Lashings of Enid Blyton fun!
The Family at Red-Roofs
The little white-washed house on the green hillside seemed to smile in the warm sunshine of the bright May day. It sat there snugly in its big patch of gay garden, a white cherry tree out in the front garden, and a golden laburnum hanging over the gate. The gate was painted green and white, and there was a name on it - Red Roofs.
So opens one of my favourite books from childhood - The Family at Red-Roofs.
It's the story of a happy family with four children, who move into a new house and then face all sorts of problems. Father has to go abroad for business, Mother falls dangerously ill and then there is news that Father is lost at sea en route to the USA. It's the story of how the children face the future, struggle to survive amid financial and personal disaster and come through with flying colours.
I was given this book when I was around 7 and it has lived with me my whole life - indeed, that same hardback copy still sits on my bookshelf, proudly displayed among all the many other books I've acquired in the lifetime since.
The fact that it was by my favourite author of the time - Enid Blyton - made it extra special!
Enid Mary Blyton was born on 11 August 1897 in East Dulwich in London, one of three children (she had two brothers). The family moved to nearby Beckenham where she attended St. Christopher's School, ending up as Head Girl. She was devastated when her beloved father left her mother for another woman, and apparently she didn't enjoy a great relationship with her mother.
She trained as a teacher, and then taught in various schools, during which time she was also writing her stories. Her first book was a collection of poems entitled Child Whispers which was published in 1922.
Two years later Enid Blyton married Major Hugh Pollock, who was the editor of the book department in the George Newnes publishing firm which published two of her books that year. They moved to the town of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire, and then to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and had two daughters - Gillian and Imogen.
Blyton was a complicated personality and a supreme self publicist - her home in Beaconsfield was named 'Green Hedges' by her readers following a competition in her magazine Sunny Stories - and after her death her daughter Imogen's autobiography revealed her as rather 'emotionally immature, unstable and even malicious', as well as unfaithful in her marriage. She and Major Pollock eventually divorced and Blyton married Kenneth Darrell Waters, a London surgeon. He died in 1967 and Blyton's health declined as she was increasingly afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. She died on 28 November 1968, aged 71 years.
(information sourced from Wikipedia)
A World of Stories
The Family at Red Roofs isn't as well known as many of Enid Blyton's other works - everything from The Famous Five books to the many Noddy stories, from The Magic Faraway Tree and the many other fantastical stories of fairies, imps and elves, to the series which started with The Naughtiest Girl in the School, another of my personal favourites. But it opened a world of fantasy to me - a child with a vivid imagination.
It was Miss Blyton's books that got ME 'scribbling'. I knew nothing about the woman only that I absolutely loved her stories, and wanted to dream up tales, just as she did. So started my lifelong love of daydreaming and writing.
I still maintain that Enid Blyton is to blame every time I find myself sitting on a train wondering just WHY the man sitting opposite me has such an ENORMOUS nose, or find myself listening in to other peoples' peculiar conversations. For me every journey, meeting, experience, is still about soaking up faces, places, names and characters. I did this long before I knew that's what writers do - I did it because I wanted to write ...like Enid Blyton...and she seemed to me not only able to write, but to write about life, and my life.
A Reflection of My Life
Why did The Family at Red Roofs ring such a bell in my head?
Perhaps it was because, aged 7, I was in a family which moved...a LOT. I already had experience of moving home three times, that I could remember. I was also one of four children, although I had three brothers, unlike the Red Roofs family (two boys, two girls)
When, aged 8, we moved again to Kenya in Africa and I found myself in boarding school hundreds of miles from home, I initially felt excited. I imagined the place would be just like Whyteleafe School where there would be high jinx, just like in The Naughiest Girl in the School.
Of course, seeing my parents' vehicle pull away from the school, disappearing down a long drive and knowing I would not see them for at least three weeks, broke the spell. It unfortunately began a prolonged period of homesickness, but at least I had enjoyed the long drive up to Nyeri Primary School, thanks to Miss Blyton's magic and my innocence.
