Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hensher Versus Blyton and Motherhood

Enid Blyton's strongest association for most people is The Secret Seven books (15 volumes; '49-'63) and The Famous Five books (21 volumes; '42-63).

These were the first mysteries with regular characters I ever read.

The covers were always superbly evocative.

Blyton rarely addressed issues such as poverty and juvenile delinquency, but she made an exception with The Six Bad Boys ('51).

I recently stumbled upon a predictable assault on Blyton from one Philip Hensher of The Independent. In his essay, "The Fatal Childhood Addiction to Enid Blyton", this buffoon declares her unreadable, and attacks the values presented in The Six Bad Boys:

"In one really remarkably nasty one, (The) Six Bad Boys, a working single mother is condemned for not staying at home and cooking endless cakes for her demanding son - her neglect turns the hideous child delinquent. No child now, surely, would find this moral lesson anything but hilarious, or so one would hope."

Interesting how the tables have recently revolved, if not turned completely, on this issue. Blyton's consequence of absent parenting , though simplistic, is not near as "hilarious" as Hensher states. Many modern youth problems have been attributed to the break-up of the family unit and the absence of adult role models. It is not always possible (or financially realistic) for one parent to remain home, but it is certainly better for the child. Only a fool would argue otherwise.

Blyton celebrated the value and utter importance of Motherhood. I have no issue with that.

Interestingly, fathers were often absent in her novels, a situation that paralled her own upbringing.

The author's adventures were always tempered by the proximity of the action to the homes of the adventurers. The children usually managed to get home for "tea". As a very young child reading these books, I was comforted by the occasional presence of dependable adults. Blyton understood the young psyche and its needs very well.

Although I preferred freak circuses and sideshows from a very early age, my initial interest in the circus was stimulated by the author's exciting circus books.

The cover illustration here portends a shade of doom that isn't quite delivered. Still, the world of the big top was portrayed as a scary, foreign place.

I'll leave the second last paragraph to Hensher:

"As is well known, Blyton's attitudes are often frankly antediluvian - they were reactionary at the time, and probably ought to have relegated her to the ranks of unread authors by now. Some tinkering with language and images of golliwogs has been bravely embarked upon by publishers, but still, "foreigners" are automatically funny, dirty or cowardly - it hardly becomes racism, so little does Blyton ever distinguish between different varieties of the non-English."

There is nothing brave about revisionism, Mr. Hensher. It reeks of insecurity and an immature mind. Finally, the writer appears to be looking for a fight that doesn't exist. If Blyton is not drawing obvious race distinctions in her fiction, isn't that commendable? You say so yourself: "It hardly becomes racism." We're all funny, dirty, and cowardly at times. If you'd read enough Blyton, you'd know that she believed that, too, Mr. Hensher. It is your criticisms that are antediluvian.




  1. Rats.


    Now I have to go and look up 'Antediluvian'...

  2. I note that Wikipedia says 'Antediluvian' (once you get through all the biblical stuff) means, in essence 'out of date'.

    Thanks for the new word, Phantom. There are indeed many things to be gained from starting the day with the Phantom.

    It also says H.P. was fond of using the word, so that is good enough for me.

    BTW, in my research last night, I found a reference to a film I had never heard of called 'Ressurected', Dan O'Bannon's second feature, also based on the writing of Lovecraft. Have you seen it? Sounds good.

    As for Dame Enid? I always felt that she had earned the coveted mantle of the 'critic proof', and yet you have lifted up a random rock and the dubious insect Mr. Hensher has scuttled out to spread his poison.

    What can I say in reply to his words that you haven't already said, except to say that this particular insect, like most critics, should be pinned to a display case in a museum as a self serving, underachieving wildly jealous and ultimately irrelevant example of the truly 'antediluvian'.

    Or perhaps he should simply be squashed.

    It is a rare critic indeed who can hope to reach the plateau of brilliance achieved by their noble subjects. Two ex-pats spring to mind as fitting the bill; say, Clive James, and Robert Hughes. For mine, these men were such worthy and imaginitve critics that they could not remain such, and were drawn into the arena to make their own contributions.

    And thank the creator they did.

    As for the rest? Any other suggestions from the board regarding the fate of these swine we call, for want of a better word, 'critics'??

  3. mandingo -- Nothing antediluvian about you, my friend.

    I like the idea of pinning him to a display case. A nice long pin, too.

    James and Hughes are certainly good examples of constructive, thoughtful critics with a passion for their subjects, not contempt for its creators.

    Anything that is good for HP is good for me.