Posts Tagged ‘Enid Blyton’

When I was seven or eight, a children’s club came into existence within the neighborhood (thank God for those adults who had the idea to found it!) in which we lived.  It was called Baal Bhavan, which translates to “The Building for Children.” And very aptly it was named too, because it was a place where children could be whatever they wished to be: an artist, a musician, a sportsperson, a kid having simple fun, a bookworm, or all of the above.

It was actually a bunch of buildings clumped together in a largish area. This compound had a building that housed the Ladies’ Club, and the one adjoining to it was the Children’s Building. These were surrounded by a play area with the usual collection of see-saws, swings, and monkey-bars.

The children’s building also housed one very special room – the library. It was a long rectangular room with brightly colored kid-sized tables and chairs scattered around the room in cheerful disarray. This was where little kids were given mounds of play dough that they could mould into whatever their imaginations could dream up. (I can still smell the moldy, sticky mess of play dough as I write this. The power of association, especially that of smell, is so immediate, but long-lasting at the same time, isn’t it?)

Three walls of this room, from ceiling to floor, were lined with shelves filled to cramming with brand-new books of all kinds: fat and tall, shiny and bright, hard-backed and full of pictures, paperbacked and full of words. There were books of every kind that a kid’s mind could wish for. (I’m not sure if it was done with intentional, if well-meaning, guile on the part of the adults who ran this club, but I don’t think there’s a better way to instill the love of reading in tiny tots than to surround them with the sight and smell of so many books while they played innocently. I’m sure most of them learned to read by Osmosis alone.)

I devoured all the hard-backed picture books pretty fast and stretched my arms towards the thicker paperbacks, which stood a little ways above the shelves that held the picture books. And my hand closed around one book called “The Summer Adventure” by Shashi Deshpande.

Skimming through the contents of the back flap, I surmised that it sounded pretty mysterious.  I’d never heard of that author before, but I was willing to give any and every author a chance, so I took the book home. And thus began my long-standing (still going strong) affair with mysteries.

That book was one among a trilogy of mysteries solved by a bunch of cousins. They keep coming upon crimes, small and big, as they’re innocently navigating through their vacations in ever-changing (with every book) settings. Sound familiar?

Yes, don’t they sound like some of Enid Blyton’s books? I’m not sure to this day if Shashi Deshpande was influenced by Enid Blyton, but I and my siblings grew up referring to her as the Indian Enid Blyton.

She brought a whole new India, which was very familiar and yet was just out of reach, to us. We couldn’t have enough of this adventurous foursome and their exploits in both rural and cosmopolitan India.

Deshpande is known to have written this series for her two young sons originally, and boy, am I glad that she did! Only much later did I learn that she has only written four books for children, while she has written several short stories, novels, and thought-provoking essays for adults.

Recently, thanks to a wonderful friend (thanks, SK!) living in India, I got my hands on one of Deshpande’s collections of short stories (sadly, her books are not easily available any more even in India).

Deshpande seems to seamlessly vary her voice depending on the audience at hand. (I’m in awe of those authors who tread both adult and children’s literary worlds with seeming nonchalance. I know for a fact that it’s not easy to do.) No wonder she has been awarded some of the highest awards in Indian literature.

Here are a couple of passages from my favorite from the trilogy, The Hidden Treasure:

There was a steady stream of carts on the road. Some had whole families in them, some were full of baskets, pots and all kinds of odds and ends. There were also many people walking, women carrying pots and baskets on their heads, or babies on their hips, with older children walking, or skipping, by their sides. And all the bells around the necks of the animals and the creaking wheels of the carts sang a kind of gay little song. The children exclaimed in pleasure at the sights and sounds.

                “Nothing to what it used to be,” Fakira told them. “Now they all want to go by bus. Nobody wants to walk. My own grandson wants to waste his money on the bus. Even now, I can walk all the way and back very easily,” he boasted.

Growing up, I used to dream about what I’d say if ever I had the chance to come face to face with Shashi Deshpande. I have drafted numerous letters to her, all in my head, which I never put down on paper.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I should do: write to her now and tell how she, along with Enid Blyton, has been instrumental in my finally taking the first plunge into my dream-world of writing for children.

Who has influenced you into taking the first step towards the goal you’re currently working or the one you have already achieved?

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Continued from Enid Blyton -1

Soon, I graduated to the Famous Five series. These books feature the four cousins Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog. (I can hear the tune in my head as I’m writing these words: that was how part of the title song went for the TV show made in the UK based on these books, in the late 1970s.)

Most of the adventures in this series took place on the sea or close to it, where George lived with her parents and Timmy. The four cousins – none of them older than sixteen, if I remember it right – could take a picnic hamper and row in a boat by themselves to the small island (called Kirrin Island, and owned by George’s father, incidentally) in the middle of the sea, which had the ruins of a castle on one side of it and the remains of a shipwreck on the other. They could camp away for days inside an old and abandoned lighthouse or pack themselves into a caravan and travel to the Mystery Moor, all without any adult supervision.

Can you think of anything more adventurous and attractive for a ten-year-old reader?

Blyton wrote numerous books and series targeted at toddlers all the way up to teens. After Famous Five, I barely skimmed through one series called Malory Towers. None of the other books she’d written were available in the libraries where I lived, so I never got much into any of the other ones written by her.

Her books are readily available in the bigger book stores in India (and probably in various countries in Europe, too? I’m not too sure), but, sadly, not so in America. Very few have even heard of Blyton in the U.S. To the best of my knowledge, none of the bigger chains of book stores have her books on their shelves. You’d have to buy them online or borrow from those public libraries that carry them.

