Seventy-five years ago, a book called Child Whispers was published. It was a collection of poems for children, illustrated by the author’s friend, and it set that author on a path to fame. Her name was Enid Blyton and this year is her 120th birthday, on 11 August. She went on to become one of the world’s best-selling writers, her books (of which she wrote about 600) translated into over 90 languages, and films and merchandise galore made from her stories. Five on a Treasure Island, her first book in the Famous Five series, was published in 1942, while The Secret Seven came out in 1949.
An Enid Blyton Society was formed in 1995, but her work has remained controversial – too simplistic, racist (golliwogs have been removed from their pages), outdated (Noddy and Big Ears sit in bed feeling ‘gay’ together), elitist, sexist, and lacking in literary merit. The BBC and many libraries banned her books. But she told good stories and has been much loved through the generations.
Did you know that Enid was the child of an unhappy marriage and always resented her mother for her father’s departure from the family home? Did you know that Enid Blyton liked to play nude tennis?? Enid was also a terrible mother – her daughter Imogen described her as “arrogant, insecure, pretentious, and without a trace of maternal instinct”. To learn more about this intriguing author, you can read Enid Blyton: The Biography by Barbara Stoney, or watch the excellent TV film Enid, starring Helena Bonham Carter. Or you can read the popular new ‘adult’ versions of her novels, such as Five Go Gluten Free and Five Give Up the Booze. Enid Blyton is a fascinating example of an author whose fame has gone in surprising directions, whose reputation has been mauled and yet survived, and who has a literary society in her name even though she was not a nice woman.
My favourite Blytons as a child were the Secret Seven books, of which there were fifteen and some short stories, about Peter, Janet, Jack, Pam, George, Barbara and Colin. For many, the favourite is The Magic Faraway Tree.
Do you love one Blyton book more than any other? What do you think of ‘modernising’ Blyton by removing golliwogs? Tell me by leaving a comment.
Enid Blyton: The Biography by Barbara Stoney
The Famous Five Treasury by Enid Blyton
Secret Seven: The Secret Seven: Book 1 by Enid Blyton
The Magic Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton
Five Go Gluten Free by Bruno Vincent
Five Give Up the Booze by Bruno Vincent
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