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The Enid Blyton story

28 June 2017

The Enid Blyton StoryThe Enid Blyton Story by Bob Mullan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why read a book about a children’s author whose only adult novel was rejected by publishers?

Others who have written children’s books have also written for adults, or their children’s books also appeal to adults. But Enid Blyton’s books only really appeal to children. Adults might read them as part of a research project to analyse their appeal, or to criticise their shortcomings. It is very rare for adults to read them purely for enjoyment.

I read some of Enid Blyton’s books as a child, and enjoyed them. I suppose, as this book points out, that they gave me a taste for reading. But as an adult one quickly becomes aware of their limitations.

book[The Enid Blyton Story[ is in part a biography of Enid Blyton, but it is rather annoying in that rerspect, as [author:Bob Mullan] tries to psychoanalyse her as he goes along, speculating about motives, conscious and unconscious, for her behaviour at various points.

It also gives an account of her works, with copious illustrations of the covers and internal illustrations of her books. There is little comment on these, but that might have been more interesting than the attempts to analyse Enid Blyton’s guilt feelings about members of her family. The styles of clothing worn by the children in the illustrations changes over the years, but there are no comments on this.

There are plenty of criticisms of her works as well, which are included in the book, but, as Bob Mullan points out, Enid Blyton did not write for critics, she wrote for children.

I was also quite surprised by the wide range of books she wrote. I never read any of her school stories, and was hardly aware of them. I’d seen some of the titles, and no doubt had seen Enid Blyton‘s name on the cover of some of them in bookshops, but it had never really sunk in that she was the author. I never read the Noddy books either, and the “Famous Five” didn’t appeal to me.

The first Enid Blyton book I read was The Secret of Kilimooin, which I borrowed from an older friend, and the first one I owned was The Mountain of Adventure. I went on to read several other books in those series, but none of them seemed as good as the first two. Perhaps, as the critics say, it is because Enid Blyton is limited in her range of plots. She does write to a formula, and in reviewing The Shack the most apposite description I could think of for its beginning was that it was Enid Blytonish.

So what makes a book “Enid Blytonish”? Perhaps it’s the kind of irrelevant detail of preparations for going on holiday, and the descriptions of food, which neither move the plot forward nor set the scene. Perhaps nowadays it would be called food porn. So if the plots are a bit thin and the dialogue is stilted, what is it about Enid Blyton’s books that appeals to children?

And I think Mullan concludes that the main appeal is story telling. Children aren’t great literary critics. It doesn’t matter so much how well or how badly the story is told, as long as it is told. It is adults who get hung up on style and vocabulary. I doubt whether any child, ever, spoke like Enid Blyton’s characters, but children tend to overlook that, unless, perhaps, very dated or outlandish slang is used.

And I think one can even learn something from Enid Blyton’s books. In The Mountain of Adventure she undoubtedly caricatures Welsh people, but from it I learned that there were Welsh people, and that there was a force of gravity that kept us on the earth. In The Secret of Kilimooin I learned that there were people of very different cultures in the world, and some of the difficulties of communication between them. So even Enid Blyton can widen children’s horizons.

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