We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Enid Blyton

I recently returned from a family holiday in a rented cottage. A nice thing about staying in such places is poking around in the bookshelves, and having time to read random books. I ended up reading aloud to my son Five On a Secret Trail by Enid Blyton, partly for the nostalgia.

The Internet didn’t exist when I first read Enid Blyton, so I know little about her but vague memories of adventure stories. Obviously I ended up looking her up on Wikipedia, and boy, is that page a hoot.

Blyton’s work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books

This sounds like fun, and it is.

Many of her books were critically assessed by teachers and librarians, deemed unfit for children to read, and removed from syllabuses and public libraries.

Awesome!

From the 1930s to the 1950s the BBC operated a de facto ban on dramatising Blyton’s books for radio, considering her to be a “second-rater” whose work was without literary merit.

By now I am very much starting to like Enid Blyton. Literary critics and the BBC hate her: this is strong praise in my book.

Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate from 2007 until 2009, wrote that “I find myself flinching at occasional bursts of snobbery and the assumed level of privilege of the children and families in the books.” The children’s author Anne Fine presented an overview of the concerns about Blyton’s work and responses to them on BBC Radio 4 in November 2008, in which she noted the “drip, drip, drip of disapproval” associated with the books.

Fred Inglis considers Blyton’s books to be technically easy to read, but to also be “emotionally and cognitively easy”. He mentions that the psychologist Michael Woods believed that Blyton was different from many other older authors writing for children in that she seemed untroubled by presenting them with a world that differed from reality. Woods surmised that Blyton “was a child, she thought as a child, and wrote as a child … the basic feeling is essentially pre-adolescent … Enid Blyton has no moral dilemmas … Inevitably Enid Blyton was labelled by rumour a child-hater. If true, such a fact should come as no surprise to us, for as a child herself all other children can be nothing but rivals for her.”[134] Inglis argues though that Blyton was clearly devoted to children and put an enormous amount of energy into her work, with a powerful belief in “representing the crude moral diagrams and garish fantasies of a readership”.

In other words, Blyton writes about children having adventures with goodies and baddies and it’s all jolly good fun, and the protagonists are middle class to boot. Literary critics hate that, and I rather like it. I also like the portrayal of children as independent and capable. In Secret Trail, George goes off camping on her own and her parents are unconcerned. The children suspect they are onto some criminals and they investigate instead of running for help. Someone complains of a broken ankle and Julian does not call an ambulance, he diagnoses it as just a sprain. Jolly good stuff.

Eric Raymond writes of literary criticism being at odds with good science fiction:

Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.

We do not want character development and moral dilemmas, we want adventure and sense of wonder. I can always spot a good SF read when the Amazon reviews are all complaining about two dimensional characters. Enid Blyton’s critics are unwittingly recommending her in the same way. My son wants to hear about camping in thunderstorms, hidden caves and mysterious ruined cottages.

There are also complaints of sexism and all the other isms. On the subject of the former in fiction, John C Wright (whose Golden Oecumene trilogy I reviewed, and, as I discovered Googling for that link, Brian Micklethwait received email about back in 2004) has interesting things to say.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

45 comments to Enid Blyton

  • RRS

    Not being R C, I do not hesitate to recommend to all pseudo-critic wordsmiths, inflated presenter-personalities (not otherwise nefariously engaged) to preface all their verbiage with the remarkable words of the current Pope,

    Who am I to judge?

    But, of course they can’t, lest their desired image not project.

    The faces on the balloons disappear when the gas lets out.

  • Jason

    My children were enchanted by the freedom granted to the characters in ‘Swallows and Amazons’, which led to a number of bedtime discussions about maturity and decision-making – between a 9-, 10- and 45-year-old. Lucky for them there’s no banned books in my house.

    I may still leave it a few years before we get on to Crowley.

  • M2P

    Enid Blyton books were everywhere when I was growing up in the 70s (mainly Noddy and Famous 5), and were also on radio and TV. I read all of them many times and I don’t recall any sense of disapproval. They were also widely available in libraries and widely translated.

