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Awww, booklogged! Thanks so much for continuing to check my blog, even when I found it difficult to post stuff. Don't worry about not having read a Blyton book - I am sure I will carry some back with me to Canada and I would be more than happy to lend them to you.

kimbofo said...

I grew up in Australia where Enid Blyton was pretty big (in fact, I inherited a ragged collection of hardcover 'Famous Five' and 'Secret Seven' books from my mother who had also read them as a child). My favourite Blyton novel, however, is The Children of Cherry Tree Farm. I think I read that book a dozen times as a kid! And I remember loving that series about The Magic Faraway Tree.

Beloved dreamer said...

Thank you my dear friend for your kind words. I missed PT and it became Poetry
I have never heard of these books. Where can I find them?
Oh, can't wait for your return. Enjoy what time you have left.
with love BD

Les said...

I started re-reading The Magic Faraway Tree last night and oh, what a strange feeling. Almost like "coming home." The book is so familiar, I can almost predict exactly what will happen next. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Lotus.

Grumpy said...

Hi, It's so good to run into another member of the "Memory Lane" clan. My best was by Felix Seaton called "Two Little Indians". I literaly wore it out with reading. Your coment about PC changes is true. It's a shame people can't accept things for the erea in which they'r written. Huck Finn is a good example. Be well, do good work and keep in touch.

hellomelissa said...

s occasionally watches the "noddy" tv program, but i had no idea it was based on a classic book series. i've never read enid blyton, i'll have to keep my eyes peeled. it sounds just like something i would have loved as a kid! i was always the weird kid with her nose buried in a book as well. i read "little house" and "betsy-tacy" series, as well as "nancy drew" and "bobbsey twins."

thanks for the glimpse into your childhood-- i love those personal touches.

Annabooklover said...

It's so exciting that people from so different cultures enjoy the same books and this is a classic writer's quality in my book! I'm writing from Greece where my brother and me really devoured her books.

woman wandering said...

I adored Enid Blyton's 'Magic Faraway' series and 'The Wishing Chair' ... I loved buying my daughter the same stories and she loved them too. :)

Thanks for reminding me.

jean said...

I loved Noddy books when I was a kid but when I went to the library here in Canada a few years ago to get some for my son, I was told they were no longer in print (and not on the shelves). I wonder if that was a P.C. thing related to the golliwogs?

jean said...

P.S. I actually looked at your blog today as I've just read The Glass Palace and wondered if you had written about it. Is there anything on it or anything else by Ghosh on your blog?

jean said...

P.S. Have you written anything about Ghosh or The Glass Palace in your blog?

Bhaswati said...

I feel a bit sad to have missed reading Enid Blyton as a child. Instead, I grew up on Bengali children's literature, Indian mythology and folktales.

Your post is lovely, Lotus. Makes me want to read Blyton, even if I am way past the age range of her target audience.

Susan Abraham said...

Dearest Lotus,

What a wonderful tribute to my beloved childre's author, the late Enid Blyton. I have so many favourites that to name a few for me would be to displace others in what I would then consider to be a sacred profanity.

Yes, she was that personally infectious and she can still give my heart a vulnerable tug.

The boarding school stories, the Famous Five and the fairy stories and then there were like Rainy Day Stories, Happy Day stories, do you remember...

Gollywogs were my all time favourites.

I think what Blyton did for me was that she took me by the hand to colourful exciting worlds that I never dreamt I could enter. But they seemed to be made perfect just for me. And it was a place free from childhood oppresson ie. problems that came about for example from disgruntled teachers.

Lotus, looks like your lovely friends are back on your blog.
Have a wonderful rest of the holiday and here's to still missing you with a vengance.
Big hugs,

Lotus Reads said...

Hello kimbofo!

I envy you your collection of "Famous Five" and "Secret Seven" books. How I wish I had kept all my Blytons for my kids!

Thanks so much for stopping by. I still have the book with me - couldn't pop it in post box at London Airport (for security reasons they would allow us to post mail only the size of a thin envelope). Will mail it to you on my way back.

Lotus Reads said...

Hello, Beloved Dreamer

I'm sure Enid Blyton is available on Amazon. I'm going to be taking a look myself.

Hello, LES

You're welcome! Your enthusiasm for "The Magic Faraway Tree" makes me want to read it, too! Infact, 2 days ago I bought myself the first two books of the St. Clare's Series and my 11-year old is reading it as I type this! :)


True, Huck Fin is a great example. Thanks so much for your comment. Hope you are well and D., too.

Hello Melissa

Yes! The Noddy series on television is a hit with my little nephews, too. Does H. read the Noddy books? I could always bring him a couple, if he does.

Lotus Reads said...

Hello annabooklover

How lovely of you to leave a comment on my blog. I'm always happy to meet another reader! Yes, it is wonderful how kids from all over the world could (and still can )find a common point of reference in an Enid Blyton book. I wonder, if you in Greece also wondered what "lacrosse" was and what "ginger beer" tasted like? And didn't you wish to have a midnight feast with your friends? :) Will visit your blog soon!

Lotus Reads said...

Hello, wandering woman

OK, that's it, all you guys have convinced me to read "The Magic Faraway" series again! :)

Hello JEAN

Welcome! I started reading Ghosh's "The Glass Palace" but didn't finish it (I will have to go back to it some other time). How did you find it? I think the only Ghosh review you will find here is "The Hungry Tide".

Strangely enough, I have never looked for the Noddy series in Canada, but I am really surprised they're not available. Maybe I should carry some home with me from India?

Hello, Bhaswati

I think you and I are doing the reverse - I grew up on Enid Blyton and I am now taking great joy from immersing myself in Tagore and Premchand's (among other Indian authors) writing for children. I just love the Oxford Tagore for children and so do my kids! Thanks so much for stopping by and, no, it's never too late for a Blyton! :)

Hello, SUSE

Yes, the gollywogs sure were cute, weren't they? And I never once thought of them as being a symbol of racism, not until the interfering media put that in my head...

Thank you for your beautiful comment, Suse and also for your wonderful take on our favorite children's author!

Dawn said...

I didn't read Blyton when I was young, but did read lots of Nancy Drew! It was a bit old even when I was reading it, but I loved the mystery in it...and must admit that I still love mysteries!!!!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Dawn!

Lovely to "see" you here! After my love affair with Enid Blyton books, I switched over to Nancy Drew. I am sure I read every Nancy Drew book Carolyn Keene ever wrote! :) There was a book on Nancy Drew (a recent one) that many readers were raving about - wish I could remember what the title was.

ML said...

I grew up reading Enid Blyton's books. I loved the all and read each of them several times.

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The Pixy Princess said...

In case you're wondering why this comment is coming out of the blue - I'm reading some of your old old posts.

I'm SO glad that you share my COMPLETE love for Enid Blyton books. I was introduced to her when I was a wee little lass and inherited several copies of her books that belonged to my mum and her sisters - yes they were ALL fans too!
In fact, when she died my aunt and a friend put on an "Enid Blyton Showcase" - a tribute to the life and works of this amazing children's author. (yes, we're a geeky bunch - and proud of it)

I used to own literaly 100s of her books given to me by family and friends as Christmas and birthday prezzies - alas, I'm now down to just a handful thanks to our move to Canada.

If you're looking to replenish your store of EB books - check out Happy Book Stall on Hill Road in Bandra the next time you are in Bombay. Tell the owner you're a friend of one of the Mendonca grandchildren and I'm sure he'll pull out all the classics for you! Our family single handly used to boost sales around Christmas! ;)

Karen said...

I grew up with the "secret seven" boo of Enid... they are part of my life and I will never, ever forget about it... love!