Sunday, February 26, 2012

Treasure Chest #2 Enid Blyton

Reviewer: QueenBee
I’d like to share one of my favorite authors of children’s literature I highly esteem, having grown up with them and the Treasure Chest feature on this blogsite is a perfect vehicle to spotlight these timeless writers. Most adults can name an author that touched their lives as a child and made their world a little richer for the doing. Good books find their way into a child’s heart in many ways. Maybe we had a parent or teacher who read to us; maybe a librarian recommended an author or a series; maybe they were a gift from a distant relative who wanted to be impactful; maybe a friend turned us on to what they were reading. It’s a blessed kid who has found a book so involving they read it by flashlight under the covers after bedtime because they just couldn’t put the book down. Enid Blyton was that kind of author for me.

British author Enid Blyton, now deceased, also wrote under the penname Mary Pollock (her middle and married name combined). Her books have sold more than 600 million copies and her work has been translated into 90 different languages. I grew up with her books and must admit I still occasionally read material authorized by her estate that moved to complete such beloved series as Mallory Towers and St. Clares. Some of her work has enjoyed modernization as many titles are dated and a product of the times they were written in. While at some later date I may explore the modernized works, I am going to focus on two of her original series for the purpose of this review.

With over 1700 works of Enid Blyton recognized on Goodreads (please note this includes books written by others who have received permission from the estate), I wish to focus on two series that I have read over and over and are my personal favorites, The Secret Seven and Famous Five. Both are set in England in an undisclosed period. The Famous Five consists of 21 novels where four children and their dog have adventures with minimal adult help.

Famous Five features the holiday adventures of a group of young children. The first book introduces us to Julian, Anne, and Dick when they go to spend a summer at their Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin’s house at the seaside village of Kirrin. The adults have a daughter, Georgina and her dog Timmy rounds out the fifth member of the Famous Five.

Rough and tumble Georgina, who goes by George the tomboy, hates her cousins when she first meets them. The story begins with her portrayed as a lonely girl whose only friend is Timmy, the dog who is a secret she must keep from her parents who don’t like the dog. It’s interesting to note Enid admitted in later years that she based George on herself.

George’s cousins visit for the summer and at first bossy “George” doesn’t like the changes that accompany their arrival. Quick to temper and somewhat scatterbrained like her scientist dad, the 11 year old firebrand loves her rural life and roaming the private island her family owns. The setting is perfect for adventures and the simple joys to be had in picnics, lemonade, bike trips, and exploring sea shores and old creaky homes with secret passageways and smugglers’ tunnels.

At 12 yrs of age, Julian is the oldest of the group and its natural leader. Level headed and fair, he is often found sorting out arguments Dick and George are having and maintaining group calm in tricky situations. He plans their adventures they all follow. 11 year old Dick is cheeky and quick witted and often butts heads with George, enjoying winding her up to a frenzy. 10 year old Anne is the baby of the group, easily frightened and pulled into adventures she doesn’t enjoy like the others. She is the planner and organizer, pulling domestic duties during the Five’s camping holidays. Both Julian and Dick are protective of their little sister and she becomes a strong, resourceful character in her own right.

Timmy the dog is a mutt George adopts in the first book who fiercely protects all the children on all their holidays. While initially ‘her’ dog and only friend, Timmy soon becomes beloved to all and a character in his own right. He is very loyal, clever and affectionate and allowed to become part of the household by the end of the first novel.

Adults have little presence in these children driven stories, although George’s parents figure into each book. There is Aunt Fanny, mother of George and maternal figure for all of the children, who has lived on Kirrin Bay for years, although she has sold off a lot of land to maintain her beloved island. She spends her days worrying after the children and their adventures and makes sure that the Five don’t get into any real trouble. She is written as dotingly looking after her husband who has either lost something or his temper. Uncle Quentin, George’s scatterbrained but world-famous scientist father, is usually portrayed as often losing his patience with lost paperwork that set back his experimentation. He is kidnapped or held hostage in several of the books and one book, too, involves his preoccupation with an invention so important he won’t let the children visit Kirrin Island for fear they might interfere with his concentrative study. He is actually a good sort when he is not busy and he arranges holidays at some interesting locales throughout the scientific community.

In short order, George and her cousins become fast friends and, as the series progresses, the girls even end up at the same boarding school. The first book, Five on a Treasure Island, has the children searching for lost gold from a sunken ship a bad storm brings to the surface. There’s a treasure map they find inside a black box pointing to a hidden dungeon on the island. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones interested in finding the gold ...

What I don’t like about Enid’s books is that the characters are described with very limited words and it is only by guesswork a reader figures out the children’s ages. It’s believed, however, Enid’s fast paced writing style grabs children’s attention and fuels their imagination by encouraging them to fill in the gaps left by the very limited descriptions of scenes.