    That quote from Eric Raymond is, however, a good example of chippy paranoia. SF is the same as every other genre – ones which are badly-written don’t do as well as the ones that are. Blaming it on some kind of nasty literary elite is just odd. What’s he suggesting – that people only approve of books that are about “esthetic theory”? What absolute twaddle.

    I kind of like SF, but there’s a frequent undercurrent of the misunderstood genius struggling against common wisdom that often sounds like the moaning of a spotty sixth-former who doesn’t get invited to parties much.

  • David Crawford

    Lit-crit SF.

    As Hank Hill said about Christian rock, “you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse”.

  • Russ in TX

    That’s probably the worst part of it to pull out without additional context. By taking on accidentia vs essentia directly, he avoids falling into what you’re describing, M2P.

  • M2P

    OK, well I’ll do him (and you) the courtesy of reading it in full – thanks.

    I suppose my point deep down is that I have a literary degree and I don’t recognise that description at all; on the contrary, I’m always pleasantly surprised at the sheer range of styles that are described as “good” by academics as well as by wider readership.

    That description of Blyton is oddly similar to some criticisms of JK Rowling – that it’s linear and easy to read. Maybe I should read Harry Potter after all.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I was a Secret Seven girl myself. Unlike M2P, I do remember the sense of disapproval. It was well known enough that my parents joked about it – although they seemed happy enough to take me to the newsagent to buy the next one for 17½p. Though now I think about it, the reason I remember the price is that I always bought Enid Blytons with my own money whereas I usually received books by more prestigious authors as gifts.

  • Sigivald

    We do not want character development and moral dilemmas, we want adventure and sense of wonder

    I like both, though not always at the same time.

    I’m perfectly happy to read space opera SF, or the non-SF equivalent – I’m currently running through Cornwell’s Sharpe books after inexplicably not doing so after reading the first one years ago – or with something as involved and “modern literature” as Iris Murdoch.

    What I want is neither nothing-but-adventure-stories or nothing-but-Endless-Character-Development-And-Moral-Conflict.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    Yes, these types of books are “deprecated”. I have just checked the Mississauga, Ontario library system. Although a number of Arthur Ransome’s adult books are listed, none of the Swallows and Amazons series can be found. Gone.
    Might as well have been burned on a bon-fire.
    It is more than ‘snobbery’: it is jealous hate.

  • I don’t know if it was posted here, but something that I saw elsewhere is, I think, relevant:

    From Harvard Business School: How Crowds and Experts Kickstart the Arts

    The money quote:

    “Most of the disagreements were on projects that the crowd liked but that the judges would potentially have given less money to or not have funded at all”

  • Fred the Fourth

    Sigivald: Try O’Brien’s “Aubrey – Maturin” series for the best of both. (Sheesh. I wrote “goth” instead of “both” just there…and I almost left it that way, just to mess with y’all.)

  • NickM

    “If you want good read, buy a book. If you want to be moved, have an enema.”

    -Mark Twain.

    Rob (and everyone) if you haven’t read the essay by Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”. It is brilliant and it gets the whole “genre” thing. The “literary types” hate “genre fiction” for a very simple reason. It sells.

    They were even mealy-mouthed about the late, great Sir Terry.

  • JohnW

    You will not believe the garbage my nephew and niece have had to read for English O level – To Kill a Mockingbird [a story resting on the supernatural power of demented whiteys] and Heroes by something calling itself Robert Cormier [there are no such things as heroes, apparently.]
    It would be less harmful to break a child’s arm than compel him to study such soul-destroying nonsense.

  • Laird

    Not growing up in the UK I had never heard of Enid Blynton until now. But I plan to give her a read to see what the fuss is about; it turns out that our local library had one (one!) of her books on the shelf, which I’ve requested.

