#secondthoughts – Enid Blyton

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I grew up reading her works – absolute lashings of the Famous Five, Mallory Towers, St Clares, and the Adventure series, with bits of the Secret Seven and the Mystery series thrown in for good luck.

I felt entirely betrayed when my boarding school experience didn’t match that portrayed by her in Mallory Towers and St Clares. But with the wisdom of age (and hindsight), I wasn’t a happy teen and a vast number of my peers appear to have enjoyed the experience (although I’ve not interrogated them over how well their experience matched the Blyton stories).

Villified for her racism (naughty Golly) and her entirely hands-off relationship with her own children, is she a fallen icon, or just a woman of her time?

Much of what was written at the time demonstrated the lack of enlightenment that was commonplace. Racism and mysogny were so prevelant as to pass beneath the radar of most; certainly I’ve heard many readers tell of re-visiting old loves and being shocked not only by the presence of both, but by the fact that they simply hadn’t noticed before.

As to her lack of mothering, we are comparing her behaviour to the entirely hands-on norm we now have. For many at the time (especially those who shared her social background), children were not a large part of their parents’ lives. In fact, I wonder whether her books provide an example whereby ideal children display a terrific ability to entertain themselves, in a delightful twist on being seen and not heard.

Whilst the children do get themselves into scrapes, they are always together. There is a collective and that collective provides protection against the type of trouble our children face now. Is it that children are more solitary these days, or perhaps families suffer from a greater geographic spread and so we no longer grow up with a gaggle of relations.

Another positive is that character traits such as honesty and loyalty are well-regarded,  whilst lying and self-absorption are demonstrably a ‘poor show’. I’ll step over the gender and racial stereotyping for the moment and say that whilst she portrayed an older world, a more ideal world where the sun shone more, they provide a fun and light-hearted balance to the many excellent tales of reality and life in the real-world. As adults, we all enjoy the occasional light and fluffy read, why shouldn’t young children?

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