Monday 10 March 2008

Enid Blyton for The Heart of a Child Challenge

I've been reading these two books over the past couple of weeks for The Heart of a Child challenge run by Becky at Becky's book reviews. The reason I chose these two, The Valley of Adventure and The Castle of Adventure, both by Enid Blyton, is because they're two books I grew up with as a child. (These are not the actual copies I hasten to add.) Ours was not a reading household, we were a rare thing in those days (the 1950s and 60s), a one parent family, and there just wasn't the money for buying books. These two belonged to my brother and I have to admit I covetted them. This envy lasted a year or so until my reading level was good enough to cope with them, I would have been eight or nine I suppose, and then my brother let me have them as he was by then too old for them. And thus started my childhood love affair with the books of Enid Blyton, particularly this series of 'Adventure' books involving the characters of Philip, his sister Dinah, Jack, his sister Lucy-Ann and Jack's parrot, Kiki.

This story starts with the children excited about going for night-time trip in Bill Smugs' plane. Bill is a policeman they are friendly with who has recently learnt to fly. Due to a mix-up they end up on the wrong plane, shots are fired outside on the tarmac, the plane takes off and the children, hiding behind some crates, quickly realise they've been taken off by criminals who don't know they're there. When the pane lands they manage to sneak off and see that they've landed in a remote valley surrounded by mountains. They head upwards and find themselves a cave near a waterfall to hide out in. They spy on the criminals, pinch their food and generally make a nuisance of themselves until things take a more serious turn when they discover the criminals have a prisoner. They're ill-treating him and thus the children eventually discover what actually *is* going on.

This second book starts with Dinah and Lucy-Ann waiting to go home at the start of the school holidays and looking forward to seeing their brothers. The children all live with Phillip and Dinah's mother who has hired a cottage in a hilly region (my guess was Wales but they didn't actually say) for the holidays. When the children arrive they're excited to discover a castle at the top of the hill but disappointed when they're told not to go near it because it's too dangerous; there has been a landslide and the place could collapse. Of course, that doesn't put them off! Jack's eagerness to find an eagle's nest takes them to the castle which seems impregnable until they eventually find a way in helped by Tassie, a local urchin. It's a creepy place, made even creepier by the fact that they soon realise the castle is occupied when they had been told it was abandoned. Jack gets permission to spend a couple of nights up there trying to photograph his golden eagle family and that's when the adventure really begins.

It was fascinating reading these two books after what must be almost 50 years. I read quite a lot of YA fiction now and it was interesting to compare modern books for children and ones written 60 years ago. A couple of things quickly became apparent. Firstly, how much more freedom children had in those days. These children were aged 11 to about 14 and wandered willy-nilly all over the place, unsupervised, all day and sometimes at night. They also had an unmarried male friend of mature years and no one thought anything of it. I fancy they would these days. The other thing I noticed was how much more interesting the boys were than the girls. Blyton gave the two boys hobbies such as bird watching (Jack) and a fascination with animals (Phillip). The girls apparently did nothing. Did Blyton prefer boys to girls? I believe she had two daughters so I find that hard to believe. But it did seem to me that the boys definitely played the major role and the girls were almost 'allowed to tag along'. I tried to remember her other series which I also read avidly but only The Famous Five came readily to mind. One girl in that who played a major role in adventures was 'George' but George was a girl who very definitely wanted to be a *boy*. So make of that what you will.

Of course none of this was apparent to an eight year old discovering adventure fiction for the first time. I devoured Enid Blyton books like there was no tomorrow; talk about escapism from a hum-drum life! And now my grandaughter is reading them and it's great fun chatting to her about exactly these books because she clearly loves them too. I am glad though that Enid Blyton is not all she reads, we all make sure she reads a variety of authors because I really don't want her getting the idea that boys have all the fun and are somehow *better*.

All that said... I *did* enjoy my trip down memory lane with Enid Blyton.


Juliet said...

What a trip down memory lane! I read (and adored) Enid Blyton almost exclusively for several years as a child. Compared with today, there really wasn't a vast amount else available if one wasn't interested in Biggles etc.

Describing something as 'Enid Blytonish' still conjours up adventure, cosiness and of course lashings of ginger beer for people who are now of a Certain Age. But though I had a lot more freedom to roam than my children do, I realised even then that this kind of adventure was not on the cards for children in real life.

I found reading the Adventure series and the Famous Five to my own children quite taxing because I felt obliged to read ahead of myself and edit out a lot of the politically (highly) incorrect stuff.

My sister-in-law, the only girl in a family of five, grew up with not only Ms Blyton but her four brothers constantly repeating the phrase 'you can't do that, you're only a girl' and she is convinced it caused lasting damage to her self-esteem.

Eloise said...

This brought back some memories, when I think of Enid Blyton I tend to remember the St Clare's books or the fantasy ones like the Wishing Chair but now I remember loving these too. I don't recall the boy bias, but probably just ignored it - as an elder sister to a brother it didn't relate to me, I was the bossy one.

DesLily said...

wow.. that "freedom" and having adult "friends" would not sit well now-a-day! But then again television and the news was a lot less and many didn't know that the dangers were out there...

maybe a little ignorance isn't so bad before we grow old enough to worry about everything and take the pure joy of living away from us.??

Marg said...

I haven't read Blyton looking for a girl/boy bias, but off the top of my head it seems that the girls from the Magic Faraway Tree had a bit of the limelight. Then again it has been a VERY long time since I read those books!