    As a child I loved the Tom Swift Junior series, which, like Natalie, I bought with my own money ($1.25 in hardback). They were short on character development and long on “adventure and a sense of wonder” (which was helped along by Tom’s inventive genius). It was also a good introduction to SF. No literary merit whatsoever (they were churned out assembly-line fashion by a team of contract writers), just good fun. Years later I came across my old TSJ books in a box and started reading them to my son, who loved them too. My original collection consisted of only a dozen or two of the books, but I’ve since acquired almost all of the series (thanks, Amazon).

    I view the principal purpose of children’s books as being to get kids engaged in reading for the sheer joy of it. Developing moral character is secondary (that’s my job, not some author’s); literary merit is irrelevant; and inculcating them in currently fashionable, politically correct social ideas is decidedly a negative. I pay no attention to critics, other than to note that any book which has won some prestigious award such as the Newbery Medal is to be avoided like the plague.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I’d rather kids read Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton than the modern Jacqueline Wilson and Malorie Blackman tripe.

  • Paul S.

    Delighted to read this. I have most of the Famous 5 books at home, read by my daughter and to be read, I hope, by younger sons. The BBC actions on Blyton seems remarkable. A project to de-legitimize what was once a normal childhood? Such malicious energy.

    May I recommend “The Great Brain.” A terrific book about young boys growing up in Utah in 1895. It opens with the installation of the first flush toilet in town and the owner’s entrepreneurial kids making a buck out of suspicion of the new-fangled gadget. Each chapter gets better than the last. And – which is why I might have jumped to this book from the Famous 5 – there is a terrific rescue of kids lost in a deep cave system, through the 10 year-old Great Brain’s use of a dog in heat.

  • James Waterton

    I remember reading Blyton’s trippy psychedelic books when I was seven or eight – the Magical Wishing Tree, some kind of flying chair…man was she on something potent but wherever it was taking her, it was grand storytelling as far as I was concerned.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    They love them some angst…People like this are toxic to SF….

    Not just SF. Have you read any Scandinavian crime fiction recently? I immodestly quote from my own Amazon review of Åke Edwardson’s “Room No. 10”:

    Basic Nordic noir with everyone wallowing in existential despair and no action. Served a bowl of soup, Edwardson’s characters would let it go cold while musing what soup *means*. For several paragraphs. And then they’d leave without eating it.

  • pete

    They had Enid Blyton books at our local library in suburban Manchester in the 60s.

    My sister loved them and read every one while I preferred William and Biggles.

  • Lee Moore

    The BBC’s attitude to Enid Blyton reminds me – I blush to recall it – when I was so naive that I thought that simply stopping the BBC doing news and current affairs programmes would be enough. But it’s whole ethos, suffusing all its divisions, is to continua la lutta, and always has been. Only a first strike will do.

  • Rob Fisher

    M2P: Yes, Eric Raymond is certainly not blaming the downfall of SF on literary critics; he is warning would-be authors from striving for certain qualities because it leads to bad SF *and* does not sell as well. I quoted that part because it describes what I see reviewers asking for and what I don’t want.

    “I have a literary degree and I don’t recognise that description at all” — it might not be academics so much as whoever writes reviews in the mainstream press.

  • Personally, I was a fan of the Famous Five and the Five Findouters and Dog, never was too wild about the Secret Seven. Although, I go along with James Waterton here, the Wishing Tree and the Magical Wishing Chair really do seem to have been inspired by some sort of psychotropic substance…

    The thing is, Blyton presents an England which is everything the BBC loathes. It would be contrary to every principle it currently holds to promote this in any way.

    Laird,

    When it comes to Blyton, think the Bobbsey Twins.

  • Veryretired

    The vital element is helping a child find those books that draw him or her into reading as a truly pleasurable pasttime. Within obvious limits regarding gruesome violence or depraved sex, the books can be fairy tales or adventures or any number of other forms, as long as they inspire the child to seek out another book to read, and then another.

