Enid Blyton books will always hold a place in my heart. As I child I loved her nature stories, mysteries and adventures, but even as a very young child I also noticed her distinctive signature, which I thought, then, as now, beautiful, with its boldly inked, evenly spaced letters, lovely rounded 'E', and most enchanting of all, the short, double line under the 'd' of Enid.
The first Enid Blyton book I clearly remember reading myself, was 'The Adventures of Pip', a series of short stories about a mischevious elf interacting with the natural world. I read and re-read my copy, the cover of which showed Pip dressed in a red tunic. (The first edition, from 1948, is even more charming, showing Pip airborne on a swallow's back.) Looking now at the list of contents, some 45- plus years later, I can still clearly remember what some of the stories were about; quite a testament to Enid Blyton's story telling powers.
I remember making a concious decision to move on to her more 'grown up' stories when I was about eight, when started the enduring love affair with the Famous Five series in particular, which I read over and over. I adored them; the exciting plots, the freedom the characters enjoyed, and the presence of Timmy, the dog, who was as big a character as Julien, Dick, George and Anne, hence 'the Five' (four humans, one dog).
I was not alone in greedily reading Enid Blyton's books. Many have never been out of print, and as recently as 2012, Enid was the second most popular 'classic' childrens' author to be borrowed from libraries (second only to Roald Dahl).
Enid Blyton's books have, however, been criticised almost since she started writing; as early as the 1930's her books were considered 'bland'. In later years, they were heavily criticised as being racist, sexist and xenophobic, and were extensively edited in the '80's and '90's by Chorion, the publishers, to reflect current mores and attitudes. Few would disagree with the removal of 'gollies', and similar characters which now jar uncomfortably. However the fact remains that children love them, albeit modern editions have some characters removed or altered, and certain wince-making phrases re-written to make them acceptable in today's society (some think with perhaps an over zealous red pen, see here for comment) .
I had no hesitation in reading Isaac all twenty one Famous Five books a few years back. We read the series in order, and in its entirety (a luxury not available to me as a child). We both thoroughly enjoyed the plots, the characters, and the straightforward assurance that good would win out over bad, and of course the many mentions of food, which Enid Blyton describes with regularity, and enthusiasm, never allowing her characters to feel hungry in pursuit of adventure.
When not tracking down dangerous criminals; escaping from underground caves, or seeking solutions to mysterious happenings, the Five enjoy many mouth watering meals, and in every Famous Five book there are appetising descriptions of farmhouse tables groaning with crusty bread straight from the oven, gleaming pink joints of ham, freshly made sticky buns, home made cakes, and delicious puddings with plenty of custard. Picnics also feature frequently, with an abundance of tasty sandwiches, tomatoes eaten in the hand, and hard boiled eggs, with a twist of salt in a little paper alongside, and of course, bars of chocolate to finish off the feast.
It is unlikely that many current authors would write a character like Anne, the gentle youngest sister, who delights in home making, and spreads cheer and comfort through her kindly domesticity whenever 'the Five' go camping, or caravanning, or find themselves setting up home on an abandoned island, or in a cave. I stoutly applaud Anne's right to play to her strengths as a domestic goddess in the making. She is also clever, often working out clues first, and bravely faces her fears many times throughout the series.
Enid Blyton's writing is in and of her era, and could not be otherwise, but there is such affection for her creations that she is likely to be read for many generations to come. Isaac's 'Famous Five' books are still on his bedroom shelf, I am sure in the next big 'room tidy' they will be relegated to the loft. I do hope though, that if a time comes when he is looking for an exciting story to read to children in his care, he will remember about his old books, dust them off and enjoy reading them aloud, perhaps also remembering when a loving mother read them to him.