March 28, 2012

No Enid Blyton allowed!

Filed under: growing up,things I read on the internet,things Rhiannon does not like — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:40 am


Like Michael Morpurgo, I was banned from reading Enid Blyton as a child.

Morpurgo’s stepfather, an academic, believed her too superficial and, consequently, not good for him.
“But he was wrong,” says Morpurgo. “Her books were terrific page-turners in the way no others were. I had all sorts put into my hands when I was very little – I was offered Dickens at eight – that were not suitable for boys my age at all. But with Enid Blyton, I found I could actually get into the story, and finish it. They moved fast, almost as fast as comics, and there was satisfaction to be had on every single page. Were they great literature? Of course not. But they didn’t need to be.”

This comment from Morpurgo, in the Guardian, gives me deja vu. It seems as though only a couple of weeks ago I had at this question from the other side when I said that I found Dickens very readable as a child. I also read Brave New World at eight abd although I’m sure I missed nuances I understood it.

But Enid Blyton? The only appeal was that I’d been banned from reading her. My mother, author Mary Hoffman, didn’t think much of Blyton and wouldn’t have her writing in the house. But friends had it and the school library was full of the stuff so I naturally had to see what was being forbidden. I read the Faraway Tree (limp fantasy) and several the …of Adventure series: as in Island of Adventure, Castle of Adventure, etc. But they were clearly formulaic. One child loves animals and keeps ferrets down his trousers and owls in his hat which may or may not usefully save the day if a sudden need for ferrets or owls arises. I can’t remember much more than that -except that wherever the Location of Adventure was there were always caves involved.

My mother was also anti reading scheme books and from what I hear from a friend with primary school aged children those haven’t changed much either. I think even the Village with Three Corners is still kicking around in school libraries. Who else remembers Billy Blue Hat and Roger Red Hat? And did they seriously introduce a white turbanned character later on?

25 years on (oh dear lord I am old) I still endorse the Enid Blyton ban. I’ll go further and say that formulaic lumpen children’s fiction is like junk food. You can read it, you can enjoy it, but it’s lacking essential elements of literary nutrition. Take the Rainbow Fairies series. Yes, I know little girls love them. And, no, that is not enough for me to spare them my ire. Their appeal is a mixture of peer pressure and completism. And perhaps curiosity: why is there one fairy (Gertrude?) for Gerbils while another takes on all the rest of the small rodents.

I agree with Morpurgo and disagree with Gove, that demanding children read “good” literature is a sure way to turn them off the stuff. That said, a list of 50 great books sounds like a better thing to have forced on you than Messers Blue Hat and Red Hat. Despite reading fluently my junior school wouldn’t allow me to pass on to “free reading” until I had had every single reading scheme book ticked off in my reading book. A Herculean feat when the whole school was reading their way through the things (out of order) and some simply didn’t seem to exist.

Ultimately “free reading” is the goal. You should read what you want to read. No matter who calls it dross. (Including me.) Read Harry Potter and Twilight. Read Enid Blyton and the Rainbow Fairy books. Read banned books like Forever and Speak. Read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (which kids at my school passed around like Lady Chatterly’s Lover to avoid parental bans). Read Huysman’s A Rebours (the book that corrupted Dorian Grey). Read Gove’s list of 50 books (if he comes up with one) and all the other lists of books to read before you die. This is how you develop a critical faculty: by reading books until you know which ones you think are good and bad and, more importantly, why you think so.

There’s still no Enid Blyton in my house. But I wouldn’t bother to ban it. Why give it the allure of the forbidden? The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin – there’s a novel to avoid, you’re probably not ready for it, it’s not all that great anyway, I’ll just put it on this high shelf out of your reach and leave the room…

13 Comments »

  1. [...] – Enid Blyton. By pure coincidence, both Michael Morpurgo and Rhiannon Lassiter have just written online articles about how Enid Blyton was banned in their houses while they were [...]

    Pingback by My Life in Books #6 – Enid Blyton « Jo's Blog — March 28, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  2. We weren’t banned from reading Blyton, but our mother wouldn’t ever buy it for us, and she told us it wasn’t as good as the books that she did buy. Which we found, via investigation at the library, to be an accurate assessment.

    When there are such a lot of great children’s books which are as readable as Blyton but also as thought-provoking as Dickens, it seems a shame to be wasting time on the pablum.

    Insisting on completion of the reading scheme before allowing any other reading sounds positively dictatorial! That’s terrible. Essex must have been a beacon of enlightenment by contrast.

    Comment by Mo — March 28, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  3. OMG, this is what is known in our family as a A Dreadful Calumny! I don’t rate Blyton but she was never banned from the house. You had the library, didn’t you and the ability to borrow any kids’ book you liked? I read all the Blyton I could get my hands on as a kid and my main objection as an adult is that I could remember not one plot, character, name or theme. They went through me like a dose of salts, leaving nothing except that well known story of my appendectomy surgeon offering six-year-old me her autograph. “Because she’s my wife”!

