I am almost 25 years old now and I have spent more than half my life reading. I have always had an insatiable appetite for books and in the process have read almost anything and everything ranging from classics to the latest popular bestsellers. Some of the books that have shaped my life surprisingly do not include the usual “gateway to adult life” coming of age books like the Fountainhead or Joyce’s The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. They do not even include popular “chasing your dreams” books like Paulo Coelho’s “Alchemist” or Rhonda Bryne’s “The Secret” although it would make much more sense if they were.
It makes little sense but the books that have changed the way I think about reading and writing and also about life are the Enid Blyton series. Perhaps, i might be a bit biased towards them as they were one of the first books I got a chance to read after the usual fairytales and nursery rhymes of my toddler-hood. So, after quite a bit of deliberation and deep self-introspection 😉 , I have come up with a few reasons why I seem to love these books and still pick up some of them whenever I find myself in a bookshop, which is quite often! So, even in my 20s, I continue to build on the collection I already have of these books and continue to devour them !
The first reason I can think of is the magnificent descriptions of food items in the books. Apart from being a voracious reader, I like to think of myself as a “grand gastronome” as well. The two loves of my life were perhaps discovered in a singular place, the love for good food and that for the written word. Any Blyton story is incomplete without the description of the jams and jelly tarts and marmalades and sandwiches. The stories are usually interspersed with the ringing of the dinner bell to invite the children of the house to have their meal and there is a certain delight that is taken by the author in the description of the dishes. There are even some stories that have their main plot centered around food itself like “Blackberry Magic” or “Porridge Town”. Here is an example of the kind of sentences that really bring this to life “Nothing could be nicer than icy-cold, creamy farm milk from the dairy on a hot day like this. They all sat down to tea, and the four visitors wished they had not had such a big lunch! A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish. On the sideboard was an enormous cake, and beside it a dish of scones. Great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk were there, too, with honey and home-made jam.” Anyone who remembers their childhood most definitely recalls at some point wishing that the whole world was made of candy bars or cakes or chocolates or that their houses were made up of “yummy things” that could simply be plucked off and eaten whenever one liked which explains the appeal of the food in the books for young children.
Another aspect of the books that makes me treat them as a priceless part of my book collection is the delightful way the characters are named. My first brush with reading these books helped to open up my mind to things having hidden or metaphorical meanings that left me with a sense of wonder at the way words could be used. Some of the characters’ names that I can recall off the top of my head are “Lazy-Bones”, “Mr Keep-All”, “Dame Look-Sharp” or “Aunt Work-a-Lot”. There would be no direct descriptions however of what a particular character was like. The name would help establish how they would act and the story would do everything to bring out their peculiar characteristics to fit in perfectly with their names.
“And what is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversation.” This sentence in “Alice in Wonderland” perfectly sums up Blyton’s books for me. The illustrations in the “Award” books (collections of short stories) were by somebody called “Lesley Smith” who perfectly brought to life the story by creating funny, interesting drawings that helped reinforce the narrative in the perfect possible way.
The concept of toys coming to life at night and having a life of their own was something that quite shocked and mesmerized me as a child when I first came across it in Blyton’s books. I remember the impact it had on my mind as a child and how I started to look at all the toys I owned in a very different light and kept awake several nights trying to catch them in the process of coming to life, but in vain! Disney’s famous “Toy Story” series has a similar concept which is central to the story and I would like to imagine it is somehow inspired by Blyton’s fascinating stories. Apart from “Toy Story” , there are countless other movies that portray toys coming to life at night albeit in a not-so-pleasant way like the supernatural “Chuckie” doll that is out to kill. After doing a basic Google search on who pioneered the concept of toys coming to life, I failed to come across much credible information on the subject. Perhaps Blyton had something to do with making it a popular phenomena.
One incredible thing about Blyton’s stories is how the seemingly normal world comes to life with the power of sheer imagination. Even the garden of your house does not seem like a dull carpet of green as it seems to be teeming with garden gnomes and pixies that continue to evade you or wipe out your memory if you somehow happen to catch a glimpse of them. It is a world full of possibilities and helps expand your mind and brings out your creativity in an unhindered manner. As you grow up, of course, your contact with the world of imagination and creativity kind of starts to weaken and reality rushes in to take it place. However, it is not always necessary that growing up means losing touch with your childlike sense of wonder. This quote by Colin Wilson perfectly sums up the role imagination can play in the adult life. “Imagination should be used not to escape reality but to create it .” The power of imagination can completely change the way you look at the world and the way you live your life. Whether you live your life in a mind-numbing monotonous sort of way or whether you use the power of your mind to bring to life things that give you a sense of bliss remains completely under your control only if you wake up to this fact!
Modern criticism has somehow tried to portray Blyton as an author who was sexist, racist and an elitist. However, I do not agree with this viewpoint at all and its hard to shake off the feeling that this is simply the result of trying to over-intellectualise simple stories for children and seek to find double and hidden meanings where none possibly exist. It seems to me that anything that is so delightful and helps to awaken a little something inside you that you didn’t know existed is simply a work of art and should not be seen from the prism of skepticism. Even if some of the works come across as racist, elitist, etc. it might simply be not because of the author’s intentions but because every author is a product of his/her age and unfortunately, the author belonged to such an age.
Although the books are written for young children, I still find snippets of wisdom that can be applied to life and continue to turn to these books after a particularly rough day. Here are some of my favorite quotes from her books:
“Mothers were much too sharp. They were like dogs. Buster always sensed when anything was out of the ordinary, and so did mothers. Mothers and dogs both had a kind of second sight that made them see into people’s minds and know when anything unusual was going on.”
― Enid Blyton, The Mystery of the Hidden House
“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.”
― Enid Blyton, Mr Galliano’s Circus
“I think people make their own faces, as they grow.”
― Enid Blyton, The Naughtiest Girl Again
“Well, you know what grown-ups are,’ said Dinah. ‘They don’t think the same way as we do. I expect when we grow up, we shall think like them – but let’s hope we remember what it was like to think in the way children do, and understand the boys and the girls that are growing up when we’re men and women.”
― Enid Blyton, The Island of Adventure