I can’t remember the first Enid Blyton story I read. It possibly occurred in Brookfield Infants and Junior School in the mid 1970s, when I was five or six. Maybe I was five AND six. Who knows. The infant school hall had a little library, with four little bookcases filled with little books. I would sit on one of the little chairs and stretch out my little hands to gently touch the long and very sexy boots of Mrs Gibbons, who would be busy rearranging the books. She never noticed me doing that. It was just a little thrill I had. Sometimes I would just sit there, listening to the beautiful clicking sound the heels of her boots would make on the sultry grey-tiled floor.
But I digress. I can’t remember the first Enid Blyton book I ever read, but I can remember the the books that really drew me to her.
One Christmas day, sometime in the late 1970s, I was given a box set of her books. It was the Secret Seven series and five of those books were presented in a lovely little slipcase. After getting bored of my Stretch Armstrong ™ and having Kerplunk confiscated after I began inserting the coloured plastic cocktail sticks into my sister’s Barbie doll, I began to examine the books.
With titles such as ‘Go Ahead, Secret Seven’, ‘Good Work, Secret Seven’ and ‘Three Cheers, Secret Seven’, they didn’t really appeal to me. The titles seemed insipid, banal and trite. Of course, I didn’t know what the words insipid, banal and trite meant when I was seven years old. I thought they were places in East Anglia. My nameless sister, who was three years older than me (and still is) was given a ‘Five Find-Outers’ box set. The titles of these were much more interesting to me. Here we had ‘The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage’, ‘The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters’ and ‘The Mystery of the Hidden House’. They were mysteries! The titles excited my imagination. How could a house be hidden? What could be written in a spiteful letter? Could I learn to burn down a cottage too? So I did swapsies with my sister and started reading the adventures of Five Find-Outers and dog. The adventures of Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets, Fatty and Buster the dog, were to become a source of great delight throughout those difficult years between nine and ten. Each Saturday I would spend my £1 pocket money – a fortune at the time – on another book. In 1978 a paperback book such as this only cost 50p. The other 50p I would invest in shares. So within a few months I had the complete collection of Five Find-Outers books (as well as owning half of Amstrad) and I looked to other Enid Blyton works.
I came across a copy of The Enchanted Wood in a charity shop. Sadly, it wasn’t the edition pictured above which is highly collectible and worth trillions of pounds. Mine was a cheap Dean edition and I think I parted with 20p for it. I read it within a couple of days and was completely captivated by the adventures of Jo, Bessie and Fanny. Yes, that’s right. Fanny. Modern editions have changed her name to Frannie, but I will always love Fanny best. Those three children moved from their dirty, squalid, noisy home in some unnamed sprawling metropolis and relocated to a quintessential English village, next to a wide wood. There, they discover the Magic Faraway Tree and the characters that populate it – Moon-face, Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot and Silky The Fairy. The sequel to The Enchanted Wood was The Magic Faraway Tree and a third book, The Folk Of The Faraway Tree, completed the triumvirate of Platonic dialogues that Socrates would have given up his life for.
Of course, like many authors, Enid Blyton has come in for some criticism. This has not been exclusive to recent years either. All through her life there were the Blyton detractors. Critics would comment on the limited vocabulary she would use in her books, and the idealised, romanticised way she portrayed the villages and life of middle England. But to me, an eight year old living in a council house in conditions that would cause some concern if it happened today, those stories about groups of friends (that were my age – that was important) drinking ginger beer and eating eclairs as they cycled from village to sunny village, having adventures on the way, was the escape that I needed.
Also, some of her books would now be deemed to be ‘politically incorrect’, such as The Three Golliwogs (pictured above).The history of the use of ‘golliwogs’ in books is interesting. ‘Golliwog’ was a colloquialism back then, which was slowly becoming more and more common. Colloquialisms aren’t racist/negative/disparaging by definition – they are just an evolution of spoken language, coined in creative ways. There was no negative connotations in the use of the word ‘golliwog’ in the 1930s or so. It’s abbreviation – ‘wog’ – became an aggressive and insulting term much later. Most importantly, Enid Blyton did *not* caricature black people in her stories. The Three Golliwogs is a compendium of inter-connected tales where the main protagonists have adventures and magical encounters that are not specific to them being black or ‘golliwogs’. They could have happened to any Enid Blyton character of the time. I know, because I have this book and read one of the adventures of Wiggie, Waggie and Wallie today and they are perfectly harmless.
So Enid, I would have loved to have met you. I would love to thank you for the pleasure you gave me during my childhood, and the escape route you provided out of my unhappy home. Somewhere not so far away, in that world of pure imagination, I will always be in Peterswood, drinking fresh ginger beer and watching from a distance as Fatty, Bets, Larry, Daisy and Pip chat to Mr Goon the policeman before getting on their bikes and cycling down those forever green and sunny lanes of the English countryside.