At the age of seven or eight I and my cousin found a series of books that became pretty much our life. Me and my cousin were young but had found our passion and interest in books. We had started from simple books we could reach on the library shelves and coincidentally they had been all Enid Blyton’s (Funny thing I and my cousin had deciphered her flamboyant signature as Guid Blyton and that was pretty much what she was in our minds until much later). We started with Noddy and Amelia Jane series which we loved but at seven or eight we decided that we had enough of talking animals and puppets and were going to read something more mature and realistic. We had read the Secret Seven series and had liked them and loved the mystery it held. In the series we had felt that the characters were too wooden (especially Peter whom we hated.)We wanted to read something similar but better. On our hands were the Famous Five series.
For one whole year, we devoured the series – one after another and we loved them. Whenever we were out together we would act as if we were them with our faithful dog Timmy at our heels and would act as detectives. It was great fun. Sometimes we cooked up our own famous five stories and introduced new characters. We longed for the green lush fields that Blyton’s books took us to. We longed for the freedom of cycling and camping all alone with our cousins on the moorlands. And most of all we always wished to own a dog and the Kirrin Island.
Every book opened up a paradise where children “pulled on jerseys” and munched on gorgeous picnics of “potted meat” and juicy tomatoes, supplied by jolly farmers wives. They solved mysteries, found secret passages and foiled nasty crooks trying to steal Uncle Quentin’s secrets. Basically, our memories of the series were sunny.
A few years later, with no new books to occupy my time- I decided to revisit those sunny memories and reread the series. The result was a more honest introspection of the books. I still liked the series but had a few different views on them.
For one, I noticed the gender discrimination. I had probably noticed this when I had read the series before but it hadn’t bothered me, and while acting I had always acted one of the boy parts and those parts were always omitted. The constant instances when the boys had left the girls behind as ‘they were girls ‘and it was too dangerous’ absolutely annoyed me. Though considering the time it was written, maybe some of those discriminating acts were faced by Enid itself, but what irked me was the way it was described as right.
I used to identify myself as a tomboy and I couldn’t help notice that in every book George is powerful, but Anne is dis-empowered. She’s a scaredy-cat and her love of dolls is “babyish.” She goes along with the group but never initiates anything. The message I absorbed was that girls were weak and scared and normal ones (not tomboys) loved (and should love) all traditionally considered feminine activities like washing up, cooking , cleaning up and ‘setting up larders ’.
And finally, race. Enid’s writing was full of xenophobic comments. One of the books featured a mixed-race boy nicknamed “Sooty” because the kids at his school thought his black face looked like soot. Even though the kid was cool – inventing cool gadgets the rude name was represented as justified. American children are just always seen as spoilt children who are always represented as individuals who ‘grow up too soon’ and are too concernedabout their appearance often using make up. They are encouraged to become ‘more English’ which is synonymous with being sensible. They are constantly forced to quit their American accent and use British phrases. Doing so is seen as righteous and signs that they are improving.
In conclusion, I have always loved the writings of Enid Blyton and will always just not in the sunny faultless way I did. The fact remains, that though facing criticism, she remains one of the most loved and bestselling children’s authors ever. Her books are still selling and showing no sign of slowing down. Most importantly, her books are loved by children who the books are written for. As for adults and more mature readers the book is to be taken with a pinch of salt and read not under cynical lens but enjoyed as a light hearted read.