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Enid Blyton

A writer of a very different sort who, like Orwell, had begun publishing before the Second World War, but was transformed into a major figure as a result of the war, was Enid Blyton. She wrote for children, whereas his work was emphatically for adults, she was an eternal optimist while he had a very gloomy view of human nature and fate.

My belief that the war served to revitalize Blyton too springs from the oddity that her most successful series of books were started during that very dark period for Britain. She had published quite a lot before then, notably the Noddy books which are thought characteristic of her work as a whole by those who have not actually read and loved her.  Those books are about Toytown, with the lovable little boy having all sorts of simple adventures. Some of them involve hostility from the Golliwogs, a term now considered racist, while an even more modern sensibility feels grave suspicions about Noddy’s relationship with Big Ears, the dwarf who takes Noddy under his wing though it is generally Noddy’s own resourcefulness that resolves any problem.

All that is however light years away from the works that have continued to command the affection of children as they grow up. I refer here to the various mystery books, where small bands of children overcome criminal activities of various sorts. These range from spying and smuggling and large scale forgery to petty theft and even, in one particularly startling insight into domestic problems, the writing of anonymous letters to fellow servants she wishes to get rid of by a cook called Mrs Moon.

Though the subjects sometimes overlap, Blyton’s different groups deal with different types of crime. When I was young my own favourites were the Five Find-Outers, who lived and worked in their own village, and collected clues and drew up lists of suspects after particular crimes were committed, the stealing of a precious cat for instance, or the burning down of a cottage. Their efforts are not appreciated by the village policeman, whose resentment is compounded by the faith in the children evinced by his superior, who rises higher and higher in rank while Goon languishes as a constable.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2010
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