    My mother wanted to be a librarian when she was in college, and she was always reading a book of some kind. She constantly encouraged me to try various types of books, giving me several that she had found interesting as I got older.

    My own kids soon learned that dad might say no about toys or candy at Target, but rarely refused a book, from coloring books to illustrated stories to something about sports or dinosaurs. The result was very gratifying—all love reading, and read well above their age-level all through school.

    The guiding rule was repeated over and over through the school years—If you can read well, you can do anything else you have an interest and aptitude for; but if you can’t read well, every other subject becomes much more difficult.
    I’ve already given both the grandsons many books, and their own kindles, and pushed the older one with some books about his favorite subjects that he will not be able to read himself without serious effort. Collections of Sherlock Holmes and some Asimov are waiting in the wings.

    Some family traditions are worth preserving.

  • William O. B'Livion

    We do not want character development and moral dilemmas, we want adventure and sense of wonder.

    Why can’t we have *both*?

    There are many decent SF and Fantasy writers, and some of them *do* show character development and moral delimmas in the midst of adventure. Take John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series–we get to see the main characters (well, Faith and her Sister anyway) grow and develop. In D. Drake’s Honor Harrington series we see many of the characters change and develop over time.

    Both are *awesome* stories in the SF/F realm.

    And moral dilemmas are fine, as long as they are *resolved* by the application of integrity and morals, not by being weak and whiny and letting the world force you into a fiat accompli.

  • jdm

    Rob F.,

    thanks for the link to review of John Wright’s “The Golden Oecumene”. I read the first book, as well as “Awake in the Night Land”. While I recognize that the author is a skilled craftsman, I was unable to penetrate the prolixity (yes, I had to look that up). Not smart enough, I guess. Your review was, for me, so very informative that I may try to read the first book as well as its brethren again.

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    After you’ve read Blyton’s Famous Five, try to get a video spoof by Comic Relief, called (I think) ‘The Five go mad in dorking’, or some such nonsense. Timmy, the dog, is always getting shot, but the five solve all the crimes, and peace is restored to the world!

  • Barry Sheridan

    I had no idea Enid Blyton was seen in such light. The intellectually disconnected who staff the BBC, the media in general and academia do come out with conclusions that really are weird sometimes. Any book that encourages a child to read is good, being easy to read is a vital component in sparking the interest. People always move on so why criticise a gentle beginning.

  • Roue le Jour

    Nick Gray,

    As I’m sure you will recall, that would be the “Comic Strip” and “Five Go Mad in Dorset”.

    Cats,

    “The thing is, Blyton presents an England which is everything the BBC loathes.”

    Indeed it does, and yet I distinctly recall that not being the case in the 50s.

  • bloke in spain

    It’s a weird thing, talking about lack of characterisation in SF. Reading William Gibson’s novels feels, to me, like walking through my own life with his characters, just people I didn’t happen to meet on the way. There’s quite a few SF writers manage to achieve the same trick. Turning to the mainstream & supposedly good characterisation writers, I’m usually thinking, WTF are these people? On what planet do people behave like this?

  • Roue le Jour

    I lost touch with Gibson after Virtual Light and have recently caught up on Kindle. He’s one of the few writers I can reread and still enjoy in spite of knowing how it ends.

    For character development I can’t rate Michael Z Williamson’s The Weapon highly enough.

  • Niall Kilmartin

    JohnW, you need not be too concerned about Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. A large part of its fame does indeed come from the story fitting the PC trope of its time, but by happy chance it is a good book, and (inevitably, as part of that) presents southern 30’s whites (one of whom the author was) as people with many virtues and strengths. Some characters whose racism would have modern US undergraduates dying of heart attacks (if only :- ) ) – and have me expressing courteous dissent – are nevertheless shown as human beings with principles and the courage to practice them; virtues the children are taught to admire by their voice-of-the-author father (see e.g. the incident of Jem and Scout’s punishment of having to read to the old ex-Confederate lady). Just read the book yourself (you _might_ enjoy it) and help your nephew and niece notice the aspects a teacher may downplay.

