Monday, August 22, 2011

Sandip Roy on Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton and her daughters in 1946. Wikimedia Commons image
August 11, 1897 was Enid Blyton's birthday. Sandip Roy posts an ode to Blyton on the occasion.

Snippet: I didn’t read Enid Blyton because I wanted to be white.  I didn’t read her because I wanted to escape a world of uncaring adults. I read her because the plucky children came out on top.

Mind you, as a writer working in the trenches of the children's publishing market I'd take him to the (yoga) mat over this sweeping generalization: Children’s fiction has long become obsessed with depicting reality. Broken homes. Race relations. Adoption. Religious intolerance. Drugs. If it’s not about the pressing social issues of the day, it has to be educational – about history or inter-faith harmony or metaphysics. It has to teach something.

I could name a dozen books published in the last few years that could counter that statement, but that's for another post. I'd argue that Blyton's books were pretty darned teachy in their own way. Rashna B. Singh has a terrific chapter on Blyton in her book Goodly is Our Heritage: Children's Literature, Empire and the Certitude of Character.That I, eating up all the books I could lay my hands on in 1960's India, missed that aspect, says more about me and my circumstances than it does about Blyton. Children have a protective filter in their minds. They get what they are ready to get.

This part, however, is certainly true for me:
...Enid Blyton had some 800 books. She got to be there through our entire childhood...
Racist, sexist, classist, and xenophobic as the worldview in her books was, Blyton was a staple of my childhood as she was of Sandip Roy's.

In many ways, she was part of my writing journey as well. Had I not read about a talking parrot in her books, could I have written a chirping girl, forty-five years later, in mine?


  1. I read Enid Blyton growing up in Brazil too! But I think that here in the U.S. she wasn't that popular, was she?

  2. No, she wasn't. I read somewhere that this too had something to do with marketing, that there was a big push to ship Blyton paperbacks overseas, esp in the former colonies, when it seemed as if her popularity in England was beginning to decline. I'm pretty sure we read her in such volume in India because, well, there just weren't that many choices.

  3. I was born in Canada and grew up there and in the Bahamas - both former colonies of course. Naturally, our bookshelves were well stocked with Enid Blyton books, which I really enjoyed despite the blatant political incorrectness which I recognized even as a kid. I knew the books were dated and just allowed myself to get lost in the stories. I especially loved the adventure series which I borrowed from my older brother.
    Thanks so much for commenting on my blog, Uma. Delighted to discover yours.

  4. Megan, I loved the Adventure series too--until I came upon a villain named Raya Uma, or was it Uma Raya? Can't remember, but it was my 12-year-old PoCo moment when I suddenly realized that everyone "foreign" was a villain! So Enid Blyton was part of both my love affair with reading and my first awakening to the inequities in the world. Both important and necessary to the person I am today.