Wednesday 25 August 2010

They're doing what to Enid Blyton now?

Love her or loathe her Enid Blyton can still stir up controversy more than 40 years after she died. Never content to let her, or her books alone, Hodder is "dragging her language out of the 1940s" and promising to remove such offensive phrases as "awful swotter", "dirty tinker", and even phrases that can not have been confusing or offensive to anyone "mother and father", "jolly lonely" and "it's all very peculiar". It's all very peculiar indeed.

Is it hystrionic to note that the language of Shakespeare, Dickens and Chaucer are all much more dated than poor Enid's and yet people still manage to read these books? Possibly. Yes, there have been toned down versions of these literary greats (and I'm by no means claiming Enid's oeuvre to be literary greats) to help children, and no doubt some adults, cope with the olde worlde language. But these versions can in no way compare to the experience that is reading the original, delving into the language of the time, and reading them as the author intended.

Modern children can definitely cope with this. They still love them. More than 2 million Famous Five books are sold around the world each year!I read the whole Famous Five series out loud to my then 7 year old son a few years ago. He absolutely loved them. Yes I had to explain some things- the pony trap that they used in the first book springs to mind, but there are things that need explaining in most books. I think reading the Famous Five books expanded his vocabulary no end. I've read many author interviews over the years where the author will credit Enid Blyton for nourishing their early love of books and reading, and many turn out a Blyton-esque attempt as their first written work. My son too, did exactly that. He wrote his first story at 7 in Year 2. Eight Go to Bells Mansion. It was wonderful. 15 typed pages of heavily Blyton-esque storyline, with robbers, and plucky children. He did veer somewhat away from Blyton with the giant spiders though.

Totally un-modern children can also cope. I read the Famous Five series to myself when I was about 9 -probably 20ish years ago ;-). I still have fond and very strong memories of Five Go Off in a Caravan. I was never allowed to go on a solo caravanning holiday with my cousins as a child. Indeed, I had never seen the wonderful painted wooden caravans that Enid described so vividly in 1946, they were completely outside my realm, but they set my imagination on fire. Such is the power of these books over children, and I am rather furious at Hodder for fiddling with them. I agree with bookshelves of doom that this seems to be more about dumbing down than creating modern translations to woo todays youngsters. The original versions will still be available, but that hardly seems the point.

Apparently she never actually used the term "lashings of ginger beer"! I was very relieved to see "All for one, and one for all" appear in The Three Musketeers last night. I was 150 pages in, and starting to worry that it might not actually be there.

I was surprised to see Enid Blyton come up in conversation between Jennifer Byrne and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Jennifer Byrne presents this week. I expected a smorgasbord of much more erudite topics, still they did make old Enid sound Revolutionary and Challenging to Authority, and when you look at her from that perspective, you know what?, she is. (It's dealt with from 10 minutes in in the video)