    It is probably not _just_ because it presents the idea that an accusation of rape might be false that the book is now seen is “no longer relevant” at Northwestern university. It shows southern society of the 30s as populated with human beings, not PC caricatures.

    I was surprised at another post saying the Mississauga, Ontario library system has no Swallows and Amazon’s books; what would the PC brigade have against them, I wonder. Are they perhaps not sufficiently supportive of the narrative about the past? If you’re teaching your class that girls in the 30s were never allowed to be heroes, it must be really annoying if a kid raises their hand and asks “What about Swallows and Amazons? What about Nancy and Peggy and the Walker girls – and Dot, and Port and Starboard, and Daisy and that super pirate Missee Lee? How come there are twice as many girls as boys in the first book, and three girls per boy in a later one?” The attitude of the children to ‘native’ cultures (e.g. north american indians, cannibals in the south seas) is admiring and envious – and it’s at least fussy, even by today’s standards, to mind the mild-for-the-times terms in which they express it.

    My childhood books were not Enid Blyton but Biggles: I shudder to think what the PC lot would say about them. Sadly, having looked at some as an adult, I’d have to agree they were not in fact that well written. I still read and re-read quite a few books that children read too, but seldom Biggles.

  • ed in texas

    The thing to remember when you encounter a popular work that critics say ‘has two dimensional characters’ or ‘lacks character development’, that it must have a great deal of plot development, by way of compensation. Having read stuff that’s the inverse (not much storyline, but you know everything the protagonist feels), I personally would label them as ‘a tough road’. (I’m sure the author felt it was cathartic.)

  • M2P

    I’m still sceptical about the idea of a Blyton embargo. I suspect the main reason they’re fading a little is that some of the themes and language are undoubtedly dated. As Niall says, some books that we remember fondly actually aren’t well written.

    I read Five Go Down To The Sea quite recently for fun and it’s enjoyable but quite naff in places – Julian’s priggish and patronising manner is annoying, and Anne’s limp-wristed girliness equally so. Dick and George are stronger characters, and I’m pleased to say I own a dog similar to the wonderful Timmy. I don’t think it’s “politically correct” to have books with strong female characters though, and not just ones who want to be boys. The plot is also a bit dubious, and her villains are unconvincing to any child who has read a Roald Dahl book.

    I think these things are just fashion, and much less susceptible to the Jacqueline Wilson-peddlers than we seem to think. My children were peddled that nonsense and just ignored it, as did all their friends.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    M2P, Wikipedia lists as one source the BBC’s own version of events. It could be that just one person in a position of influence didn’t like Blyton’s style.

  • […] Enid Blyton. I’ve never heard of this author before but she seems to disliked by all the right people for all the right reasons, so I think I now have lots of future holiday presents ready. […]

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Enid Blyton’s books vary quite a lot. The Magic Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair books are, as others have said, imaginative and surreal. I found them quite scary aged about nine, though my memories are not clear. In contrast the Famous Five and Secret Seven series are set firmly in a safer* version of the real world. The BBC editor Jean Sutcliffe mentioned in Rob Fisher’s link of 12:31 had a point when she described Blyton as “this competent and tenacious second-rater”. However she was wrong think that the “astronomical heights of success” Blyton reached were solely due to good advertising. Children genuinely loved her books. From my experience, that was partly because the Secret Seven and Famous Five are formulaic and predictable. I mean formulaic and predictable in terms of the overall way the books turn out – the individual plots of each story have twists and turns enough, but you can be quite sure that the status quo will be intact at the end with lashings and lashings of ginger beer all round. I liked that.

    At other times in my childhood I read and loved other children’s books that astounded and challenged me, but I didn’t want to be astounded and challenged all the time, thank you very much.

