As a child, I loved Enid Blyton: the Famous Five of course, but also the ‘Adventure’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Barney “R”‘ series. I dabbled with the urban-set Secret Seven and Mystery series (aka The Five Findouters) but they didn’t do it for me in quite the same way.
Of course Enid has had a bad press in more recent years and yes, there are conservative and problematic aspects to her books. I did get a bit upset by the racism in some of the ‘Adventure’ books as a child and even defaced a school library book with a warning that racism lurked within (sorry!), but as a grown up reader I am happy to question and challenge the idea that girls should always wash up (for example) while relishing the atmosphere and sense of period, glorious and evocative Eileen Soper illustrations, lusty descriptions of homemade foodstuffs, and the general sense of freedom the four children and Timmy get to experience in their wanderings around the British countryside.
The debates about Enid’s merits or otherwise rage on, see this BBC News article on The Mystery of the Enid Blyton Revival, for instance. As you may guess, I do not adhere to Philip Pullman’s assertion that Blyton’s books are ‘rubbish’ with ‘no sense of delight or joy in the language’. As Anita Bensoussane notes in her reviews of the Barney ‘R’ mysteries, ‘it is precisely [Blyton’s] knack for phrasing things simply, yet aptly and imaginatively, which give her writing its charm’. I am slowly but surely acquiring early editions of the books and this blog arises from my excited re-discovery of the Famous Five (Soper is a new revelation – Betty Maxey was the illustrator of my 1980s childhood).
So many of the concerns of the books – sustainable, low impact living and travel, supporting small and local businesses, getting enough exercise, appreciating nature and the countryside – chime with contemporary issues that I think it’s time these aspects of the Famous Five books are highlighted and celebrated. I love riding my bike(s) (currently a bespoke blue 1980s British bike by Mike Kowal, and a racing green Brompton), exploring the UK, visiting cafes, local markets and independent shops, attempting to make/bake traditional food stuffs (bread, buns and innumerable ginger products), listening to the radio, reading interwar literature and watching old British films (which happily segues with my day job). I also adore the classic aesthetic of the Five’s bicycles, jerseys and shorts, sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and the idea of virtually car-less roads.
Thanks to the lovely Enid Blyton Society who have uploaded images of Eileen Soper’s evocative illustrations (copyright Hodder & Stoughton). I have used a few of these here, alongside my own images, so I hope they don’t mind. The Blyton Society site also features some very useful and entertaining synopses and reviews (as well as being extremely attractive and well-designed) so is well worth checking out.