So, Enid Blyton. I don’t even know where to start with talking about Enid Blyton books, and the influence they had on my reading as a child. I know that I was reading chapter books early enough that I don’t recall starting, and that when I was 4-5 my Dad moved away for a year and sent me a book a week – Blyton paperbacks, for the most part. I remember walking to the Post Office to collect my regular parcel!
I know that I read and loved the mystery and adventure books – The Famous Five, the Secret Seven, The Adventure Of and The Mystery Of – and those characters and stories are deeply entangled in my heart. I also loved the random children books, and the various Toy stories, especially Amelia Jane (I think I was always a bit old for Noddy). But thanks to some world travelling in my mid-childhood years, I sold almost all of my collection, and the ones I cared about enough as an adult to re-acquire were not those ones at all.
Instead, the Blyton books I was most desperate to own again, and to reread, were the school stories and the magical classics: Malory Towers, St Clares, Naughtiest Girl, Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair.
I read most of the school stories in paperback, just like the mysteries (most books I owned were second hand) but the editions I most recall are the chubby little Dean & Sons 1970’s hardbacks with bright covers, and now I can’t go past them when I see them on a shelf. I have a particular fondness for the font and layout of these books as well as the internal illustrations, and was so excited when I found recent omnibuses of the Faraway Tree and Enchanted Wood books with the original typesetting. None of these modern interactions with Beth and Fran instead of Bessie and Fanny in THIS house! (though I will admit when reading them to my children I did hesitate as to whether I should censor the word ‘queer’).
Both The Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair have brilliant premises which allow for regular travel to magical lands, and marvellous adventures that have the potential to go dreadfully (but not too dreadfully) wrong. The Faraway Tree, with its gateway to an always-changing cornucopia of strange and magical wonders.
Then of course it had the lovely community in the tree itself, their delicious and improbable food (Google Buns and Pop Biscuits!), and their funny interactions. The whole thing is basically a set up for a sitcom. One of the elements I probably appreciate more now than I did as a child is the way that the children’s mother is gradually pulled into their adventures, because you know it’s quite ODD that your kids spend all this time with friends you’ve never met. Of course she needs to take tea with Moon-Face and Silky!
I don’t know why the boarding school stories were the ‘real world’ Blytons that resonated with me most. The all girl cast, maybe? But they fascinated me with their French lessons, midnight fests, tempestuous girls and their insane energy for sports. I still feel deeply connected to the game of lacrosse despite never having seen one in person.
Raeli is once again fascinated with the world of the very communist Whyteleafe School, where the Naughtiest Girl attends – she knows we read the first of these together a couple of years ago but doesn’t remember anything of it which is a shame. (Likewise she doesn’t remember the time I first tried to introduce her to these books, in which the concept of boarding school itself was so horrifying that refused to go near the book again for months.
Now of course she is asking covert questions about whether boarding schools are real and um, anything like the ones in the books, with a certain light in her eyes. As if I would let her go! (also, oddly, the Blyton she has discovered and read entirely on her own is Mr Twiddle, one I never would have thought of recommending to her)
This recent article by Jacqueline Rayner in the Guardian about the history of English girl comics reminds me of the comics and annuals I used to read at the same time, acquired in sheafs from various markets and op shops – many of them building on this odd, fantastical image of posh British girls boarding schools with their horses, big matches, teachers called Ma’mzelle, and midnight feasts at which a tin of pineapple would be the ultimate decadent treat.
Is it any wonder that I was a sucker for Harry Potter when it came out?
So many great links to other people’s posts about their childhood reading this week:
Faith Mudge remembers the effect that The Hobbit had on her as a child. I so read that book far too late in life!
Celia views her childhood reading through the lens of what books she most wants to share and pass on to her new baby son. Once we have kids, even the books we loved are not our own any more! (warning to all: it is far more emotionally painful than it should be when they reject the books we want them to adore!)
Terri looks at Nancy Drew, and why she was always far superior to the Hardy Boys.
Keep sending me your links! I’m loving reading these posts, which is why I decided to link to them with each of my posts instead of saving them up for the end.