Saturday, June 25, 2011

In Defence of Enid (Part Two)

The best books are the ones you don't want to end.  I can think of a few books like this that I read, and then reread, as a child.  'The Magic Faraway Tree' was one and 'The Adventures of the Wishing Chair' is another.  Luckily, there were three books in 'The Faraway' series and two in 'The Wishing Chair', but I am sure I probably wished there were more. 
Considering how much I loved these books, and I know there is a whole fan club out there dedicated to them, it really is no surprise to see that someone has decided to continue both the stories.  Silky, the beautiful fairy with lovely silken hair, now appears in a series of her own entitled 'Enchanted World' and Jack, Jessica and Wishler have replaced Peter, Molly and Chinky in 'The New Adventures of The Wishing Chair'.  Although I can well understand why someone would want to continue the stories as I imagine they loved them as much as I did, there is also something really objectionable about these books.
The fact that the language used is modern isn't the main problem, although, of course, it contributes to a change in atmosphere in the sequels.  It's the content which is problematic for me.  In the original 'Faraway' series, Silky is a pretty little fairy with lovely silky hair, hence the name, but she isn't preoccupied with her looks and they don't affect the course of the plot.  In 'Enchanted World', Silky is a precociously self-confident pre-teen.  She and her friends spend at least a quarter of the book discussing what clothes to wear and how to transform each other's wardrobes.  While Jack and Jessica of 'The New Adventures of the Wishing Chair' are a little more like children (but not Enid Blyton children for Jessica wears a T-shirt and shorts, not a frock!), they no longer have to wait for the wishing chair to grow wings and then fly off over the countryside to new lands.  Instead, they can sit in it at any time, say where they want to go, there's a flash of blue light, and they're there.
There isn't a Land of Goodies or a Land or Birthdays or Spells, but a Land of Mythical Creatures and Spellworld (it's a wonder there isn't one called Spells R Us).  You might be wondering what I'm complaining about.  What is the problem with these books?  The problem is that the author's character isn't there any more and these books are just like a whole lot of other ones out there with very bland, uninteresting storylines.  I couldn't, for instance, imagine that in thirty years' time, my grown-up children will get all starry-eyed and nostalgic over these stories, or that people would have Internet sites and fan clubs dedicated to them; that they would, in short, become iconic children's books.
I don't know if I'm old-fashioned, but I don't want to read stories about fairies who listen to ipods or gnomes who play computer games.  I want Mr Watziname and The Angry Pixie, Dame Washalot and Mr Grimm with his School for Bad Brownies.  What I don't understand is if a writer is going to attempt a sequel to a well-loved children's classic, presumably because they enjoyed it so much as a child, then why change the character of the book to such an extent? Call me cynical, but perhaps there is also an attempt to cash in on a name - rather ironically, I think, the full title of the books are 'Enid Blyton's The New Adventures of the Wishing Chair' and 'Enid Blyton's Enchanted World' and a page at the front of each book lists both the original and sequels as 'Books by Enid Blyton'.  Strange.
One of the criticisms levelled against Enid Blyton is that she is sexist.  Boys always solve mysteries, while girls watch on, quietly puzzled, and it's always the boys who have adventures.  However, her books, written for a young audience, appealed to both boys and girls.  Although girls sometimes got scared or weren't allowed to do something, they didn't sit around looking at themselves in the mirror or discussing whether their shoes matched the outfit they were wearing.  Even stranger then that the sequels have female characters who are very much female characters.  In fact, there are no male characters in the 'Enchanted World' and so the books appeal to a wholly female audience.  I found the copy my daughter has so boring that I couldn't wait to finish it.  I was reading three chapters at a time so we could finish it in a couple of days and go on to something else!  Besides much hair brushing and pouting of lips nothing happened.  They were boring!
And so I end my defence of Enid Blyton by saying that I don't mind the out-dated language and mores, and I don't think most children do.  I think adults under-estimate the ability of children to comprehend unusual words and expressions.  If you don't know, you ask.  I remember my mother explaining to me that tea time in the UK wasn't the same as tea time in Zimbabwe.  Although I thought that British people had a hell of a lot to eat (thanks to Enid Blyton's descriptions of 'lashings' of wonderful treats), it didn't mean that I gave up on her books and thought, well, I can't read that anymore.  I just don't understand this tea thing. 
Enid Blyton is one of the most well-loved, and hated, children's authors.  In my opinion, if you don't like her, read something else.  If you do like her, admire her work, but leave it alone.  A classic is a classic for a reason.

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