A Fine Defence of Enid Blyton

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BBC Radio 4, 19 April 2009
Presented by the children's writer Anne Fine, this documentary re-examined the question of Enid Blyton's reputation. Despite her success as a best-selling author of the Noddy, Famous Five and Secret Seven books, she has been denounded as both sexist and racist, creating a quasi-imperialist world in which black people are represented as second class citizens, women are confined to the home, and everyone lives in a world of complacency. Miriam Margolyes read out some prime examples of Blyton's work that proved this to be the case.
And yet Blyton continues to be widely read today, over forty years after her death: sales figures prove that children still respond enthusiastically to her work, even if some of her language has been altered to suit changing tastes. One example of this could be seen in an extract from a Noddy book, where the eponymous central character described his experiences of falling into a rose bush. When the work first appeared in 1951, Blyton had him exclaiming that he was "full of pricks;" needless to say the phrase has been altered in more recent reprints.
Anne Fine argued with some justification that Blyton was the product of a Victorian childhood, where sexism and racism ran rife. At the same time Blyton was scarred by the experience of her father leaving her house when she was in early teens - as a result she created children's books that portrayed an ideal world based on the nuclear family, in which everything ended happily. The Famous Five are never really in any danger, despite their adventures. Blyton was also famous for the vivid descriptions of the food eaten by her protagonists - cream buns, egg sandwiches and ginger pop. This was another manifestation of her desire to create utopian worlds in which children could live both freely and without fear of harm.
But this does not explain Blyton's enduring popularity. Through interviews with her only surviving daughter, plus experts such as David Rudd (Professor of Children's Literature at the University of Bolton), Fine concluded that Blyton was basically a great storyteller. We should not expect elaborate writing from her; her vocabulary can be repetitive in many cases. But what she can do is to create the bare bones of tale into which children can project their imaginative fantasies. Characters like George, the tomboy of the Famous Five books, represent what children would like to be, if they were not constrained by parental authority or the conventions of their societies. This is as true today as it was over half a century ago when Blyton was at the peak of her writing career. The producer of this entertaining half-hour programme was Helen Lee.