    *I can, having been a parent, kind of see why parents might be worried by some aspects of the books other than sexism. The approximately ten year old members of the Secret Seven thought nothing of, for instance, climbing out of their bedroom windows at two in the morning and going to the abandoned quarry or whatever to spy upon (and usually be captured by) a criminal gang. Do not try this at home, kids!

  • llamas

    I’m from the place and generation where all of Enid Blyton’s works were an integral part of my childhood, along with Swallows and Amazons, and a dozen other ‘genre’ writers in similar vein. Last-time-but-one that I was in the UK, I went to Coniston Water, just so that I could ride on the steam yacht ‘Gondola’ and see the scenes of my childhood imagination – so many decades later, that’s how it stuck with me.

    Now you come to mention it, I had never thought of it, but it’s quite true – apart from Noddy and Big-Ears (which are fairly-innocuous storied for children 3-5 years old), I can’t recall any other Enid Blyton stories ever appearing on BBC radio.

    For US readers not familiar with the Blyton oeuvre – think the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and go from there.

    Counting Cats hits the nail on the head – all of these writers represented an England, and specifically, a childhood, which the BBC and all of the associated biens-pensants loathe with a visceral loathing. But I have a slightly-different take on this. It’s hard to imagine that they loathe it per-se, because it’s where most of them came from, certainly in the period that I was consuming these products. Middle- and upper-middle-class homes, decent public (= private for US readers) schools, good universities – this was the common background and experience of a large part of the influential people at the BBC, the major publishing houses and the general commentariat in those days. Still is, truth-be-told.

    I think they hate these genres so much because they expose a huge number of children, of all classes, to descriptions of that sort of life – a life which they are ashamed of having enjoyed, a life which they are busy persuading us is wrong, and evil, and racist, and sexist, and which does not jibe at all with the ‘social justice’ narrative they are pushing so hard. It’s a form of self-loathing, and a mark of ‘right’ thinking among their peers.

    It’s partly the same reasons that the BBC didn’t broadcast pop music (= American music) until the late 1960s, and only then because ‘pirate’ radio and Radio Luxemburg forced them into it – kicking and screaming. Everyone who was anyone just knew that America was a terrible place, cheap and tacky, vulgar and materialistic. We’re so much better and more-cultured, and we certainly don’t want to pollute the lower classes with any of that cheap American tat, do we? And yet, those same people all longed to visit the US (very difficult due to currency restrictions) and to have been there or even (joy of joys) to have lived there – the ultimate mark of status and cosmopolitan-ness among that generation of those people. I still see it today, when I go back to England – the hate, that is love at the same time.

    Fascinating. I are fascinated.

    llater,

    llamas

  • I read Five Go Down To The Sea quite recently for fun and it’s enjoyable but quite naff in places – Julian’s priggish and patronising manner is annoying, and Anne’s limp-wristed girliness equally so. Dick and George are stronger characters, and I’m pleased to say I own a dog similar to the wonderful Timmy. I don’t think it’s “politically correct” to have books with strong female characters though, and not just ones who want to be boys. The plot is also a bit dubious, and her villains are unconvincing to any child who has read a Roald Dahl book.

    My Dad told me this recently, when we were talking about how he’d read all of the Famous Five books to all six of his children in sequence. Her plots are repetitive, missing huge chunks of detail (what product are all these damned smugglers actually smuggling?) and the main characters annoying. But none of that matters, because the kids don’t pick up on it: they just like the stories as they are. And that’s what Enid Blyton was so good at, tapping into what kids wanted to read.

    Also, her output was astonishing. Besides Famous Five there were Secret Seven, plus the *Noun* of Adventure stories: each series getting progressively more mature, so she locked in a readership over pretty much their whole childhood. The Circus of Adventure was particularly good, bordering on James Bond in parts, IIRC. Then she wrote all the Noddy books, plus all these others like The Three Golliwogs and The Folk of the Faraway Tree. I think we can all agree she wasn’t writing pure dross, and even if her writing wasn’t of the highest quality the sheer volume of output makes her a seriously impressive writer. I loved her stuff as a kid, although when I got a bit older I preferred Richmal Crompton (whose work, at times, borders on genius).

