Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Enid Blyton - A Forgotten Treasure Unearthed

Enid Blyton, the celebrated children’s author, was nothing if not prolific. The creator of such revered characters as Noddy and The Famous Five published approximately 800 books during a career spanning 45 years - a figure which equates to an astonishing average of 18 books a year, or one-and-a-half books a month!

So prodigious was her output that many refused to believe that Blyton herself wrote every book that bore her name. Her response to this accusation was predictably indignant. Vigorously denying any association with the controversial business of ghost-writing, she insisted that, at the height of her career, she would often punch out 10,000 words a day. A word-count such as this would be beyond the reach of most authors, but in Blyton’s case, it is likely to be an accurate estimate; no ghost-writer has ever come forward to claim authorship of any of Blyton’s books, despite the fact that Blyton herself died in 1968.

The seemingly inexhaustible productivity of Ms Blyton’s pen is all the more remarkable when one considers the effect each and every one of her books had on her legions of fans.
Her books were, and still are, loved by millions. She was constantly in demand; in fact, one could hazard a guess that her boundless productivity was fed by the unrelenting adoration afforded to her by her followers. The immense output of the author was matched only by the voracious appetite of the readers. Take a look at the statistics: Blyton’s books have sold in excess of 600 million copies, over a million Famous Five books continue to be sold each year, and her books have been translated into 90 languages. The numbers speak for themselves, and point to one inarguable fact - Enid Blyton was one of the world’s best-loved and most successful children’s authors.

Despite this success, Enid Blyton was not without her critics. There have been some who have questioned the quality of her writing – for a period of almost thirty years, the BBC steadfastly refused to dramatise her books for radio, declaring her work to be “long-winded and stilted … and really not very good".
Blyton also came under fire for her views on corporal punishment and the vaguely xenophobic themes in her work. (The latter criticism stemmed from her habit of depicting suspicious characters as ‘foreign’.) Indeed, many of her books have undergone some vigorous editing to make them more palatable to new generations of readers; most notably, golliwogs have been replaced by altogether more inoffensive characters like teddy-bears. However, when considering the criticism levelled at Blyton, it is important to bear in mind that her books were very much a product of their time. The quintessentially English world she depicts, of the countryside, picnics and “lashings of ginger beer”, are as outdated as the Golliwogs and the close-minded suspicion of foreigners.

Undeniably, Enid Blyton was a polarizing figure, but love her or hate her, most agree that she was a force to be reckoned with. It is hardly surprising, then, that news of the discovery of a previously unpublished Blyton manuscript has made the headlines in recent days. The document, thought to date from early in her career, was unearthed by a cataloguer
who has been examining a cache of the author’s papers which were sold at auction by her daughter in 2007. The title of the manuscript, “Mr Tumpy’s Caravan” was originally thought to be an illustrated version of a published story, the similarly titled “Mr Tumpy and his Caravan”. Closer inspection by the archivist revealed that the two are very different – the new story, which stretched to 180 pages, is a fantastical tale about a magical caravan which sprouts feet and has a mind of its own. It is believed that the story may have been originally rejected by a publisher. This may or may not be the case, but for whatever the reason, the manuscript has lain forgotten, in ignominious anonymity for over 70 years. No doubt the controllers of Blyton’s estate will waste no time in getting this story into print. After all, a late publication is better than no publication at all …


  1. Brilliant article. I'm a huge admirer of Enid Blyton.

  2. Thanks Natalie. I loved her books as a child. I'm thinking of re-visiting some of them to see how they translate in adulthood.