I have a confession. As a child, I read many books by Enid Blyton. I owned all 21 Famous Five novels and all 15 Secret Seven books. On a couple of rainy Sunday afternoons, I even picked up some of my sister’s Mallory Towers books.
During this early period of my life, I always expected to find secret tunnels in cliffs leading to smuggler hideouts when we went on family holidays to the seaside. I also thought criminals could be found at the end of every bicycle ride or camping trip.
I thought children could just roam the countryside and only bother with adults when it was necessary to call in the police to round-up the villains. I thought children could show up on the doorstep of any farmhouse and easily obtain bacon, eggs and other supplies for a campfire meal. I thought all children craved ginger beer and constantly went on picnics.
Even then the dialogue seemed old fashioned but it didn’t spoil the stories. It was end of the 1970s and Enid Blyton – an author who wrote hundreds of books for children and sold hundreds of millions of copies – was about to go seriously out of fashion.
Eventually, my bookshelf began to carry literature with harsher themes and I moved onto different authors. I didn’t realize that I had been reading an author that was about to be confined to the darkest corner of the bookshop for being sexist and racist, and for churning out formulaic stories.
I realized in November 1982 when I watched a parody – at the advent of British alternative comedy - of The Famous Five called Five Go Mad in Dorset by the Comic Strip team (which included Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French). I glanced at my Famous Fives and Secret Sevens, gathering dust, and thought Blyton’s books were something to be left far behind in my literary past.
So here we are many years later. Blyton’s books have been, and still are being, rewritten for the digital generation of young readers.
Queen Victoria was still on the throne when Blyton was born in 1897. Her first published book was a collection of poetry called Child Whispers in 1922. The first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942 and the last one was brought out in 1963. She simply wrote in a different era. Her descriptions of gender, race, and class would not be tolerated today (her Noddy books featured golliwogs until they were updated for later editions). Her book titling skills were, frankly, appalling – Five Get into Trouble must have taken about three seconds of thought. Apparently, Blyton could write a book in week, so that might explain the simplistic titles and repetitive plots.
I think it is fine for today’s young readers to read her books as long as they understand that things were different in 1950. Context is a wonderful thing. The passing of time should not be held against any writer who provided so much enjoyment to millions of children.
1. Five Go to Smuggler's Top - $5,037
A first edition from 1945 with its dust jacket.
2. Five on a Treasure Island - $3,243
A first edition of the initial Famous Five novel with its rare dust jacket
3. A Complete Set of Noddy Books - $2,616
Twenty four books – all with dust wrappers.
4. Five on a Treasure Island - $2,077
Another first appearance of the Five’s debut appearance.
5. Five on Kirrin Island Again - $1,663
A copy, complete with dust jacket, signed by Blyton on a book plate.