It is with some reluctance, at this point, that I bring up one thing about Enid Blyton’s books. They are not politically correct, at least for this day and age  – the narration sounds as if girls are supposed to behave a certain way and boys need to be given upper hand by default. For instance, as you read the books you can’t help but perceive that the prim-and-proper Anne’s actions are approved wholeheartedly, whereas tomboyish and headstrong George (christened Georgina, but shortened to George by the girl who hates being a girl) is tolerated with patronizing indulgence.

However, given the time period that she wrote these books (1940s to 1960s), those were probably the sensibilities that were in vogue. As a child, I just took it in stride and never bothered about it much. Being a girl myself, my reasoning was simple: those were the author’s opinions about the subject. That didn’t necessarily mean that I had to agree with her. It didn’t take anything away from the books for me, so why fuss over it?  

There are some who claim that Blyton’s continued success is an enigma because her work is exceptionally poor. Hollow plots, repetitive storylines, two-dimensional characters, limited vocabulary and bland, unliterary penmanship are all evident throughout her 700-plus books**. May be so, but being as they are, her books sold 60 million copies and were translated into nearly seventy languages over the years. Need I say more? (Actually, I do: It is either “To each his own” and all that or “A case of sour grapes”. You decide.)

If you’re an adult who hasn’t had a chance to read Enid Blyton, then snuggle up with one of her books today (under the pretext of reading to a child, if you’re shy about reading a children’s book for yourself). The child will love it anyway, but you may soon find yourself putty in the hands of a masterful storyteller, who makes the craft seem beguilingly simple.

As time went by, many more authors came into my life and took me to a great many places and reinforced my love for the written word. However, Enid Blyton was not going anywhere – she had lodged herself securely into a niche inside my heart.

If the book that I’m currently writing manages to induce the same strength of emotions, at least in one child, which Enid Blyton’s books did in me, then I’ll feel that I have earned the right to aspire to write for children.

** – Excerpts taken from an article in Fiction Circus.

Check out  The Enid Blyton Society that I found online a few weeks ago. It has charming illustrations for her first edition books and all the information you want about the author and her books.

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“Mummy, have you got anything we could have to drink?” asked Janet. “And to eat too? We’re having a Secret Seven meeting this morning.”

“I’ll give you lemons, and some sugar, and you can make your own lemonade,” said Mummy. “You like to do that, don’t you? And you can go and see if there are any rock-buns left in the tin in the larder.”**

This is how my introduction to Enid Blyton came about, and I never looked back. Enid Blyton and I have shared many an adventure together in my childhood. Is she a friend of mine? She very well could have been, for all that I felt for her and experienced with her by my side.

Enid Blyton can be considered probably the most prolific writer of children’s literature (she wrote over 600 children’s and juvenile books over her forty-year career), and she hails from England. I speak of her in present-tense, even though, regrettably, she passed away quite a few decades ago – in 1968, to be accurate. But authors like her never die – they live on in the hearts of generations of readers that come after them.

I happened upon a book from her Secret Seven series when I was seven or eight years old. And my world turned upside down – in the most pleasant sense, though. (Upside down IS good sometimes, isn’t it? You get to view the world in a whole different manner.)

My eyes, and those of my like-minded siblings, would automatically scan for Blyton among the rows of books whenever we came across a well-stocked bookshelf — a habit I retain to this day. I began to find excuses to visit the school library – a large, musty, cavernous hall with tall bookshelves teetering under the weight of books, which were neither well-organized nor well-kept – more often than was allowed.

Soon it got to be where the tall, rail-thin librarian (who had hitherto had an unnerving habit of looking at kids disdainfully down her nose) became my chum. She got into the habit of hunting for Blyton’s books among the mildewed tomes arranged in the forgotten shelves in the far recesses of the library. And on my next visit to her, she would produce for me a moth-eaten, dog-eared copy (of one of Blyton’s books or others that were close to Enid Blyton’s books in genre and setting – I sadly forget the authors’ names now) that I had yet to read, with an air of a wizard conjuring up a rare gem — which was exactly what the book was for me. With each new book that I read, my love for reading strengthened, until it metamorphosed into a desire for writing.

The Secret Seven series is set in a village in England where seven kids, obviously, found a secret society and solve crimes, big and small, in the neighborhood. There is also Scamper, the golden spaniel, who is always tail-waggingly ready to do his part in digging up clues.

In all of Enid Blyton’s books food features prominently, and the characters are always either having smashing teas or settling down to tuck into the contents of laden picnic hampers. The books are sprinkled with references to eatables such as: currant buns, ginger biscuits, meat pies, boiled eggs, scones, lemonade, sausages, egg and lettuce sandwiches, ginger-beer and chocolate éclairs. For a child brought up on a steady diet of idli, chapati, dosa***, and chicken curry, among other things, those foodstuffs were as exotic and mouth-watering as they could get.

As I read about: the foggy autumn morning with smoke spiraling lazily up the chimney of the shepherd’s cottage; or the children biking to school along narrow lanes bordered by celandines, violets and primroses; or the gardener dressed in a patched tweed coat and hat working in the vegetable plot in the back of Bramble Cottage on Hawthorne Lane, my heart would ache from nostalgia.

Nostalgia? I was all of seven, for crying out loud, and all I’d experienced until then was only hot and humid tropical weather. What could I possibly be pining for? I have yet to figure that one out, but that was exactly how the books left me feeling.

To me, Enid Blyton is, and always will be, a sorcerer who, with a wave of her magical fountain pen, created a cozy and charming world, populated it with simple, lovable characters and then softly breathed life into the both of them.

To be continued…

** Excerpt from “Secret Seven on the trail” by Enid Blyton.

*** idli – steamed rice cakes

      chapati – unleavened bread

      dosa –  crepes made of rice and white-lentils soaked and ground into a thick batter

Check out Enid Blyton – 2 also. (Edited 3/17/2010 – Link added retroactively.)

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