Posts Tagged ‘Famous Five’

The perils of Enid Blyton

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

I suspect this may be the last time I get to post before Christmas. This is not through lack of inclination, but more to do with the fact that on Thursday I am going home to my mother’s house and therefore my computer use will be severely limited. Rationed, if you like, because she dislikes them with such a passion. Allegedly. Although an awful lot of online shopping goes on through her laptop for someone who professes to hate them so much.  However, to make my life easier this time round I have something she doesn’t know about – my BLACKBERRY!!!! (Pink). And even when she does know about it she won’t understand what it is or what it does. Ha! Therefore my internet use will remain pretty constant and she will be none the wiser. Genius. It will make for a much smoother Christmas all round. I have bought all the presents now and they are mostly wrapped. They will all be wrapped by Christmas day, just to clarify. And I know this because we are now in the final furlong before the great day itself so my activity will rise proportionately.

Not much actual writing has been done over the last few days. It’s a bit hard to fit it in at the moment. So I mostly content myself with just thinking about the book; which I admit sounds like a wholly useless activity, but it really isn’t. It helps me create the story more fully, iron out any creases, think in a little more depth about my characters and generally bring it more to life. I do aim to work on it over the Christmas/New Year period so hopefully the next time I post I will have more impressive news. Like another 50,000 words written or something. That would be impressive actually because I only have 60,000 left to write in the entire book.

Now, there’s one thing that has stood out as particularly irritating to me recently, and it’s none of the usual things. It crops up every once in a while and has the same, incensing, effect upon me every time. It’s the Enid Blyton ‘debate’, for want of a better word and the subject of India Knight’s column in the Sunday Times this week (this week? Or last week? The most recent one anyway). For the first time in a good few years Enid Blyton has dropped out of the top ten children’s bestselling authors and this is being blamed on the fact that her language is too archaic and today’s children cannot relate to it. Therefore her books have been updated, words have been changed to more modern ones, e.g. ‘Mum’ instead of ‘Mother’, to make them more accessible to children today, or at least this is the theory, hideous though it is. Now India Knight’s point was – is it too much to ask our children to understand that bathing might mean swimming and sweater might mean jumper? Are we not insulting them by assuming that we must provide them with only the words that they are familiar with? Yes, is the answer. By changing the language we are removing from the children any need to extend their thoughts towards words that perhaps are not in everyday use any more. And if you take this concept to its end point one day we won’t ask them to use their imaginations at all, we will simply tell them what it is we’d like them to imagine, which is a dreadful idea. But, this aside, the other thing which I think is of vital importance regardless of impact – should we be changing the language? As far as I’m concerned Enid Blyton wrote her books in a certain era and this is reflected throughout them, in part by her language. And let’s be clear about this, we are not talking about Chaucerian language barriers, we are talking about the odd word being less in use these days. Why should the books be dragged into the twenty-first century from their rightful place? Are we not thus destroying them? Where will it end? Will the language receive another overhaul in twenty years time to give it estuary vowels? Will Anne be given lesbian tendencies and George’s skin colour changed to black to reflect modern societies? The idea is absurd and sad. But it is possible, once you open the flood gates who knows where it will end?

It is acknowledged that Enid Blyton was not a skilled writer; she was a skilled story-teller. The charm of her books lies in the tales themselves and the world in which they are set. They have timeless appeal for children, regardless of relevance to modern life by virtue of the fact that her characters go out and have adventures, they find things to do, things happen to them. School becomes a world of midnight feasts, jokes, tricks and fun. The secret clubs that are created give children power and decision-making abilities that are largely removed for today’s children in our endless march towards all-encompassing risk-aversion. The perils that they are allowed to encounter are unheard of now.  The characters cycle endlessly around the countryside alone and unsupervised, they row boats across rough seas to a derelict castle. They encounter villains. They build camps and stay overnight in them. I think in the Malory Towers books or the St. Clare’s ones there is a swimming pool formed by rocks and filled with seawater that the pupils use; our children wouldn’t even dream of most of this stuff, let alone be able to do it!  The danger is that by updating the language the books will cease to become escapism to the extent that they are now, and by doing so we lessen their appeal. They are stories from another time, another era, and they need to stay there. I was pleased to see that the most recent front covers of the Famous Five have been drawn in the vintage style to reflect this. I could carry on forever, but to sum up: I think it’s appalling, they may as well give Julian a mobile phone, Anne an iPad, stick a DVD player in Kirrin Castle and be done with it. Neither of my girls will be reading the updated versions.

And now with my rant for today over I need to get on with wrapping and packing, etc. to give other things a reasonable chance to annoy me. It’s only fair. So if I don’t get a chance to post again before Christmas Day, I hope everyone has a lovely, lovely time with plenty of  music and carols and decorations and crackers and presents and fun and laughter – and wine.

Merry Christmas!