While in the US you grew up with Dr Seuss, for many children in England it is the Enid Blyton stories that captivate our attention and imagination. Enid Blyton wrote 762 books, some as stand-alone stories, others as series featuring recurring characters. What I am so impressed with is that the Enid Blyton stories take you from your very first reading years through to your teens (as long as you’re happy reading tales of simpler times – no modern mayhem involved). They are just pure and simple entertainment, and if you want your kids to read something wholesome and escapist, you can’t go wrong with Enid Blyton stories.
Of all the Enid Blyton stories, this series is my absolute favorite. This was the first “novel” I read after graduating from Noddy and picture books. The Enchanted Wood is the first in a series about Joe, Bessie and Fanny (later joined by their cousin, Dick), who discover The Faraway Tree and set forth on a set of magical and amazing adventures. You see, The Faraway Tree is not just any old tree. Firstly it is inhabited by an unlikely set of characters like Dame Washalot, Moon-Face and The Saucepan Man. Secondly, the very top of the tree is visited by different lands. The stories generally involve one of the children getting stuck in one of the lands and the adventures of the siblings as they have to get back down the tree again. I have always wondered why Disney has never attempted to make a movie based on this series.
In a similar vein to The Enchanted Wood series, the stories about The Wishing Chair are magical adventures. Two children, Mollie and Peter, buy their mother a chair, not realizing it was made by fairy folk and is magical. The chair takes them on all sorts of adventures with Chinky, their pixie friend, who in fact they rescue from a giant in the first tale. What I love about Enid Blyton stories that I now realize as an adult, is the morality and social guidance she weaves into them. How many times were you told by your mother when you were a kid not to pull faces because if the wind changes you’d be stuck that way? Sit in the Wishing Chair and fly off to meet the boy to whom that exact thing happened!
This is an Enid Blyton series best described as being about a group of juvenile detectives; a kind of Scooby Doo type gang, if you will. The Secret Seven appear in 7 short stories and 15 full length books. Peter, Janet, Jack, Pam, Barbara, Colin, George and Scamper form a secret society to solve mysteries and crimes in their neighborhood and beyond. Unlike most of her other “gangs” of characters, the 7 attend day schools and we are given glimpses of daily life as Blyton saw it. Her characters are not complex and are now looked upon as being fairly stereotypical of the times, but Enid Blyton stories were not written as a social commentary. She wrote them to entertain millions of children.
Enid Blyton may have been a prolific writer but she was also a mother. Some of her stories feature her daughters and the family pets. Bimbo and Topsy is one such example. This is the first story that I really remember leaving an impression on me (along with Binkle and Flip) and it may be 45+ years since I read it but I still remember it. Bimbo is a Siamese cat and Topsy is a scamp of a puppy. Together they get into all sorts of scrapes, but thankfully, they come out right in the end. These are charming tales for younger readers.
I know it’s probably very hard for you to imagine but when I was a teenager, young adult fiction was extremely limited. We had absolutely nothing like The Hunger Games, the Twilight Series or anything that helped teens navigate the path of life. Our role models were Susan Coolidge’s Katy, Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women, heroines from TV series like Carrie’s War, Black Beauty and the like, and the images portrayed by Barbie, Sindy and Tressie dolls. I fell into the world created by Enid Blyton at Malory Towers. Malory Towers is a fictional boarding school in Cornwall and the heroine of the 6 stories is Darrell Rivers. I thought that boarding schools really were a place where sisterhoods were forged and the girls went on great adventures, excelled at team sports overcoming all close competitors and had plenty of spiffing midnight feasts (we were so much more naive than today’s teens). Yes the girls were another bunch of stereotypes, but they really did teach the values of friendship, sharing, helping others and having goals that benefited society, not just the individual. The success of the Malory Towers series prompted Blyton to create another fictional boarding school – St. Clare’s, this time with a pair of twins as the main protagonists. If you read these stories you just have to compare them to the modern tales of school life like Saved by the Bell, The Inbetweeners and the movie Clueless. Life has changed so much!
Can you conceive of a group of kids like Scooby Doo gang meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? If you can, then welcome to the Famous Five. Here you will encounter Dick, Anne, Julia, George and Timmy the Dog (don’t you just love how a family pet is included in the gang membership?). There are 21 full length stories featuring this little band of adventurers and they remain among the most successful Enid Blyton stories, still selling 2 million books every year. Each thrilling adventure takes place during the holidays (the kids go to boarding schools – of course) and don’t be surprised if smugglers and secret tunnels feature in every mystery the kids set out to solve. The stories are full of mysterious characters, bike rides and picnics with lashings of ginger beer!
I don’t expect any of you to actually want to read the Noddy stories yourself but, like Bimbo and Topsy and the other animal adventures, these are fabulous for parents to read to their children. The little wooden boy who lives in Toytown and who goes on all sorts of adventures in his little yellow taxi with his friends Big Ears, Tessie Bear and Bumpy Dog, has charmed toddlers for decades and continues to do so in book form and the animated television series. Other favorite characters include Wobbly Man, Dinah Doll, Mr. Sparks and of course, the long-suffering policeman of Toytown, Mr. Plod.
In all truthfulness, I can’t see anyone in their mid-teens reading Enid Blyton stories and enjoying them the way I did. However, early teens can easily get lost in the adventures, the camaraderie and simple fun. I think the stories by Enid Blyton will always have an audience and that’s a good thing. Agreed?
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