Monday, August 2, 2010

Long ago and Faraway

I would be sorry to see Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books
sanitized, as reported here. Her publishers propose to
‘update’ her books to make the language in them less
old-fashioned—so it’s out with all those jollys (jolly good,
jolly rotten) for a start, and apparently even ‘mother and
father’ will become ‘mum and dad.’ Nor can ‘dirty tinker’
be allowed to survive. Well, okay; of course there was
racism and classism, subtle and not so subtle, in Blyton’s
writing, and attitudes taken by Julian, George, Dick and
Anne (and probably Timmy for that matter) that now
seem insufferably priggish; but where does this stop? Do
we remove the antisemitism from T S Eliot’s poems?
Rewrite Moby-Dick so that Captain Ahab saves the whale
instead of harpooning it? Books, like anything made by
human ingenuity, are of their time and speak to the
future beyond it—warts and all. No one would dare do this
with authors of adult classics, so it’s hard not to see the
tinkering with Blyton as an over-concern with the
supposed sensitivities of children—who, I suspect, are
much more robustly capable of coping with historical
distinctions than Blyton’s publishers think. Even as a child
in the 1950s myself, devouring Blyton by the shelf-load, I
could tell that she was already becoming out of date. But
she worked her magic then, and survives now, as Lucy
Mangan writes in this perceptive piece, ‘because she
serves perfectly the purely narrative appetite of a child that
precedes more sophisticated tastes—and which must be
stimulated and satisfied if those tastes are ever to develop.’

Speaking for myself, Blyton’s Enchanted Wood was central
to the forming of my imagination in childhood. It is one of
the pebble-beds over which the mind’s stream still flows. I
shall always be grateful to Blyton for this (and for her other
masterpiece, The Secret of Killimooin). Down below, how
deeply colonizing it was: that wood, those glades, not this
bush. Up above, in the cloudlands passing over the top of
the Faraway Tree, I floated free from all earthly geography.

1 comment:

Will de Cleene said...

First they came for Noddy...