The news that Sam Mendes is to make a film based on Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-29706443 has led to much twittering. Great excitement from some grown-ups who remember it fondly; bafflement from others that anyone should be inspired by such outdated, poorly written, politically incorrectissimo stuff.
Blyton-bashing has always been with us. First it was her lazy characterisation (Boy 1: leader. Boy 2: always hungry. Girl 1: tomboy. Girl 2: very girlie) and trite writing style (Blyton weather: blazing hot sunshine punctuated at intervals by massive thunderstorms). Then the racist connotations of the baddies always looking ‘foreign’ and, in an increasingly feminist age, the strict traditional split of gender roles (boys do the detecting and chop wood; girls make lemonade and wash up. Sigh). These are all good reasons why Enid Blyton should by now be long out of print, superseded by all the far better authors that have come since.
But…. children adore her. How else to explain the millions of her books sold every year (500,000 copies of The Faraway Tree series in the UK alone)? Some on Twitter have suggested this is due to adults creating an artificial market by buying the books they loved for their children, and so on it goes… but if their children didn’t also love them the cycle would cease.
Like her or not, Enid Blyton was a stonkingly good story teller. Her tales of children outwitting adults and capturing miscreants are cleverly structured, designed to empower their young readers while making them feel safe at the same time.
As for The Faraway Tree series, I’d never even heard of it before my 7 year-old daughter discovered it, after which it became bedtime reading for all my children for years. Irritated as I was by all the usual Blyton flaws, I couldn’t help admiring the idea – a tree whose top hosts an alternating selection of magical lands, some wonderful (Land of Toys, Land of Sweets), some scary (Land of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe), so that you never know which one you’re in for.
I was glad when my children moved on to better writers – Anne Fine, Nina Bawden, J K Rowling, Norton Juster, Philip Pullman. But I’d never fault them for the excitement and pleasure they got from this traditionally frowned upon author.
There’s just something magical about Enid Blyton.
(First published 29th October 2014)