Thursday, October 05, 2006

At the Guardian

Lucy Mangan considers some of the books and authors that have meant the most to her, including Enid Blyton:

I am listing Blyton instead of a single book because the fact is, she wrote the same one eight billion times a year: it is both pointless and practically impossible to elevate one above another. Wherever you start, you will soon have the measure of proto-lesbian George, dickless Dick, Anne the idiot, Julian the interwar home counties' answer to Jack Bauer, and Timmy the dog. They neither change, evolve nor behave in any way approximating that of real people, probably because their inventor was possessed of only two adjectives - "Queer!" and "Rather queer!" - which weren't as interesting then as they are now.

But it doesn't matter. Just as the plottiness of Dan Brown or Jeffrey Archer is sometimes all you're up for in adult life, so Blyton's linear, literal narratives are all kids require at some point or other. If you're a natural reader, you may realise after the capture of the 97th group of smugglers in a not-particularly-well-hidden cove that you are ready for a spot of characterisation or some oblique light commentary on the human condition. If you're not, you probably won't. But you will have learned something about telling a good story - and how to make a bed out of bracken.


  1. Too lazy to read the actual article, but must jump in to say that for us (me and M) Enid Blyton is all about the Mallory Towers boarding school books which we both have read about a zillion times--I loved them as a kid, and just found my ancient copies in the boxes in my dad's basement, and am thrilled that I get to keep them instead of handing them down, as M has her own much-reread set, the first several purchased when we were in London in successive Waterstone's forays, the last few requested from my dad and his partner who spend much of their time in London these days. It's not just the linearity; it's the community.

  2. Uh, that's Malory Towers.

  3. I read all of Enid Blyton as a girl, too. Famous Five were my favourites, but all the school ones, all the adventure ones -- I loved them all. Of course they were disapproved of totally by adults, banned from libraries etc (as I mentioned on A Book A Week in response to Becky's post about banned book week).
    The Malory Towers series was republished in the UK (to cash in on the Harry Potter boom I think). I got the set for Jenny and she avidly read it not once but twice (5 books). She was entranced and quite often uses the phraseology as it makes her laugh (and me when I hear her expressing phrases like "jolly hockey sticks"!) Jenny is also quite disappointed that lacrosse has almost died out as a school sport now. It was quite common when I was a girl (though not as common as hockey, my favourite sport), but nowadays only a few private schools offer it, I think. Pity, as it always struck me as a satisfyingly lethal sport.

  4. Malory Towers was definitely my favorite: I still read my mom's old ones, in English and Spanish. (Spanish Blyton is very, very odd.)

  5. I had a fit of reading the Malory Towers ones a few years ago when I was researching old-fashioned girls' boarding-schools for my novel (the best ones were really the WWI-era books, more than a generation earlier really, but MT very good pleasure-reading). Somehow I never had those when I was a kid, just some of the Famous Five ones while visiting grandparents' houses in the UK. The trashy boarding-school novels I loved were the Chalet School ones; and also, of course, those Sadler's Wells books by--what was her name? Anyway they were completely addictive...

    NB my father contributes the fact that the librarian in Galashiels when he was a boy (a friend of his parents') banned Enid Blyton from the library, Blyton was evidently the bane of librarians' existences in those days!