Sunday, April 5, 2009
Enid Blyton's Wonderful World
My mother did not did give me lesbian vampires, violent rapists, serial killers, or Fred West. She didn't give me zombies, werewolves, Knights Templar, or David Hess, either.
But she did give me Enid Blyton, the greatest children's author who ever lived.
A first edition of Enid's Mystery of the Burnt Cottage was tucked for years (on my parents' modest bookshelf) between a book of the world's greatest photography and a scrapbook of recipes clipped from the daily newspaper.
Home from school with a with a bout of flu, my mother brought me a tray of fruit, a glass of de-fizzed lemonade, and her childhood copy of Enid's book.
Although I was already a devotee of the dark arts, Enid Blyton's books, which focused on arts less dark, though no less fantastique, somehow provided a perfect counterbalance for me.
And still do.
The exciting story of the burnt cottage and other Enid mysteries, which surely inspired generations of "juvenile mystery" writers, tapped into a part of me that has remained attached to it for close to forty years.
Outside of America, Enid Blyton (1897 - 1968) is not just an author, she is an industry (having sold 600 million books so far), a movement, almost a religion. With more than 750 titles to her name, she achieved a level of success and recognition in her 70 years that way surpasses JK Rowling today.
Millions of adults today fondly remember being raised (literally) by Enid's evocative storytelling, a brand of fiction that now, of course, feels very old-fashioned, and drips with nostalgia for an ideal.
But that is part of Enid's enduring appeal. Even when it was first published, Enid's work bloomed with nostalgia. It is its idealism that made it so appealing to children.
With so many books to her credit, it is impossible to adequately cover them in this introductory piece on the writer.
She wrote mysteries for pre-teens that captured the essence of what it means to be a child.
She wrote for very young children, too, and created the enduring character of Noddy, who was the subject of both controversy (amongst stuck-up adults), and a figure fun (and sympathy) for children.
Her work was often accompanied by gorgeous illustrations that celebrated the secret world of children and childhood rituals.
This wonderful image of two boys heading off for a game of cricket could have been my brother and I. There was no disconnection between child and storyteller here.
Works such as The Folk of the Faraway Tree, which are extraordinary for their imaginative riches...
...and surreal situations, read today like Tolkien for the tween and pre-teen crowd.
The writer, who began her career as a schoolteacher, forges an intimate connection with her readers that never loses its sense of wonder.
Almost four decades after I first encountered the work of this superstar of children's fiction, I still find myself inspired and humbled by her powerful imagination.
In truth, I admire Enid more for her achievements of the fantastique than her writing style.
Her vivid depictions of childhood adventure, and rich detailing of domestic life, paint a picture of the early to mid-20th century that is fanciful but palpable.
No writer quite evoked such a powerful sense of wholesome wonder for me as Enid.
Just a month or two ago, I once again renewed my yearly subscription to "The Enid Blyton Society Journal"...
... a quarterly publication that celebrates all that is Enid and the fantastic legacy she left behind....
...not to mention (which I will, anyway) the legions of children she raised with 26 carefully chosen letters of the English alphabet.