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Enchanting world of Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton was recently voted as the most popular children's author of all times in England, beating Roald Dahl and JK Rowling

Enchanting world of Enid Blyton

Prolific children's author Enid Blyton's death anniversary falls on November 28

Renu Sud Sinha

Bits and Bites

  • Enid Blyton never researched for any of her books. She let her imagination take over and allowed the stories to unfold.
  • Her typing speed was astonishing. She could produce 6,000–10,000 words a day. She finished The River of Adventure, a 60,000-word book, in five days.
  • Enid Blyton's popular character tom-boy George of the Famous Five series was based on herself. 
  • Five Go Feasting: Famously Good Recipes is inspired by the dishes in Enid Blyton’s books, written by food writer Josh Sutton.   
  • There are new Blyton stories in contemporary settings. The latest one has been written by British-Indian author Narinder Dhami (of Bend It Like Beckham fame), featuring an Indian character.

Scones with clotted cream and jam

IN adolescence, while school and its various components inhabited, even intruded into, our world, a parallel yet make-believe universe made these seemingly difficult years a little easier. An imaginary boarding school and its inhabitants ruled our imagination and made life inside the strict confines of classroom a tad exciting. The snooty girl in the class was maliciously dubbed Gwen or Gwendoline. The strict teacher fond of handing frequent punishments was nick-named “Potty” after Miss Potts. Muttering this smelly sobriquet after a particularly harsh penalty provided solace to our vindictive little souls. 

 The life of students and teachers of Malory Towers, a book series based on a fictional boarding school in seaside-England, written by Enid Blyton, was far removed from the dull and boring routine of an Indian educational institution situated on a busy, dusty road in Ludhiana. And that was precisely why Malory Towers appealed to us — an exciting, faraway place that provided an escape from the mundane, yet it had enough relatable characters and thrilling adventures that lent it a glimmer of real-life possibility. 

Noddy, Blyton's all-time popular character

Recently voted as the most popular children's author of all times in England, beating Roald Dahl and JK Rowling, Blyton's books have remained bestsellers even 50 years or so after her death. Blyton, who died on November 28, 1968 at age 71, had a miraculous ability to transport her readers into fantasy world that hovered at the edge of the realm of possibility. Blessed with a vivid imagination, and prolific capacity, she produced over 700 books in a writing career spanning nearly five decades. 

Questions about her ability as a writer and the literary merit of her works had stalked her during her lifetime too, with many of her books facing backlash and bans. 

However, the popularity of her books has not waned even after almost 100 years, with over 600 million sold and counting, asserts her publisher, Hodder Books, UK.

Blyton’s books in India

The experiences her books offer are far removed from our cultural context and yet millions of Indians across generations have grown up with an Enid Blyton in their hands, often passing on their love for her books, and sometimes the books as well, to their kids and sometimes grandkids.

For Delhi-based journalist Rahul Kumar, the stark dissimilarities with our milieu in Blyton's books only heightened their appeal to him.

Young Rabani Singh agrees. Born and raised in San Diego, California, she inherited this love for Blyton from her Indian parents. “Literature is often used as an escape. While Blyton's books described a world quite removed from our social mores but not so removed from that it wasn't realistic, leaving just a glimmer of possibility of such exciting adventures manifesting in real life.”

Even for Taseer Gujral, a Chandigarh-based, author and columnist, Blyton's idyllic English world was an escape for young uninitiated Indian minds. Blyton’s books transported her to a magical land, where a group of children went to boarding schools, solved mysteries and had picnics with overflowing goody hampers. 

Magical realism

It isn’t just her ability to transport children into a magical world, veteran journalist and author Sathya Saran finds this master storyteller's tales a rich mix of the real and the imaginary. 

Her ability to capture minute and vivid details made most of her characters appear real, someone most children could identify with or yearn to be. “Blyton could make every child feel he/she is part of her books and it could be his/her story. I was quite naughty in school so I could easily resonate with the Naughtiest Girl in School,” recalls Saran.

Saran’s granddaughter Ananya, all of 14, concurs. “The fantasy about The Faraway Tree seems believable as also the possibility that such a tree might be growing somewhere and a lucky child may stumble upon it.”

Gujral’s daughter Serena, a Class VIII student, finds Blyton's skill to bring the most commonplace of things to life quite magical.

Her simple writing and straightforward storytelling technique minus any subtexts were a major factor behind her popularity among children. Ironically, this simplicity was perceived as lacking in literary merit and it led to a ban on her books in public libraries. The BBC, too, imposed a ban on the broadcast of her stories for almost two decades. 

However, Auckland-based Rajesh Gandhi found “her books quite fun. The story line was easy to follow and she created some unique characters. Secret Seven and Famous Five are a special part of childhood memories.” 

Into the neverlands

Growing up in the 1980s or the 1990s, what wooed Indian kids to Blyton was the feeling of freedom and adventure she offered in the escapades of Famous Five or Five Find Outers.

“The taste of independence was like a whiff of fresh air. Blyton’s characters strayed away from home without any repercussions. They had fun with friends. They were creative and adventurous. In short, everything an Indian kid of that era aspired to do but was stifled by social norms," rues Bindiya Singh, who lives in Whittier, California.

The very idea of ordinary kids doing extraordinary things such as solving mysteries which the adults had not been able to solve was enough to make them feel heroic and it boosted their esteem and confidence.

However, this streak of rebelliousness in her characters was balanced by strong moral values Blyton always advocated in her books — honesty, integrity, truthfulness loyalty, bravery, courage. Perhaps, that's why Indian parents had no objections with their kids burying their noses in her books.

Accusations of sexism, racism and xenophobia often dogged Blyton during her lifetime. These allegations refuse to die down even now. Her current publisher dismisses these claims as stereotypes which existed in her times and also reflected in the works of some of her contemporaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Indians have been surprisingly tolerant about these claims.

Young Ananya and Rabani say they never noticed because such issues are usually unknown to kids at a young age. Saran feels we read too much into everything nowadays and in the process rob kids of the chance to read some delightful writings. 

However, what brings everyone — the young and the old, the once rulers and the once ruled — on one table is the drool-worthy English dishes that were integral to all her books — scones with clotted cream, eclairs, meringues and ginger beer. But as Gujral complains, these never tasted as good in real life. I can understand. A bite into a much-longed for scone shattered a childhood fantasy recently. The pain was as bad as heartache.

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