A Life in Literature: Enid Blyton

Richard Bateman 3 May 2014

My mid-primary school years, as no one calls them, were very heavily weighted towards Enid Blyton. She wrote exactly 74 million books so few children can avoid them, even if their Mum’s old copies aren’t ready and waiting in their Welsh grandparents’ spare room.  

I devoured them. Not literally, that would be unpleasant. But I couldn’t read enough. This is odd, as in retrospect I realise that Blyton really only ever wrote two stories and then spent the rest of her career just varying the titles. There’s the one where a group of children and a dog go for a picnic and – naturally – end up embroiled in international incidents involving smugglers/escaped convicts/UKIP members and abandoned caves/dungeons/castles/priestholes/other English Heritage sites, in which they narrowly avoid death, avert another world war and then get shouted at by their Uncle. And there’s the other one in which two girls go to school and play lacrosse.

Are the contents of these books all exactly the same? Credit: Corrie Barklimore

The formula didn’t trouble me then though, I just catalogued it. A strict hierarchy of these variations was soon established in my private literary canon: Famous Five atop the tree, then Secret Seven, then the Adventure Series and finally the Mystery Series, by which point even 8-year old me realised that Blyton had long since gone through the other side of the barrel. But that was ok, because there was all of Malory Towers and St Claire’s to come. 12 books of lacrosse and butchered French! (Mam’zell, anyone?)

The even odder thing now though is that I can’t remember why I liked even these two tropes, and seeing through adult eyes both the strong overtones of racism, xenophobia and misogyny that inform many of Blyton’s characterizations; and the basic fact that the books are, by and large, dreadful, only serves to deepen my bewilderment at my younger self – and the 600M others who have bought one of EB’s books in the last seventy years. It’s a mystery that I fear even Timmy the dog would struggle to solve.