Enid Blyton- Beloved British Storyteller
One of the earliest books I remember reading was written by Enid Blyton. I must have been four or five. I know there were other books I read- but none of them stuck with me as Blyton did. The same can be said for the majority of children born in Britain between the 1950’s and 70’s- and, in many cases, still holds true today.
She is routinely regarded as one of the most beloved of British authors, in survey after survey, proving more popular than such literary giants as Dickens, Dahl, Austen, an even Shakespeare. She left a legacy of over 800 books and has sold more than 600 million books worldwide. In fact she is still one of the best-selling authors in the world despite not being with us since 1968. And despite being translated into almost 90 languages she has had very little success in America.
These days there is some controversy about many of her books, as she tended to be not very politically correct. But, for me, I can overlook this (not that I endorse the views) as they are a sweet and permanent capturing of an idealized life in Britain during that time; a time when many of her devout young readers were enduring hardship and sadness due to the war. For her stories do what all great children’s stories should, take the reader out of reality and into a far more pleasing world. And in her world the kids were the smarter than the adults, adventures abounded, and there was always lashings upon lashings of delicious homemade food and ginger pop.
Enid Mary Blyton was born August 11th 1897. She began writing at an early age- mostly poems and short stories.
In 1917 Enid started getting published in popular children’s magazines of the day, which led her to a publishing deal, writing children’s books of poetry and short stories. Her first published book- Child Whispers– is a 24 page collection of poem released in 1922.
In 1926 Enid became the editor of a new children’s magazine, Sunny Stories, and her works became popular with teachers, who used them in their lessons.
In 1924 Enid got married to Hugh Pollock, one of the book editors at her publishers. Despite gynecological problems she would go on to have two daughters, who she brought up in the Anglican faith, though she herself rarely attended church. It wasn’t until 1938 that she published her first full-length children’s adventure novel, The Secret Island. It would set the template for the prodigious output that was to come – a fast-paced adventurous tale with a group of young children as its heroes, who seemingly existed outside the constraining world of adults.
Enid Mary Blyton was born August 11th 1897. She began writing at an early age- mostly poems and short stories. Her first published book was a Child Whispers– a 24 page collection of poems- which was released in 1922.
But it was the 1930’s when her success- and fame- as an author began to grow into the empire it would become. Books such as Adventures of a Wishing Chair (1937) and The Enchanted Wood (1939) were huge smashes and she became the most beloved writer of children across the U.K., sometimes releasing as many as forty books a year! She reportedly wrote up to ten thousand words a day on a typewriter.
My favorite series of books of Enid Blyton has to be the Famous Five. I personally own many variations of each including copies printed in French and Japanese. There was also a dreadful attempt at making them more popular in America by ‘translating’ them into American English. This failed dreadfully and made, in my opinion, for dull and dreary reading and they never caught on in the States. I truly believe the pure essence of what makes Blyton so endearing is her unabashed Britishness. In the slang, the food, the locations and the eccentric characters with quirky names, that, by golly, only Britain can produce.
The first book in the Famous Five series, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942. They feature the adventures of a group of young children – Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina (George) – and George’s dog Timmy. Julian, the oldest, was wise beyond his years and always had an analytical and practical solution to problems at hand. Dick is Julian’s younger brother, who is always hungry. He is notorious for playing practical jokes and being mischievous, but also has a heart of gold. Anne is the youngest sibling, and is very much a girlie girl. She adores tea parties, dressing in pretty clothes and is generally the least daring of the group. George is their cousin and is very much a tomboy. She loves to sail, climb trees, and loves nothing more than a jolly good adventure. Her hair is cropped short and she takes it as a compliment when somebody confuses her for a boy. Finally we have Timmy, her beloved dog, who is as smart as a tack, and is extremely loyal.