Since some words have become politically incorrect and part of the lexicon of the era she wrote them in, subsequent editions have changed. It would be nice to see a release published with the original format intact and notations calling out the differences. These books should be seen as historical pieces as they speak of the nature of the times they were written. It’d be nice too to have once more the original art for her covers. Enid Blyton wrote messages on them to children.

There is an expanded series written in the 70’s and 80’s by a French author named Claude Voilier and most of these have been translated into English. These are further adventures that use the same core characters featured in the original series and a few brought in by this new writer. Unfortunately, the series was retired after its initial publication and is no longer available.

There is a second generation of Famous Five which features each of the original kids' offspring as well as a descendent of Timmy. It is set at Kirrin Cottage which is now home to an adult George and her husband and daughter. This is a perfect vehicle for younger readers whose parents want to introduce them to the magical world this author has created. There has even been a couple of TV adaptations of the book series. An anmated TV series followed and there have been several films and even a musical released on DVD in 1997. Not to leave any stone unturned, the series has also made its way into video games, gamebooks, and comics.

The second series of Enid Blyton’s I want to recommend is The Secret Seven which stands out as the only series that she set during school term as each child goes to day school. The Secret Seven is a group of child detectives who get to solve various mysteries presented in each book. The group consists of Peter, Janet, George, Collin, Jack, Pam, and Barbara. The girls all go to one school while the boys to another. Outside of Peter and Janet being siblings, none of the others are related to each other.

Peter is the leader of the group and we find these children always seem to be at the right place at the right time as far as mysteries go. His adherence for protocol can be wearing and unwittingly he reduces some of the girls to tears on more than one occasion. Janet, is his brave second in command and her attention to detail makes her good for following up clues. Jack is Peter’s best friend and the only one who stands up to Peter when he thinks he’s behaving unreasonably. In one book, he walks out on the group before affecting a reconcilliation later and his sister Susie takes advantage of his absence. Susie is Jack’s sister and featured heavily with some of her friends as a form of comic relief; she is always hanging around the group, humiliating and tormenting them because they won’t let her into the group. Binkle is her friend who, like her, causes a lot of mischief which is a constant source of irritation for The Secret Seven while providing the reader a laugh.

Colin has a big family that help unravel a mystery in one of the books and plays an important part in others. George, Collins’ best friend, is forced to leave the society in one of the books by his father who later rescinds his ban and allows him to rejoin. Barbara and Pam are best friends at Janet’s school and both girls don’t take the society seriously all the time and get reduced to silliness with giggling and nonsensical suggestions. Scamper is Peter and Janet’s dog, a golden spaniel who is an unofficial member of The Secret Seven and temporarily replaces members in the series when they leave the group for any reason.

With 15 books to the original series, the stories feature more core characters as the school setting brought about the potential for more child involvement.

Adults include the Inspector who the children become great friends with and turn to when they find something mysterious going on or need help. The Inspector encourages the children to help him do detective work, much to their delight, even if these children are often running around getting locked up and put in imminent danger and any responsible adult should not be encouraging them! Other adult characters in the series include Peter and Janet’s mother and father and Jack and Susie's mother who appear multiple times in the series. The Secret Seven series, like the Famous Five series, focus more on the children who act independently of the adults.

The series starts out with Peter deciding to form the Secret Seven after friend Jack sees a group of men haul a prisoner to an empty old house. A mystery is afoot and Jack and Peter find the prisoner with the help of the other five children and hand over the villains to a very satisfied Inspector.

Evelyne Lallemand, a French author, wrote an additional 12 books in the series in the mid ‘70s to mid ‘80s which were translated into English and occcasionally pop up on secondary markets. It’s a shame more isn’t done to get these republished and back into more children’s hands. A final note should probably include that while Enid writes in birthday parties, the kids don’t really age in the series. Otherwise, I don’t have problem because they are children books and I don’t want the magic formula changed.

One of the best English children writers, Enid Blyton is still regarded highly today. For me her work serves as a kind of family heritage as my parents grew up with her stories as well. It's interesting to note that her books served as some of the earliest examples of child detectives in England. She also known for her magical stories featuring pixies, fairies, animals and school houses.


Cathie Dunn said...

What a fabulous post, Queen Bee - down memory lane! :-)

I used to devour Enid Blyton's books - Famous Five, the Adventure series and St Clare's being my favourites - to the sound of my old Abba records. Of course Blyton's views are dated, representative of the times the stories were set in. Reading them in the late 70s/early 80s, they were already hopelessly out of date but still retained a charm that made them special.

OK, perhaps some views are not politically correct in modern perception but it's wrong to change classics simply because our views have changed. Enid Blyton's books still sell extremely well, and I hope this continues for many years to come.

Thanks for making me look up my childhood favourites...

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