Last week I was in a Famous Five frenzy, reading the first six books in the series back to back. The first book, Five on a Treasure Island, is on the list of 1001 Children’s Books, but reading up to book six was pure indulgence and nostalgia.
I was such an Enid Blyton fan when I was younger. I just devoured her books. I was lucky enough for my parents to buy me every Secret Seven, Famous Five, Adventurous Four, Twins at St Clares, and Happy Days book, as well as a smattering of other titles, as well as inheriting quite a few books from my mum, including all the ‘Family’ books. I loved Enid Blyton dearly. I would easily have over 100 titles, but I read her biography about eighteen months ago, and learnt that she wrote over 600 books in her lifetime, 300 of which are still in print! This is astounding, and, quite frankly, almost beyond belief.
Enid Blyton fell out of fashion for a while, with libraries banning some titles due to their old-fashioned, or blatantly racist or sexist undertones, as well as unfortunate choice of names with rude connotations. Enid Blyton was criticised as being too simplistic, as being outdated, as being relics of a different time.
These never bothered me – I don’t think reading Enid Blyton has lead me to grow up thinking all women belong in the kitchen, or circus people are thieves (as demonstrated by my working with circus performers quite regularly) or that all foreigners aren’t to be trusted. I think some of the negative aspects of Enid Blyton’s books that the gatekeepers focus on whooshed straight over my head, and left me instead with a love of the enchanting, a love of English villages and countrysides, and a love of food.
(Ah, the food! The descriptions of food in those books I’m sure ignited my love of food, particularly sweets. In fact, last week when reading Famous Five, I discovered at my local supermarket that Bickfords Cordials produce a ginger beer cordial, which, of course, I had to buy so I could sip it while reading of the Famous Five’s adventures.)
The trend of looking down one’s nose at Enid Blyton has, thankfully, seemed to have passed. The bookshop I work at has three and a half whole shelves dedicated to Enid Blyton, and publishers are bringing out new editions of old favourites – Famous Five and Secret Seven have now been reissued with illustrations by Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, and Tony Ross, among others – and 3 -book bind up editions of St Clares, Malory Towers and the Five-Find Outers have appeared on the shelves. These sit side by side with the old-fashioned looking books, with the charming original illustrations by Eileen Soper (which are the editions that I have, bought over ten years ago)
And all these books sell. They sell a lot. Whether it be parents or grandparents buying books for their children that they remember reading as a child, or children stumbling across the books while perusing the shelves, all of Enid Blyton’s books move very quickly from bookshop shelf to children’s bedrooms. No wonder 300 of her books are still in print!
No matter the thoughts of the librarians, the publishers, the parents, or the children who giggle at Dick and Fanny’s names in the Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton seems to have overcome those who look down on her, and it feels like she will exist forever. Just like the Famous Five – it doesn’t matter that I am twenty-three and George is eleven – we will always be firm friends, and George will exist in that pleasant place in my head where every meal includes biscuits, ginger beer, and a beautiful countryside backdrop.