Books, Memories

Enid Blyton

Good authors have the ability to fire up our imagination while great authors have the ability to transport us to the magical world they weave with their words.  Children of today’s generation will probably nod their heads and point to J.K. Rowling but for a large group of children of my era, the author of choice was Enid Blyton.  Many of my contemporaries had their start with one of Blyton’s books that involved a world of pixies, elves, brownies, toys and of course, children.  

My introduction to Enid Blyton came via a gift from my grandfather to my brother – “Fireside Tales”.  I was too young to read, my brother read the stories to me.  I was probably three years old.  It was a fascinating collection that mixed fantasy with tales of morality.  It was a world where toys come to life at night and young, impertinent boys who kicked in anger were straightened out.   I would pore over the illustrations – sketches really, reliving the stories that my brother had read out to me.  Then followed stories of Brer Rabbit.  Again, my brother read these stories to me until I was old enough to read them myself.

When I look back, I can mark the passage of time by the Enid Blytons that I read.  Fireside Tales in first grade, Brer Rabbit in second.  The Mr. Meddle series in the third. Mr. Meddle, as his name suggests, is this annoying character who sticks his nose in everybody else’s business.  He has a long nose too!  Of course, Karma takes its course and Mr. Meddle finds himself in all kinds of sticky situations and is punished suitably for his transgressions.  Third grade also saw me start off on the “Secret Seven” series.  I felt mighty grand as I read those books.  My brother, a veteran was reading Alistair Maclean and I was also reading stories of mystery and adventure.  It was, also for the first time that I was reading books with chapters.  I had been reading individual short stories before and this was the next step.  The Secret Seven are a group of child detectives who solve local crimes.  They use passwords and have badges.  We were quite influenced by this and formed our own “Secret Seven” society.  We met in my friend Deepu’s room (he was the only one amongst us who had a room for himself).  I was elected leader, probably because I had read the most Secret Seven books.  I don’t think much came of this.  I remember following a gentleman at a discreet distance, he went to a store and a bank before returning home.  Nothing suspicious, but I remember making an entry in my pocket diary. The fourth grade saw me graduate to the “Famous Five” series.  This was quite a transition.  The Famous Five were again detectives of sorts and got into exciting adventures.  One of the characters owned an island and it impressed me to no end that these children would row a boat to the island.

What I would have given to have owned these as a young boy!

There were other Enid Blyton books too.  We rarely bought these books.  They were borrowed from libraries – school or the local circulating library.  Incidentally, when I was in primary school, we were allocated “Library days”, days when we could check out and return books.  In 4th grade, it was Fridays and I would return home excited if I had been able to find a Famous Five that I could read over the weekend.  We did gift them and receive them as birthday gifts.  When I would gift a “Famous Five” to a friend, I knew which books he had read and owned.  I picked one which neither of us had read, that way I could always borrow the book once he was done and read it myself!  Buying these books itself was an interesting experience.  I would go to Higginbothams, Premier Book Store, Gangarams or the Bible Society, all bookstores close to my school in Bangalore.  I would see entire shelves of Enid Blyton that I would have loved to read but would have to buy a couple, for a friend.

“Children of the Cherry Tree Farm” was gifted to my brother on one his birthdays by my cousins.  This book has stuck long in my memory for a couple of reasons.  Growing up in a city – Bangalore (which was still very green in the seventies), I was fascinated by the characters in the book who are a family of city kids who are sent off to stay with their uncle and aunt at a farm.  There they befriend a man called Tammylan who lives in the woods.  Tammylan introduces the kids to local flora and fauna.  It was a gentle introduction to animals such as badgers, hedgehogs and so on.  My house now abuts about 300 acres of conservation land. When I walk through the woods, I am reminded of the book and Enid Blyton’s description of the animals.  There are raccoons, deer, coyotes, squirrels, chipmunks and foxes.  I don’t see them in the woods, they hear me long before I get close to them or even if they were around, I don’t spot them.  I do see some of them in my yard though and I’m reminded of the wonder the children experience in the book when they see the animals.

