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
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
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
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
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 AbeBooks.com 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!