Attachment ParentingFeminismWorking Mama
Does Enid Blyton Have a Place on My Children’s Bookshelf?Thursday, 12 February 2015
When I walk into the house most evenings I feel like I am playing catch-up: The rest of the family have spent the day sharing jokes, adventures, and even after I'm updated by three screeching children, I'm usually no wiser about their day than before I arrived.
What has that got to do with Enid Blyton?
Well the other night I was left feeling slightly bemused by the fact that when dinner was finished, faces were cleaned, and pyjamas were thrown on, there was a very enthusiastic consensus that the book of the evening was Five Go Off to Camp.
I have no concept, how the words “Famous” and “Five” even came into their vocabulary, let alone how it had trumped the smorgasbord of modern children’s classics but, sure enough, out came a small battered hardback book and while I shovelled plates into the dishwasher, the sounds of hysterical laughter drifted in from the lounge.
This is the point where I should set out my stall when it comes to Enid Blyton; I am a fan of hers, and I have been since I was knee high to a grasshopper.
I spent chunks of my childhood as an onlooker to The Famous Five; living through George’s eyes, caught up in the adventures of a strong minded girl who got to say all of the things I wanted to say, and do all the things I wanted to do.
I was aware that the language was old fashioned, and in some cases offensive, but it never got in the way of my love of the books or the stories they told because (like most children) I cared more about characters than grammar.
I suppose that is what the Enid Blyton Society is referring to when they challenge the need to modernise these stories as the result of “adults who underestimate the intelligence of children”. And maybe I would go further still and say that this drive to rewrite Blyton’s work shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how children engage with books, and with their own imagination.
Imagination is a fundamental tool that children use to understand and contextualise events that are not directly in front of them; ask them what they want to be when they grow up, or to imagine the earth when the dinosaurs ruled and a child falls back on their imagination. It’s an abstract concept, built up of experiences and cemented by the gradual accumulation of cultural markers.
I agree with Edd Mccracken’s point that “Books are written in and are a record of a certain time and place. We read books to visit these fixed points. So, to change passages years later is to warp history. In Blyton’s case, it gives the impression that her time was free from racist language and stereotypes.”
Taking this point further, reading Blyton’s books with their original language could be argued to be more helpful to children than reading a modernised version because they still contain the clear cultural markers that place them as an historical story.
Reading books that differ from the modern sensibilities opens the door to conversations about privilege, feminism, poverty, identity, oppression, murder … I make my house sound like a bundle of fun, don’t I? But I think these conversations are important, and I trust my children to be able to process the journey our species has taken without it putting them into therapy.
When it comes to The Famous Five stories in particular, I see past the dated references, to a world that gives a sense of normality to the sort of behaviour we want to foster; whatever criticisms you might level at those children, they are self-sufficient, responsible, assess risk, respectful of natural dangers and trust their support network to step in when the latest in a long line of local criminal masterminds threatens to kill them off.
I think that Enid Blyton has earned her place on our bookshelf, and not just because, as the publisher Hodder says, “that the Famous Five books have come to appeal more to parents than to their children,” but because they are a relevant today as they were in 1942. If they inspire another generation of children to want to pack up a bag and join their friends in adventure, some might say they are even more so. And if they encourage us to be honest about some of the less appealing aspects of our history, then I would say there were worth their weight in gold.