The never-ending storyteller

The never-ending storyteller

No writer of stories for youngsters has come close to equalling the amazing Enid Blyton's output or popularity

In 2008, the prestigious Costa Book Awards voted Enid Blyton the world's best-loved author, ahead of J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. In her long career, Blyton sold more than 600 million books. Her stories were translated into more than 90 languages, and from 2000 to 2010, eight million Enid Blyton books were sold in Britain alone. That's good going for an author who has been dead for 43 years. Blyton was a one-woman writing factory.

So what sort of books did Blyton write? She wrote books for children and teenagers, all with young characters at the centre of the story. Blyton was, and still is, unique in the world of youth fiction.

A brief Blyton bio

Enid Blyton was born in the London suburb of East Dulwich in 1897. On leaving school, she trained to be a teacher, and after qualifying, she worked for five years in schools in and around London. In her spare time, Blyton loved to write and her first book of poems for children was published in 1922. Two years later, Blyton married Hugh Pollock, an editor for the London publishing firm of George Newnes. Blyton began writing short stories and novels for children, and her husband's connections helped get her work published.

They had two daughters and, in a book published after Blyton's death, Imogen, the younger daughter, painted an unpleasant portrait of her mother. She wrote that her mother ignored her own daughters and was a bad parent.

Blyton was loved by thousands of young readers in Britain in the 1950s, and after her death in 1968, her fame continued to spread worldwide, with television adaptations and translations of her books.

The making of a Blyton book

As soon as she began writing, Blyton tapped into what young teenagers wanted to read. They wanted adventure. In her stories, Blyton created a fantasy world that pretended to be real. Blyton's fictional heroes and heroines lived in a world where they could play and get on with things without adults telling them what to do and how to behave.

Blyton stories fall into three categories. There is the boarding school story where children are packed off to school away from their parents and find excitement and great adventure. Hogwarts, anyone?

Blyton's mystery novels had ordinary youngsters playing detective and solving crimes that adults couldn't solve.

The school story and the mystery adventure are what readers expect from Blyton, but she also wrote fantasy novels where young heroes and heroines meet goblins, fairies and extraordinary creatures.

It was always the story that mattered in an Enid Blyton book, and this is why young readers read her with such enthusiasm.

Yesterday and today

Blyton's books very much reflect the times in which they were written. The England of the 1950s is not the England of today, and it is unfair to Blyton's storytelling talent to judge her books by today's social standards. As the world moved on in the 1970s and 1980s, various voices accused her books of being racist, sexist and badly written. Some libraries in Britain and the United States banned her books and her publishers were advised to change certain vocabulary and situations and bring out "politically correct" editions of her novels.

Blyton herself would have defended her stories to the last if she was alive. She was never interested in hearing the views of any critic who wasn't a young teenager. Blyton's vast output of fiction was very much a product of its time, and that is the best way to approach it today. Just dive in and enjoy the story. It's fiction, not reality.

And now the books

- The Famous Five series of 21 novels follows the adventures of a group of children in a world where adults play a very small part. Titles include Five on a Treasure Island and Five Have a Mystery to Solve. You get the picture!

- The Secret Seven are a secret society of kids who sort out problems and solve mysteries. Titles like Good Work Secret Seven and Fun for the Secret Seven spell out exactly what to expect.

- The Malory Towers novels are all about adventure at a girls' boarding school.

- The 15 books in The Mystery of ... series have titles like The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage and The Mystery of the Secret Room. These titles speak for themselves.

Happy reading!



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