Enid Blyton is responsible for a huge portion of missed sleep from my childhood. The Famous Five books and the ‘Mystery’ series were staple components of my evenings (and long into the night) from the age of about eight or nine till I started high school at twelve (we don’t do middle school in Scotland). She opened a world of adventure to me but I have to admit she also wedged me thoroughly into a literary rut.
With Blyton’s books I developed a love of reading that became a core part of my identity, ever since then I’ve regarded myself as a passionate reader. However, her writing style left me cocooned from other works of fiction; she wrote in a relaxed, easily accessible, manner that demanded little of the reader and simply allowed the story to flow.
In many ways reading Blyton was like watching TV; I simply allowed the story to unfold before me, often going for chapters without feeling as though I needed to put much of my own thought in at all. This is the blessing and the curse of Blyton’s writing. Her books were published at a time when children were just beginning to migrate towards television as the entertainment medium of choice, Blyton appeared with an alternative.
I grew up in the eighties and by then we had access to so much more child-orientated TV than the generations that preceded us. The challenge was even greater for authors then than it had been back in Blyton’s day. Eighties children’s authors had to go foor the popular vote by whatever means necessary. They grasped for the ghoulish in the form of the Goosebumps series or pandered to a growing culture of pre-teen girls who aspired to a fantasised version of teenaged life in books like the Babysitters club. Meanwhile, in a dusty antique book shop on a holiday trip to Lincoln cathedral I came upon the famous five. I was hooked.
Blyton enjoyed (and still enjoys) the backlash from librarians, teachers, and other people who wish to promote ‘proper literature’ to children the world over for her work. Rhiannon Lassiter’s mother (Mary Hoffman) banned Blyton, you can see what Lassiter thought to that by following this link.
For many Blyton was low brow, pandering and, at best, akin to the type of bargain-bin paperback frivolity that adults buy at the train station or airport to help pass the time. In essence it was (is?) seen as just one step up from a magazine.
I can’t help but wonder if this is just a case of the anti-popularism which is often sported by the self-designated cultural elite, who seem to feel the need to put down anything popular as bourgeois and watered-down alternatives to ‘real’ literature/art in general.
I’ve never gone for this kind of thinking, I liken it to the idea that fine dining is always superior to fast food. Of course there’s something to be said for an excellently prepared meal but sometimes you really just want a greasy cheeseburger and fries from a burger van. (Neither fine dining nor fast food have the best credibility as sources of nutrition, in both instances it’s all about the taste, the aesthetic)
I think the same thing is true of literature, sometimes we’ll want to enjoy the complexities and nuances of an exquisite work of fiction but sometimes, and I think this goes ten-fold for those who are just beginning their literary journey, sometimes you just want to be swept up in an adventure.
So was Enid Blyton a bad writer? In my mind the answer is a resounding NO; she provided me a literary foothold in an era in which electronics and TV were taking over every aspect of the life of a child. She let me escape that world (a little) and allowed me access to the world of my imagination in a way that the alternatives simply couldn’t. Was she a literary marvel? Probably not, but the service she did perform well was to allow children to marvel at what a book could do.
I am the first to admit that moving on from Blyton’s style of writing was quite hard but as I noted in a previous post I found a way, as I’m sure many many more people did as well. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the modern book industry would be an shell of its current state if it wasn’t for her prolific contribution to children’s literature, if for nothing else but that her works stood as an alternative to the proliferation of TV into the lives of children. In this sense, at least in my opinion, she stands up as a literary hero in her own right.
DON’T FORGET: Book one of the Jack Reusen series: ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ is available in both paperback and in digital format. You’ll make me as happy as four kids and a dog with a picnic blanket and lashings of ginger beer if you click on this link to pop over to the ‘books’ page where you can find out more about the book and get details on how to get hold of your copy. I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it 🙂