Enid Blyton’s Appeal: Why Children are Still Reading Her Books

Shirley Thomas

Enid Blyton started writing books for children and young teens in the 1920s. The settings and environments are naturally influenced by the era and the ones shortly afterward. It is thus quite a natural question to raise: How does she manage to capture young audience throughout the years?

Adventure
Lots of Blyton’s narrative has something to do with adventure. You are going to a new school, you are visiting new town, you are going on a caravan ride. Unless the children reading her books are the offspring of a rock star or a traveling acrobat, Blyton’s books represent a whole new, exciting world to behold.

There is always promise at the beginning of her stories: there will be new friends, new things to do, new stuff to see. It also goes without saying that the fact that her protagonists are also children works really well. She takes their side, reveling in possibilities seen by young eyes and minds, rebelling at limitations set by pesky parents. The best thing is, even though pesky parents happen, in Blyton’s books adventure still sets sail. To the land of New Things!

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Mystery
The books of Blyton’s targeting slightly older audience, the young teens, deal with mystery and detection. A group of cousins or friends notice something that is unusual in their small town or vacation spot and decide to see what is behind it.

Children are curious and Blyton packaged the unusual and the mysterious very well to pique their interests. Shy, cautious children get to enjoy probing into and solving a mystery seeing as hey, you are simply reading, no harm will befall you. But to go into the books and characters themselves, there are shy youngsters in Blyton’s books (like Anne Kirrin of the Famous Five) who are frequently cajoled and coaxed to come along to investigate a mystery.

Another thing that is particularly satisfactory about Enid Blyton’s mystery is the fact that the characters get to solve the puzzles on their own. That is to say, without the help of adults. Sometimes the adults are conveniently away from home, sometimes clues and helpful information fall into the laps of the youthful detectives but all is done in believable ways and the success is definitely a big brownie point in the eyes of young readers.

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Fantasy
The books for younger children have lots of delight in them, especially in terms of characters. There are grumpy dwarves, silly elves, kindly ladies who can do magic, careless fairy who is forgetful, little bunnies that trade bags of jewels for a big cake; anything a young mind can think of, Ms Blyton would serve it up in a platter.

The highlights of Blyton’s writing are especially pronounced in her short stories for the young: the characterizations and storylines. While the young teens’ books have some cardboard characters, the ones in her short stories are alive with their quirks, strengths and weaknesses. It even seems as though with the amount of fantasy she injected into these stories, Blyton tried to inject the same amount of realism.


Not everyone is thoroughly good or bad in these short stories, not all stories have happy endings, some even leave out the conclusions to let readers decide on their own as to what is going to happen.

(This raises an interesting question: Why are the stories for the slightly younger audience so much less patronizing than the ones she wrote for young teens? One could argue that the detective books she did were purely commercial,  seeing as there are standalones targeting young teens that are well rounded and well written.)

Food and Friendship
If a soundtrack should be chosen for Enid Blyton’s books in general, that song with Food, Glorious Food line needs to be a contender. An overwhelming number of Blyton’s fans can and will confirm that food is a big part of the experience of reading Blyton.

Interestingly, dinners shared with the parents are hardly ever an occasion. They are observed as a matter of course, with minimum fanfare. The same can not be said about picnics, however. Or meals that are shared with friends or fellow boarding school students. Meals and picnics with friends are elaborately described, the items listed with care, the tastes and the ways of enjoying them are told with glee.

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The boarding school stories especially highlights the tradition of throwing (forbidden) midnight parties, where girls sneak out of their dormitory in the dead of the night to have a discreet picnic within the school ground, usually in order to celebrate a birthday. There are tales of parties with abundant food that prompt the girls to eat weird combinations of food; another party sees the attendees actually try and fry some sausages with a tiny stove, yet another party is thrown poolside under the full moon, where students lounge in their modest school bathing suits and dress robes.

