I recently found myself contemplating on the past, a trip down memory lane I suppose and remembered how I first fell in love with literature.
My first real contact with the written English word was thanks to a series of books lent to me (when I was still a little snippet of seven or so) by my cousin. These books were The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I bet you’ve read a couple of them yourselves, haven’t you?
If the answer is no, and you haven’t even riffled through any of the twenty-one Famous Five (1942 – 1963) books in your school or local library, I bet you have at least taken a peek at her Faraway Tree (1939 – 1951) series, her books about The Secret Seven (1949 – 1963), The Adventures of the Wishing Chair (1937 – 1950) or even a couple of her Naughtiest Girl (1940 – 1952) books.
As you might have guessed, the list of children’s books Enid Blyton wrote is enormous. Blyton is credited to have written hundreds of books during her career, which spanned four decades. She was very popular and built a literary empire, sometimes producing fifty books a year, in addition to her prolific magazine and newspaper contributions. ‘Impossible’, you might think, and you would not be alone. The sheer volume of her work and the speed with which it was produced led to rumours that Blyton employed an army of ghost writers, a charge she vigorously denied.
What fascinated me most as a child was how Enid Blyton could write fairytales while combining elements of mystery. How she could focus on make believe, while at the same time, showing how her main characters used deductive reasoning to arrive at certain conclusions and to solve seemingly insurmountable problems.
Another important fact was the way ‘good’ people never actually started out as being all rosy, peachy and perfect in her stories, as in many other children’s books. People were complicated and flawed, yet they could still change, still learn from their mistakes and through their experiences to become better persons. This is another way that Blyton combined real human characteristics with the fantastical.
However, in truth, Enid Blyton was very different from the child-loving portrait she painted of herself, in order to sell her books. While upholding moral values in public, in private, Enid had multiple extra-marital affairs, neglected her two daughters and, when faced with divorce, forced her husband to take all the blame for the failed marriage in exchange for visiting rights. All so that her public would not see her as the person she really was.
This and more is clear in the dramatic movie ‘Enid’ (2009), which reflects Enid Blyton’s workaholic life, as well as her acumen for business and her disregard of her family. Her youngest daughter, Imogen, wrote a memoir in 1989, 21 years after Enid Blyton’s death, debunking the ‘perfect family’ myth her mother had propagated and telling the truth about what really went on within the writer’s own household. According to Imogen, Blyton’s only relationship with children took place within her books, because in real life, she didn’t even have time to spare for her own children.
I had always looked up to Enid Blyton, as a writer. However, to be honest, I had never thought to pursue any knowledge of her real life back in the years before and after the war, and it was only last year that I came across the movie about her life. You can imagine my shock and disappointment when I watched it and learnt how the writer I had revered in my childhood had behaved. However then, I took a step back and wondered – was the real Enid the one who betrayed her husband and abandoned her children, or the one creating wondrous worlds of fairies, magic, and dreams? The truth, I guess, is that she was both. She was both a genius and a bad mother, a terrible romantic and an adulteress, a brilliant wordsmith and a person who would have done anything to appear good on paper.
Sometimes, I wish I had become a psychoanalyst and could have some sessions with such convoluted and complicated minds, such as Enid Blyton’s. Her books and stories will always remain a shining light in the journey that was my childhood, and when I see her books filling the bookshelves, I smile to myself and think of all the children still discovering her worlds.
Unfortunately, I will never know the woman behind the books, never understand why she behaved one way, yet in her mind, lived a totally different and magical life. That, for me, will always be part of the mystery colouring and enriching the books themselves.