    I also liked Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings books a lot, and by sheer coincidence found myself years later attending the same boarding school which he’d attended and on which he’d based his books. But I guess those are way too off-message for the BBC.

  • M2P

    I loved “mountain of adventure” and “sea of adventure”, both of which are quite bold in their plots – there was even some kind of anti-gravity device in the latter, I think, and also a sighting of an extinct bird (perhaps a Great Auk – it’s a while ago now but clearly stuck in my memory). Where she’s really strong is in descriptions of the kind of activities we dream about – going travelling alone, making a fire, sailing your own boat, camping on islands. I suspect this is why Harry Potter is so popular – children who can drive flying cars.

    However, I think the genuinely great children’s literature is enjoyable for adults, and that even young children are good at spotting weak plotting or characters, and that’s my experience of reading Famous Five with my children – they just didn’t stick in the same way as Winnie The Pooh, Roald Dahl and indeed odd discoveries like the German author Walter Moers. Would be interested to know if any Samizdatistas have children who are avid fans of the Famous Five now.

    When you read Winnie The Pooh it’s impossible not to laugh at the sheer brilliance of the characterisations, and it’s hard not to cry at the poignant ending. I just don’t think Blyton has that kind of staying power.

  • […] today I read a post about children’s author Enid Blyton that referenced a post about gender roles in SF by John […]

  • Oh yes, the other series I loved was the Willard Price books. I don’t know how well they’d read in adulthood, but they contained an astonishing amount of information regarding zoology and geology.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Tim Newman asks,

    “what product are all these damned smugglers actually smuggling?”

    Given that they were written in 1950’s Britain from a mindset that was formed in the 1940’s when rationing and state control of industry was seen by many as not just necessary in wartime but rational and just in peacetime, the answer could be almost anything. Llamas’ mention of the currency restrictions is relevant here.

    In fact, despite the arguments presented here that Blyton’s writing had elements favourable to a libertarian worldview, I have just conceived of an alternative history in which Famous Five books continued to be regularly published as Ingsoc took over. The poor old girl herself went to Room 101 sometime in the early sixties, of course, but the Minitrue computers were well capable of continuing without her. The Five become enthusiastic Junior members of the Spies and as such continue to uncover smuggling rings, capture dastardly {Eurasian/Eastasian – amend as currently appropriate] spies, denounce their parents and finish with lashings and lashings of Victory Gin!

  • Stonyground

    What a wonderfully entertaining thread this has been. I had forgotten all about Jennings, I think that this was probably my favourite book series when I was a kid. When I was very small I used to read a book by Blyton about a pixie called Pip who used to teach you something about the natural world in each chapter. I also remember a Blyton book about a guy called Mr. Twiddle which was truly dreadful. My (now eighteen) daughter tells me that she found the famous five quite boring but liked the Mallory Towers series. I also read the William books but didn’t really get them.

    On the subject of maligned authors, I have to say that I found Dan Brown reasonably entertaining. I read the DaVinci Code mainly because I heard that it had seriously pissed off the Catholic Church. Having found it reasonably entertaining I read a few more of his books and enjoyed them too. They are rather formulaic and sometimes a bit implausible but they are interesting in the way that they invite the reader to solve puzzles along with the characters. The film adaptations of The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons are pretty good and are faithful to the books apart from them being back to front chronologically.

  • JohnK

    Natalie:

    I think we must be of a similar generation. I remember when 3/6 became 17 1/2p. I think my pocket money was about 10p back then, so a Famous Five book would have been a pretty big investment, but luckily my local library had them all.

    My Goddaughter, who is nine, loves the Famous Five, so it is a pleasure to buy them for her, though I notice the price is now £5.99 each. Well done once again, central banks. Currency debauchery feels so good, doesn’t it?