‘Famous Five to Get 21st Century Makeover’

July 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Posted in Learning Stuff | 1 Comment
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reports Alison Flood in the Guardian. Readers of this blog will surely understand the shudder of horror that went through me as I read these words. References to galoshes, jolly japes and mysterious food stuffs (a ‘chocolate mould’, anyone?) are, for me, a large part of the appeal of Enid’s books.

On the one hand I can see Hodder & Stoughton’s point. It is true that the originals will continue to be available (for the time being, at least), but this whole malarky does seem a little insulting to children’s intelligence. Examples of changes cited in the Guardian article include ‘fellow’ being replaced with ‘old man’ and the phrase ‘it’s all very peculiar’ being substituted with ‘it’s all very strange’. I can’t help but think that this narrowing of vocabulary is a bit newspeak-like.

Anne McNeill of Hodder says: ‘Children who read [the Famous Five books] need to be able to easily understand the characterisations and easily to get into the plots. If the text is revised [they’re] more likely to be able to engage with them.’ Are the words ‘peculiar’ and ‘fellow’ really that problematic? As the Enid Blyton Society’s Tony Summerfield suggests, these seem like changes for the sake of it, and Blyton, whose books have already been edited for more understandable reasons of political correctness, is an easy target. Her writing has been repeatedly criticised for being too simple and unchallenging and now it has supposedly become too difficult, archaic and inaccessible (this is not born out by Blyton’s continued sales and popularity).

Personally, I don’t feel that it is really necessary to make everything ahistorical. What about stimulating curiosity about the past? Isn’t it important to understand that society and language have not always been the same as they are now? I do think it is a shame to not give children the opportunity to grapple with, or perhaps even enjoy this idea.

Ultimately, however, it probably doesn’t make that much difference. My selective childhood memory only really recalled the plots, characters and settings of the original stories, and while I remember being a little puzzled by some of the odd phrases and items mentioned it never impinged upon my enjoyment of the books, or put me off reading them. It is only upon recent re-readings that I’ve really started to pick up on and relish the period detail (although I never really liked the Spandau Ballet hair and stonewashed jeans on the covers of my 80s editions).

I can’t help but wonder where all this re-editing will end though. ‘Bestselling children’s author’ Andy Briggs is quoted as saying: ‘It’s an unfortunate necessity… The classic books we were brought up on – the Famous Five, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes – need to be updated.’ Eek.

[I hasten to add that I thoroughly enjoyed Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s contemporary-set Sherlock, screened on BBC 1 last Sunday. The Guardian reviewer thought the ‘three patch problem’ was laboured but I thought it was hilarious, as was the reference to the location of Watson’s war injury – one for all the nerdy Sherlockians out there. It’s not quite the same as re-writing all of Conan Doyle’s books though, is it?]


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  1. […] ie you can play them all by yourself if you happen to be a ‘peculiar’ only child (or should I say ‘strange’?) but they are also enjoyable to play with a friend/cousin/brother/sister. I had completely […]

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