“The Boy Who Kicked” from “Fireside Tales”

I am a foodie at heart and another attraction of Blyton’s books were her description of sausages, tarts, scones, jams, custards and other such delicacies.  I must admit though that scones were a disappointment when I ate them for the first time.  I expected them to be sweeter!  My friend had a similar experience.  The “potted meat” that the Famous Five ate conjured visions of some tasty dish for us, but as my friend Ashish remarked, it was just canned food!  Enid Blyton did write the Famous Five series during WW2, a time of scarcity and rationing and perhaps some of the food she mentions in her books reflected the reality of that period.

There were a host of other books writen by Enid Blyton – the Noddy series is one, no less than the illustrious Shashi Tharoor got his start with Noddy.  I was never really into the “Five Find Outers.  This series again involved kid detectives who were led by the rotund “Fatty”.  In today’s politically correct world, Blyton would not have been able to slip that name past her publishers.  Actually now that I think of it, illustrations of Golliwogs in Noddy would be considered offensive today and in fact, they have stirred controversy as being racist.  As a reader, I struggle with this.  I love reading Kipling, but some his views on race and his colonial mindset are unsettling.  I enjoyed reading the Edgar Wallace “Sanders of the River” series as a young boy.  In the books, Sanders is a colonial administrator in Africa and I enjoyed the stories. I tried to reread them a few years ago but found his description of the natives jarring.  I guess these authors and books were products of their times.  When I read them as a young boy, I was oblivious to the history of the period and my focus was purely on the stories.  

The Famous Five rowing to Kirrin Island

Enid Blyton was a prolific author.  Born in Britain, she had a difficult childhood, she loved her father but not her mother.  Her father encouraged her love for reading and music.  Her parents had violent disagreements and her father left the family when she was 13 for another woman.  Enid turned to write stories as a form of escape.   Her first book was published in 1922.  At the peak of her career, she was bringing joy to children all over the world with her stories, but her own daughter remembers as her being distant and aloof.  Enid apparently did not have time for her.   In a way, her books were fantasies where children were self-sufficient without any significant role for adults.  

Her books have been translated into multiple languages and have sold hundreds of millions of copies around the world.  Surprisingly, she was not popular in the US and her books are not available here. In fact, a couple of my favorite comics – “Tintin” and “Asterix and Obelix” are also virtually unknown here and I’m not quite sure why.  As I write this, I also realize that I have read only a fraction of her books.  I have not read series such as “Mallory Towers” or “St Clares” and then there are the innumerable books on pixies, brownies, elves and other “little people”.  

I am sentimental by nature.  Sometime in 2006 I bought a few Brer Rabbits and a copy of the 1972 edition of “Fireside Tales” from and read them to my daughter.  Later,  I bought her the entire “Secret Seven” and “Famous Five” series and a few other books by Enid Blyton and she did enjoy them. She digressed a bit by reading the “Magic Tree House” series but once she read her first Harry Potter, these were soon forgotten.  She still has all the books neatly stacked in her bookshelf and I am not ashamed to say that once in a while I read a Brer Rabbit escapade or a Fireside Tale.  It is sobering to realize that I first read these books well over 40 years ago.  The Kindle is easier on my eyes now, but the yellowed pages of these hard bounds have a charm of their own and the memories they hold of my childhood are priceless!

2 thoughts on “Enid Blyton

  1. Noddy it was for me too. I must say the character illustrations/descriptions were as much a draw as the stories we read. Not to miss the Hardy Boys series we kinda ran thru in our elementary classes. Almost always they were out on circulation. I must admit, I however, do carry the feeling but have forgotten the details – names of characters, descriptions etc., Kudos to you yet again for this walk down the memory lane – in vivid recollections.

    1. Thanks, Naren! Part of the fun of growing up was to visit your house amongst others and find unexpected treasures to read. I vividly remember a Scout “Pathfinder’s Annual” that you guys had at home. We had a different edition at home too and I still remember the illustrations of campfires, tents and scouting knots. Time to write one on Scouting!

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