Friday, August 29, 2008

Growing up with Enid Blyton

I remember the time I checked out four books out of our local public library and brought them home. My dad, who liked me to read and particularly read English books, was delighted and sad at the same time. He was thrilled to see me read but yet he wasn’t pleased to see who I was reading – the British author Enid Blyton. My dad, a literature student would have rather preferred that I read Shakespeare or Dickens… but I preferred Enid Blyton. And today I find that though Enid Blyton has been dead since 1968, British voters have voted Enid Blyton at the top of a list of 50 all time favorite authors. And yes, Enid Blyton is ahead of Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and all those classic names.

Did Enid Blyton write classy literature that surpassed Shakespeare? Of course not. Shakespeare and the other authors are all masters of their genre and indeed if the entire world is a stage, then Shakespeare is one of its finest chroniclers. But what made Enid Blyton so timeless is that she journeys with you from childhood into adolescence – at least the choppy waters of turbulent adolescence if not the full course.

From the early childhood books of Noddy and Big Ears and onto the marvelously imaginative fairy tales, containing elves and fairies and gnomes and all manner of other characters- some good and some not so good, to the adventures of the five find outers, the secret sevens, the famous fives and others … it was a fascinating collection of racy adventure and fun – and all anchored in sound family foundations and good food.. Enid Blyton’s ability to describe a good English meal was particularly inspiring.

I suppose that part of the mystique of Enid Blyton is that there have not been that many writers of children’s’ books. In that list itself , there ma not be more than four or five and even they did not write, except for J.K.Rowlings, did not write exclusively for children

Decades after I touched an Enid Blyton book, if I remember her with so much fondness, I suppose it is because her books taught my generation to live and enjoy life to the full– and the skills for living she weaved in seamlessly in her books. In a value neutral world, Enid Blyton books could always be counted on to highlight the traditional or even old fashioned values of thrift, honesty, courage and integrity. Yet they also promoted the virtues of healthy curiosity, a sense of adventure and risk taking and problem solving, all good qualities to have as you entered into adolescence and subsequent adulthood.

Most of all Enid Blyton celebrated camaderie and friendship – between humans who worked together as teams bound together by love and genuine affection and equally importantly, she emphasized the bonding between humans and animals. Animals, particularly dogs were almost always a character in her books and the affection between animal pets and human masters was an abiding theme.

Close to forty years after her death Enid Blyton’s books continue to enthrall another generation today is good news for it reflects the enduring need for books that combine entertainment with education – not in a pedagogical sense but in the sense of teaching people the art of living – not through any expensive course--- but simply through the pages of a book. But the British survey results are also bad news. For if a long dead author is still at the top of the charts, it goes to show that we are not producing enough Enid Blytons today…

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