    Comment by Mary Hoffman — March 28, 2012 @ 11:14 am

  4. I have happy memories of the Faraway Tree, especially Moon-Face, and those two bad bunnies Binkle & Flip – though admittedly any plots that I may have come across in Blyton thoroughly escape me now.

    Children aren’t stupid. They won’t get stuck on Blyton: they’ll do what I did and move on to Tove Jansson by the age of 4 or 5 or so, and never look back.

    Comment by Matthew Marcus — March 28, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  5. I loved Enid Blyton stories when I was little – mainly the Secret Seven mysteries and remember being dreadfully upset when my Mother bought a Famous Five book for me by mistake! Having said that I’ve come across Mister Meddle and the Faraway Tree as an adult having to listen to children reading and found them mind numbing.

    Comment by Maryom — March 28, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  6. I was allowed to read Enid Blyton and after two books decided not to. But I agree that children should read anything and everything to find out what is good.

    You think Enid Blyton is poor? You aint’s seen nothin’ yet. I’ve spent the last two days reading in the Magic Fairy Unicorn Rainbow Princess genre.

    Comment by StropyAuthor — May 5, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  7. ain’t. Not aint’s

    Comment by StropyAuthor — May 5, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  8. I read Enid Blyton although we were not allowed to at school. Of course you moeve on to better things when you are older, But Enid Blyton made reading enjoyable for young children, it introduced them to the joys of reading that so many children today don´t ever do because they find the stories boring, or too much effort. The joys of Enid Blyton was the easy reading. It may not have been great litereature but it got children all over the world to read and book and go back and read another. I have four children and so far the eldest three just will not read a book. I have just brought the Enchanted forest for my six year old and I´m going to see if my theroy is correct. That easy reading like Enid makes a child want to read more.

    Comment by Heidi Jungreuthmayer — September 25, 2012 @ 10:42 am

  9. I have been studying a Literature unit this semester and my concepts on childrens books has change drastically. Our mistake as teachers (my major degree) is that we are all about the children needing to learn something when they read, WRONG! We need to get children to want to read before they want to learn. They need to be able to enjoy reading and Enid Blyton made this possible for children for generations. We wrap our children in cotton wool so much that they get bored of the happy endings and lack of conflict, Children want to feel something when they read! Whether it is fear, sadness or joy! We read so we can relate to human behaviour, and that human behaviour is feeling the emotions of the characters no matter how far-fetched the story line is.I am all for Enid Blyton and her amazing mind. She has created a world that children can escape to and be able to read just for the enjoyment of reading! Not many of us can say we had that as children, but it is my mission as a teacher to allow children to fall in love with books, all kinds of books and I believe Enid Blyton will be my starting point for those reluctant to read.

    Comment by Natalie Gillard — November 7, 2012 @ 1:41 am

  10. As a child I loved Secret Seven and Malory Towers, but as somebody else said – I couldn’t tell you anything about them now. My two oldest children really enjoy reading and the 10 year old has enjoyed several Secret Seven and Famous Five. The youngest (7) is a very reluctant reader and I’m still reading him bedtime stories. I’ve read him the Faraway Tree series TWICE and I have still no idea what he likes about them. They are truly awful! The plot and one dimensional characters that are so predictable. When I finished the thrid book, again, I bought him the Wishing Chair books and told him he was on his own. I read him other books, but not Enid Blyton.
    Although, I did spot a Malory Towers on offer and had to have it for myself. I remember loving it as a child. Really, I don’t know why! I’m not sure there even is a plot. And I don’t enjoy the way we are TOLD how to feel about the characters, rather than getting to know them – such as Gwendoline who is obviously spoilt because she’s not friends with the most popular girls and pretends to cry because she misses her family – clearly, nobody going to boarding school for the first time would really miss their family. Yet, somehow I’ve made it to chapter 8 and I’ll be going back for more!
    I agree with the comparison to junk food. But, if you put a packet of chocolate hobnobs in front of me, I’m sure I’d eat the lot.

    Comment by W — June 19, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

  11. I love Enid Blyton

    Comment by olivia — February 14, 2014 @ 7:31 pm

  12. As a kid i can say that your all wrong Enid blyton is great

    Comment by cameron — June 9, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

  13. [...] Blyton enjoyed (and still enjoys) the backlash from librarians, teachers, and other people who wish to promote ‘proper literature’ to children the world over for her work. Rhiannon Lassiter’s mother (Mary Hoffman) banned Blyton, you can see what Lassiter thought to that by following this link. [...]

    Pingback by Was Enid Blyton a bad writer? | Jack Reusen — April 8, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress