I attribute my love of reading and especially of adventure stories to Enid Blyton. As a child I owned virtually all her books and I read and reread them all. A particular set of favourites for me was the Famous Five books.
The Famous Five were Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina (known as George) and Timmy the dog. They had a series of totally improbable adventures involving treasure maps, secret tunnels, smugglers, thieves, camping holidays, boarding schools and lashings of ginger ale. By the time I read these books in the 1970s they were obviously dated and I knew this but I loved them anyway. I don’t think I actually tasted ginger ale until I was in my forties ! The Famous Five were my friends and I deeply regretted that there were only 21 books – I wonder if my love of series books can be traced back to them ?
Early in each book the adults are got out of the way for some reason and the children spend their summer holiday mainly camping (they have 21 summer holidays in about three years). Julian is the leader and he is a little pompous and keen on telling people of a lower class what to do – I always admired this but could not imagine any circumstances in the world in which I lived where children could speak to adults the way that Julian did. Dick is more impetuous while Anne is a bit of wimp which always disappointed me because we shared a name – she is the domesticated one. Timmy is an excellent and very loyal and intelligent companion (I always wanted a dog) and George was the member of the group with whom I identified most as I thought that girly things were a waste of time and that boys had all the fun. I am absolutely sure that when Enid Blyton wrote the books she regarded George as a “tomboy” and not transgender.
I think that I always thought of these books as a type of fantasy. There are travelling circuses, for example, castle ruins and secret islands – none of these featured in my life. They weren’t real but they were convincing and I was absorbed in the stories. My favourite was one of the early ones Five Run Away Together where the Five run away from home and camp out on their island. How I wished that my parents had their own island – I used to draw maps of the one I would have liked them to own.
During the 1970s there was quite a campaign by some librarians and teachers to discourage the reading of Enid Blyton’s books because they were dated, classist, racist and considered to be badly written. Libraries didn’t usually stock them and you didn’t mention them at school. My parents didn’t mind what I read and were happy to buy them for me as children’s books at the time were remarkably cheap. They always encouraged my reading and I greatly appreciate it.
I read all of Enid Blyton’s other books and had favourites there but I did return over and over again to the Famous Five as they were my favourites and I very much enjoyed rereading them – rereading is a habit that I retain to this day.
Gradually, however, my reading began to broaden because of books loaned to me by my friend Fiona (the Swallows and Amazon series which were actually her fathers and were hardbacks with dustcovers) and, of course, the library. One day I remember reaching for a favourite Enid Blyton book and I realised that the magic was gone. I had grown out of them. I could never read any of them again after that – I think I must have been about 11 or 12. I have lost interest in favourite authors since but it has never had such a devastating effect on me as the loss of Enid Blyton did although I have found plenty of new favourites since.
I really wouldn’t encourage today’s children to read these books as they are horrendously dated but I do hope that today’s early readers find their own equivalent and start on a journey of adventure and companionship in books – it has been the best thing in my life and the legacy of these books and my early reading habits enhances my life every day.
Keep reading (whatever you want to ) …