For 12 year olds reading these stories, they are nothing short of magical. It is fun, a little daring, but most importantly, it is done by people just like the readers, ordinary students who study and do their homework.

Morals
Not all of Blyton’s books have morals in their respective story, even though one could argue that there is one in every story ever told. The commercial ones are fun, formulaic reading and it would be quite a task to find the important message(s) in them, especially when compared to the ones where Blyton did have messages to impart.

The Blyton stories that do have morals are well written, in that she balanced the story telling and the lecture quite nicely. Some have straight narrative, telling and leading the readers toward the right path where necessary; some others are more subtle, relying heavily on effects and consequences to teach her young readers the right things to do.

Another highlight is her ability to do so with charm and a sense of humor. In trying to teach children not to eat sweets too much, she told a story of a wise village woman and her magical sponge cake, which can be eaten to a maximum of three pieces only. When the village glutton eats five of them, he pops his buttons, swells into a balloon and floats to the ceiling while his neighbours jump around below, trying to catch and bring him back down.

Young adult and adult readers may feel a little resentment when they detect lecturing in a reading material but children are more receptive to such messages, in fact they enjoy morals of the story. After all, children need boundaries and limits set in their lives and, up to a point, they like knowing what to do and what not to do.

There are a lot to enjoy about Enid Blyton’s reading. Every reader will have his or her own reasons, which may well change as they grow older and reread some of their old favorites.

One thing is for sure, Blyton’s books are going to entertain many more young readers for years to come.

Madame Bovary, A Change of Mind

I tweeted this list about a week ago – books that I need to finish, books that I look forward to reading and books that haunted me.

Notice that the comment for Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is: the book I want to burn, currently reading.

At the time however, I wasn’t actively reading it. The Wordsworth copy lay somewhere at the foot of my bed, waiting in vain for me to pick it up. The last time I closed the book Emma Bovary had just met Léon Dupuis, after what seemed like a string of dreadfully dull non events that stretched for (hyperbole alert!) hundreds of pages.

My laptop threw a temper tantrum one night last week and refused to start up so I reluctantly picked up the book again and surprised myself by blasting through it to the end in a few hours.

Throughout the course of her downward spiral into ruin, Emma did not change much – she remained fretful, entitled and selfish. Still, as the story progressed I couldn’t help pitying her, rooting for her, even if I knew it was in vain. For Emma, ever the foolish woman, kept on disappointing her reader by choosing the path of the most destructive.

I looked up the reviews on Goodreads the last time I felt the need to throw this book at the wall for its sheer dullness – and was gratified to find a lot of seemingly intelligent people eloquently verbalized the problems I had with enjoying Madame Bovary.

The opposing sides however, were praising Flaubert on ‘a masterpiece’, ‘an ambitious work well executed’, etc.

By the time I finished the novel I saw what they meant. On paper, Emma is not the character you want to love or sympathize with; she’s not even the character you’d love to hate. She’s just an extremely flawed woman who was trapped in a dreadful life, having no fortitude to make the best of it.

So why do I find myself feeling sorry for her and, despite knowing better, rooting for her to finally make a good choice…? Which (spoiler!) she never did, by the way.

It’s a question to which I’ve yet to find the answer. An article I read a while back reiterated how Flaubert said he wanted to see if he could write the most dreadful, unlovable character and still made his readers supporters of said character.*

The only explanation I could offer is that people, whether they want to admit or not, do identify with Emma Bovary.

Not all of us are brave people who do good and generally strive to be a better version of ourselves. Some of us indulge our petulant selves and then throw tantrums when life tells us such practice does not give us what we want. Some of us deliberately choose the worst of choice out of spite toward life, only to find out we are screwing ourselves.

Some of us have seen the chasm that is the darkest of human nature and have been horrified to find that we were actually staring into the mirror.

A train wreck has always been a fun thing to watch; writing one, however, is no easy task. Writing a train wreck about to happen with as much subtlety and refinement is indeed a masterpiece.

*) rephrased somewhat loosely.