But it wasn't just Enid Blyton's stories and characters that I loved, but also her writing style. I read from a very young age, and soaked up language like others consumed food. As I explored her books and stories, so I was exploring the English language.
Stories, stories, stories
- 186 novels/novelettes
- 243 character books
- 904 short story series books
- 265 education books
- 195 recreation books
- 170 continuation books
- 284 Enid Blyton contributions
* 'Enid Blyton is also credited with over 10,900 short stories, poems and plays throughout her career, but some were used many times so the actual number is more like 7500'. She also wrote under the pseudonym Mary Pollock (her middle name and first married surname)
The town of Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, where Enid Blyton spent much of her adult and writing life, is very proud of their local heroine.
In 2013 they celebrated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of this most famous of inhabitants in style. The week June 29 - July 7 was designated 'Enid Blyton Week' and there were events across the town. Bekonscot Model Village, another of the town's attractions, staged 'Noddy Weekend' and there were activities in the library and other venues, including the screening of the biographical film 'Enid' featuring the acclaimed British actress Helena Bonham Carter. The week, organised by the Beaconsfield Society and supported by local businesses, ended with festivities on Saturday July 6 including 'lashings of lemonade and party food.'
A model home
Although the author's house, Green Hedges, was demolished after her death, there is a road named for her in Beaconsfield - Blyton Close - and an Enid Blyton Room at the nearby Red Lion pub in Knotty Green. According to Trip Advisor, the room 'boasts a library of books donated by the Enid Blyton Society along with a gallery of original prints.'
Imagine my horror, years after I first snuck away to curl up on a chair in a corner of a quiet room to feast on Miss Blyton's latest story, when I discovered that she was not beloved by all.
Many 'experts' claimed her use of language and vocabulary was restrictive and limited, even at the time I was reading her as a child. Some didn't like her 'tone' and literary 'devices', criticising her for presenting too 'rosy' a view of the world. Even in the 1950s and 1960s apparently she was banned from some libraries and in the early 21st century it came to light that the BBC had actually had a ban on the dramatization of Blyton works during those two decades.
However, if the 7 or 8-year-old me had known this it would not have made a blind bit of difference - I loved her stories! And, what is more important, so did many millions of other children.
We didn't - and in my case still don't care - that Miss Blyton, whose main work preceded the second half of the 20th century, was or is considered 'old fashioned' or 'not politically correct'.
I don't mind that in Red Roofs the very first paragraph includes the word 'gay' - a 'gay garden'. When she was writing the word 'gay' had none of the sexual and even controversial overtones which it has now. It simply meant 'happy' and 'glad', among other lovely adjectives.
Although some of her works have, over the years, been altered to ensure that they are not offensive to the modern reader, it has to be remembered that Enid Blyton not only came from another generation but really another world which has long since passed away. If her language is now considered unacceptable, it is not her fault. If some of her stories are naïve, we must remember that she was writing for children who lived in a world where they were allowed to be children. In Enid Blyton's day there were no 'teenagers', that peculiar place between childhood and adulthood. Children, especially middle and upper class British children, would grow up soon enough but while they were young they were allowed to be children. There was not the modern pressure to fastrack into adult behaviour while still in childhood.
Ironically, my favourite Blyton book - The Family at Red Roofs - does tackle exactly this theme, the need for children to grow up quickly in the face of adversity. Although in true Blyton fashion everything 'works out well in the end', perhaps that was why I loved this book so much. It wasn't all 'sunshine and flowers'! Perhaps she wasn't so out of touch with modern reality as some think!
So, I will not let the fact that retrospectively Enid Blyton has been considered rather poor taste in some quarters detract from my childhood enjoyment of her writing and the joy her stories brought me. Neither will I let it interfere with my memories and my gratitude to her for the gift she gave me - a love of books and a love of reading!