Before J.K. Rowling There
Was Enid Blyton

By Marty Murray
The times change but some attitudes do not. Each generation of children has its own popular author, who has the ability to fire the passions of young readers and open their minds to the wonder and imagination of reading. In this day and age, having the power to get kids from in front of the TV set and the gaming console takes considerably more effort than it did 20 years ago, but British author J.K. Rowling has proved that it is still possible, creating a sensation with her Harry Potter books, despite the fact that some of them are the size of miniature Bibles. Her books, devoured by her readers as soon as they hit the shelves, have so far been made into four hugely successful feature films, with adaptations of the other three Potter tales only a matter of time.
Yet, as always, there is a backlash against her success. The joyless and ignorant within our society can't help but try and take the fun out of everything by reading all sorts of awful and dangerous things into the works of the imaginative and creative, and J.K. Rowling has been accused of promoting witchcraft and Satanism. These accusations have more to do with the dark thoughts that exist within the minds of her critics than they do in actuality. Rowling isn't the first children's author to be attacked in this way. One of the world's most prolific and successful children's authors, who has seemingly been forgotten here in North America, went through similar tribulations during the 50's and 60's.
That author's name was Enid Blyton.
Enid was born in 1897 in London, England. Her father was a creative man who dabbled in poetry, photography and painting, and when Enid began to get older and started spending most of her time reading, and then writing stories and poems of her own, she was encouraged by her father. Her mother wasn't impressed, however, and thought young Enid's efforts were a waste of time, and she shared none of her husband's interests. Eventually the couple drifted apart and divorced, with Enid and her two younger siblings moving to Beckinham, England, where she would remain for many years, and her father going into a family warehouse business, where he would support his children from afar, giving them enough money to attend private schools and enjoy a good lifestyle.
In 1917 Enid began to get her works published in magazines, and soon found herself with a publishing deal, writing children's books of poetry and short stories. She was trained as a kindergarten teacher and eventually opened her own school. In 1926 she became the editor of a new children's magazine, Sunny Stories, and her works became popular with other teachers, who used them in their lessons.
In 1924 Enid got married to Hugh Pollock, one of her book editors at her publishers, and they would live in a series of old picturesque homes, the last and most famous being "Green Hedges," in Beaconsfield near London. Despite gynecological problems she would go on to have two daughters, who she brought up in the Anglican faith, though she herself rarely attended church. It wasn't until 1938 that she published her first full-length children's adventure novel, The Secret Island. It would set the template for the prodigious output that was to come - a fast-paced adventurous tale with a group of young children as its heroes, who seemingly existed outside the constraining world of adults.
Blyton was an extraordinary writer, able to put out an amazing 10,000 words a day. Over her 40 year career she would write and publish over 600 titles, translated into 70 different languages and would sell 60 million books by the 1980's. Her most popular series of books would be her "Adventure" series, which are the books which fired my own imagination as a youngster, her "Mystery" series, which was almost as popular, and the "Secret Seven" and "Famous Five" series. All of these books sprang from a similar style, in which a group of young children who were close friends would find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, going on incredible adventures and solving crimes, and ultimately outsmarting the adults around them.
Enid wrote from the point of view of a child, probably drawing on her own experiences when she was growing up, and her books encourage comradeship and honesty. Reading them, you were transported into her world, which indeed existed outside the realms of reality and the day-to-day existence of her young fans, and looking at J.K. Rowling today, can you really say that much has changed? At the time her books became popular, England was going through a depression and then a World War, and I think more than ever children wanted and needed a place to escape.
And yet, just as Rowling has found herself attacked by the religious right in our time, Enid found herself a target of the joyless PC'ers of her own time in the 50's and 60's. Her books were accused of using only a limited vocabulary, and of encouraging racism, sexism, snobbishness, and even of containing elements of homoeroticism. Most of these things existed only in the minds of her accusers, who were reading their own fears and hangups into her works. She was the product of a fairly priviledged upbringing in an older time, and everything she wrote was done in innocence, with no intention of any hidden meaning or agenda. Though she had to go through a period of unpopularity due to this, eventually things came around and her books are now being discovered by new generations of readers. At present there are over 300 of her titles in print.
Her second husband, Kenneth Waters, a surgeon who had suffered severe hearing loss due to an exploding shell in WW1, passed away in 1967. He had been her biggest supporter, but during the 60's she found it difficult to concentrate and her incredible output dwindled to nothing. She eventually became consumed by Alzheimers Disease and passed away in her sleep at a nursing home on November 28, 1968.
The ability to write imaginative stories which can capture the minds of young readers is an incredible gift. We have seen the rebirth of epic storytellers such as J.R.R. Tolkien with The Lord Of The Rings films, and now C.S. Lewis with the first in the seven-book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. J.K. Rowling was able to pull herself out of the lowly existence of a single mom on welfare to become one of the world's most successful authors, simply with a pad of paper and and a pen, and her own amazing imagination.
Somewhere between Frodo Baggins and Harry Potter, Enid Blyton has been forgotten, but I will never forget my wide-eyed joy at reading her books, one after another, when I was in grade school, and I must thank my mother and my British relatives, sending her books across the sea at Chistmas time every year, to fill my imagination for the coming year. Like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, her works might seem dated today, but will still remain a pleasant memory for me, and no doubt many others, for the rest of our lives.



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