Blyton intended the series to be short- perhaps six to eight titles over three years. However due to their massive commercial success she finished 21 Famous Five novels- the last one –Five Are Together Again– being released in 1963. To date over a hundred million books in the series have been told- making it one of the most successful children book series of all time. And the books are continuing to sell. These days they are producing updated versions in an attempt to appeal to the contemporary kids. This saddens me – and I recommend that everyone reads them as Blyton intended. I also urge you to check out early hardback editions, copies can be found cheaply at used book stalls around the U.K., or on the internet. For they not only had beautiful and evocative covers they also contain illustrations by artists such Eileen Soper, which are beyond charming.
For more information visit http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/famous-five.php
My second favorite series- which in many ways is similar to the Famous Five is the Five-Find Outers Mystery Series.
The Mystery Series is all about the Five Find-Outers and a dog, a group of children who form a group for the sole purpose to solve mysteries. They live in the fictitious, and utterly charming, village of Peterswood, and invariably there is always a mystery to unravel. Larry and Daisy (Laurence and Margaret Daykin) together with Pip and Bets (Philip and Elizabeth Hilton) meet Fatty (Frederick Algernon Trotteville) and decided that the village needed some sleuths to solve the strange mysteries perpetually appearing. The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, was the first in a fifteen book series. Their arch rival is the local police constable, Mr. Goon, who they invariably outwit and solve the puzzle before he does. A child being smarter than adults is a constant theme in Blyton’s work. All the titles began with The Mystery of…and finished with such delightful endings including- the Disappearing Cat, the Secret Room, Banshee Towers, and my favorite, Tally-Ho Cottage.
Next up I would have to add the Secret seven to my list. Once more friends form a detective group to solve mysteries, puzzles in the neighborhood (are you sensing a theme?), and helping out the local community.
The Seven consisted of their leader, Pete, his sister Janet, Jack and his sister Susie, George Pam and Colin. The Seven have, as all such organizations should, a badge, a secret password and hold secret meetings in a garden shed. Scamper, an energetic golden spaniel frequently joins them.
Peter enforces the rules and assigns tasks and duties to the rest of the members. They were always polite and respectful as they looked for clues and naturally solved whatever case they took on which ranged from missing pets to mail robbery.
The series started off as short stories before turning into full fledge novels. Fifteen were written in all starting in 1949 and ending in 1963
I could not compile this list without including The Faraway Tree series, in my opinion they have endured the test of time remarkably well. The titles in the series are The Enchanted Wood (1939). The Magic Faraway Tree (1946), The Folk of the Faraway Tree (1943) and Up the Faraway Tree (1946)
The storyline takes place in an enchanted forest in which a gigantic magical tree grows – naturally known as the Faraway Tree. The tree is colorfully described by Blyton as so tall that its highest branches reach into the clouds and it is wide enough to contain small houses carved into its trunk. The forest and the tree are discovered by three children named Jo, Bessie, and Fanny, who move into a house nearby. It is then that they embark on incredible adventures to the top of the tree. Pixies and other magical characters are embedded into these delightful tales. These are fantasy books of the highest order, and I would recommend every parent encourages their young children to read them.
These are just a sampling from the vast work Enid Blyton produced, other series books included, Mallory Towers, Naughtiest Girl, St Clares, Wishing Chair, Mistletoe Farm, and Noddy. The stories aimed at young children and a character no doubt familiar to many Americans thanks to the television series. Plus hundreds upon hundreds of short stories, poems, and articles and dozens of stand alone novels.
It was in the late 1950s that Enid Blyton’s health began to deteriorate; she frequently had difficulty breathing and even suffered a mild heart attack. In the early 1960’s she was diagnosed with dementia. She was oft times confused, suffered memory lapses, found it exceeding difficult to write, and had a desire to return to her childhood home. Her final two releases were her interpretation of bible stories, The Man Who Stopped to Help and The Boy Who Come Back in 1965.
During the summer of 1968 Enid became a patient at a Hampstead nursing home and, three months later, she died quietly in her sleep on 28th November 1968, at the age of 71. She was cremated at Golders Green in North London. A memorial service was held for her at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 3rd January 1969. Britain united in mourning her.
But through her books she continues to live on in the imaginations of those children (and indeed adults) that are fortunate to read her work, and I strongly suspect they will continue to do so for many generations to come.