Cath said...

Hi Juliet. You're right about there not being very much other than Enid Blyton for girls to read in those days. I don't think kids today realise how lucky they are. *Their* fiction is the up and coming trendy genre these days. *Not* when we were kids it wasn't.

You're also right when you say that that kind of adventure was not real life... even though I did roam the Cornish countryside and coast more than I would ever have allowed my own children to do.

Yes, I was reading one of these books with my grandaughter, (can't remember the title) and Blyton wasn't treating the native black children with a great deal of respect. It made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. There's a gyspy girl in The Castle of Adventure and although the children are nice to her it's made clear *somehow* that they're better than her.

I honestly feel a lot of damage was done to girls' self esteem back in our day - unknowingly really. Boys were definitely the bees knees and it was thought for instance that girls couldn't be any good at the sciences or maths. It was just beginning to change as I left school thank goodness.

I have one friend who can't see why I'm making a fuss about these books and their influence and the girl/boy thing from way back. To me it's interesting and explains a lot and I don't understand why *she* doesn't get it or care about it.

Cath said...

Eloise: I never read Blyton's boarding school books so maybe her treatment of girls would be much better in those. Not that it was terrible in the others, it was just obvious that she had given the boys interesting hobbies and made them personable but made one girl shrewish and the other nervous of everything. It struck me as unfair. I really must pick up that biography of Blyton - I think her daughter wrote it - and find out some more.

Hi Pat. No, no one talked about the dangers in our day. They were there, I know that from experience, but I think people didn't want to admit to children that adults were less than perfect. And children were still basically seen and not heard back then.

Marg, I think Blyton was basically just reflecting the times she lived in. In the 40s, 50s and early 60s I think it was generally thought that girls would marry and have kids and didn't really need to be interesting or do very much. I would have thought the war would have taught them otherwise but there you go. Thank goodness, things have changed but sometimes I think it may have gone too much the other way. Trust me to be perverse...

Nan said...

Sometime I am going to embark on an Enid Blyton month or more. We discovered her on a trip to Britain with our children in 1992. We got audio tapes of some of the Five books, and The Faraway Tree. My children still say "Saucepan" in the wonderful way the narrator did. These books will always remind me of our wonderful trip. The kids were almost ten and just seven; perfect ages. And even with the boy/girl thing, I think the books are better for children than reading about some of the topics out there today. Maybe they help a child going through things, but I don't think they do other kids so much good.

Tara said...

Oh, how I need to read Enid Blyton. You English bloggers are always mentioning her and I feel I've missed out.

Cath said...

Nan, I agree with you that some of the so called 'modern' fiction for children - politcally correct and so on - is not all that good for children. I do believe we rob children of their childhoods far too quickly. I know as a child I wanted to read about witches and goblins and 'adventures' not divorce or abuse. Can you get Enid Blyton's work over there? I'd always assumed it was only in bookshops in the UK and maybe Australia and New Zealand. I think you would find it fun and enjoy the trip back to a less complicated age. The Famous Five books are particularly good but there are many others.

LOL, Tara. I'm not sure if you've missed out but many Brits of a certain age have a real fondness for her writing, partly I think because when we were young there wasn't a great deal else to serve as pure escapism.

BooksPlease said...

This brought back memories, Cath. I loved Enid Blyton as a child, but haven't read any since then. It's interesting to compare the change in attitudes. I remember playing in the fields behind our house, making dens without my parents knowing exctly where I was. We went on bike rides into the countryside unaccompanied and never gave it a second thought - there was more freedom for children then.

I loved her school stories as well as the Adventure, Famous Five and Secret Seven books. Did you read the Naughtiest Girl in the School? I read it so many times!

I've had a quick look at my books, but I think the only Blyton book I've still got is The Rubadub Mystery, maybe I'll read that for the Heart of the Child Challenge - so nostalgic!

Cath said...

Booksplease, I did exactly the same things as you as a child. I was brought up on the outskirts of Penzance and our playing fields were the woods and fields within about a two mile radius. We built dens, blocked up streams, picked bluebells and primroses galore - it was idyllic really. Sadly, I can't imagine letting a child do that kind of thing now. What a lot we've lost.

I didn't read The Naughtiest Girl in the School books - I *think* because they weren't in the library, which is where my books came from. I bought a collection of those for my grandaughter to read at Christmas though, funnily enough.

The Rubadub mystery is one of what I call the 'R' mysteries. There are about 6 or 8 and all the titles begin with R - Rilloughby Fair, Rockingdown etc. Those are my grandaughter's favourites, I think because of the humour. I was reading one with her and I must admit to giggling along with her at the antics of the dog, 'Loony'. If you decide to add it to your Heart of a Child challenge books I look forward to your review.

Nan said...

I loved reading about the childhoods of you, and your commenters. My own kids were on the edge of the 'structured' days but still had a lot of free time. Just yesterday, our son told Tom what a wonderful childhood he had - to be able to go out to the barn and have all those animals. Whew! Aren't those words we parents love to hear?! I think in the smaller towns, kids still have a fair bit of freedom to roam.

Anonymous said...

I loved these books as a child and still have my entire set of Adventure stories on my bookshelves, complete with original dustjackets, so are now collectibles but I love them dearly and cannot see me parting with them. Liked Dinah but Lucy-Ann always annoyed me!