Friday, 28 June 2013

Why did 1960s critics, teachers and librarians fail to see the genius of Enid Blyton?


I read a great deal of Enid Blyton in my early and middle childhood, and was aware of the continual denigration of her work which came from the likes of critics, teachers and librarians.

I just ignored them and carried on reading.

Since her brooks are for the younger child, there is not much to attract adult readers, so from teens onwards I don't think I re-read any Blyton.


Then when my children came along I read some Blyton with them, and read Barbara Stoney's biography of Enid Blyton - which I re-read with great enjoyment and profit last week.

It is very clear now that Enid Blyton was a genuine female genius - not just in terms of the quality (bearing in mind that she is par excellence a writer for children and must be evaluated as such), and quantity of her work - which was simply staggering (topping-off which was that she did not even employ a literary agent or secretary, yet solicited letters from readers and personally answered a huge mailbag) - but a genius, too, in terms of her mode of work, her way of thinking.


Blyton left a detailed account of her method of composition in some fascinating letters to a psychologist called Peter McKellar. Here is part of an excerpt given by Barbara Stoney:

I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knees; and I make my mind a blank and wait - and then, as clearly as I could see real children, my characters stand before me in mind's eye... The story is enacted almost as if I had a private cinema screen there... I don't know what is going to happen... Sometimes a character makes a joke, a really funny one that makes me laugh as I type it on my paper and I think, "Well, I couldn't have thought of that myself in hundred years!", and then I think: "Well, who did think of it?

Blyton thus wrote in a trance state, a shamanic state - and her mastery of this state was the key to the reality of her world and her tremendous productivity. 


In the days when Blyton was criticized without restraint, people used to say she was a 'bad writer' in the sense that her prose was supposedly badly formed and her plotting was supposedly crude. 

This is false. Her prose is clean and smooth and the books are very tightly written. Compared with most of the feted modern children writers - whose work is often padded-out, flaccid - Blyton's stories are all meat with no gristle.


So why was she so hated?

The answer is obvious, her work was designed to exemplify and promote Goodness: public, bless them, feel in my books a sense of security, an anchor, a sure knowledge that right is right, and that such things as courage and kindness deserve to be emulated. Naturally the morals or ethics are intrinsic to the story - and therein lies their true power.  

Blyton was brought up a nonconformist Christian, a Baptist, but (as with many geniuses) her observance and belief faded as her created talent waxed.

She consequently did not live fully by Christian ideals, especially in terms of the sexual arena - marriage and divorce and remarriage, both to divorced men; however, unlike most literary geniuses, Blyton retained almost all her Christian practices, ethics and principles. Indeed, she wrote a great deal of Christian literature for children. 

Blyton was, therefore, that thing most loathed by the Left - a hypocrite. That is someone whose life does not match up to their publicly stated beliefs. Not all that much of a hypocrite, in fact, but enough for the Left who wanted to destroy her.


To try and destroy, Blyton, the Leftist establishment said (and are still saying) all kinds of incompetent and ignorant nonsense and gibberish (indeed, I have never read or heard so much pure garbage talked about any other writer) to conceal that what the Left really hate about Enid Blyton was her effectiveness as a writer, and that her books were a good influence on children.

Therefore, being both good and effective and amazingly productive; quite naturally (to the Leftist mindset) Blyton should be slandered, ridiculed, bowdlerized, suppressed.  




JamesP said...

I'm very interested in your ideas about hypocrisy,deliberate evil and leftism.

Could you expand on that?

Rah said...

Thanks for this. I'm always looking for interesting ways to present good influences to my children. I just ordered a 3-book set from amazon for my kids.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - This was an early comment,

If you think of formative Leftists, a great deal of it entails unmasking, seeing-through a sham to prove that apparently good people are actually the most evil; and that apparently wicked people (liars, thieves, violent people, swearers and blasphemers, cruel tricksters, the greedy and selfish, bullies) are actually (when you strip away the pretense) the real good-guys.

That is the world of much modern children's fiction of the kind valued by critics and librarians.

Thus the mainstream (hence Leftist) depiction of Enid Blyton nowadays is that she was a hypocrite: a propagandist for racism, sexism and social snobbery yet herself actually blah blah blah...

Those who defend her try to pretend she was actually a 'subversive' writer, subtly undermining those things she ostensibly promotes.

Another line, and one adopted by Barbara Stoney, is that Blyton was always a child who failed to grow up... This in the face of her being (for long stretches) an exemplary wife, mother and citizen; and an utterly extraordinary and original business capacity - she was one of the great entrepreneurs of the century.

What all this self-refuting nonsense really means is that modern mainstream Leftists hate, hate, hate a writer who effectively promotes good values and behaviour; and instead worship writers who undermine good or actually promote wickedness.

The sophomoric attempts to try and prove that Blyton 'never grew up' come from people who are themselves trapped in adolescence - and have a covert goal of trying to imply that 'real grown ups' do not take seriously the world of permanent objective values of which Blyton writes.

The fact that they cannot recognize Blyton is an excellent writer is not such a surprise, since almost all critics and teachers have zero capacity to judge such matters for themselves, and merely believe and parrot what their own teachers have said.

Blyton is child-like, not childish; and lucidly intelligent, not an intellectual. She was of the same general type as GK Chesterton or CS Lewis (although much more worldly and hard nosed than either of them).

But although there are resemblences here and there, Enid Blyton was, in sum, a creative genius - thus one of a kind.

And this fact of her genius is very, very obvious such that extraordinary ingenuity must be expended to fail to recognize it.


(It is one of the weirdnesses of Leftism that it fails to recognize a clearcut and obvious instance of authentic female genius - like Blyton and Thatcher - when it contradicts their Leftist expectations; and are reduced to dishonest and ineffectual promotion of a multitude of *fake* Leftist female supposed-geniuses like (oh, there are so many!) Virginia Woolf and [...fill in the name of any recent woman politician of the Left...].

(I should add, for honesty's sake, that there is at least one other female children's writer of authentic genius who was a Leftist of an extreme type - Edith Nesbit. However, I don't know much of her work, so cannot say much more about her.)

MC said...

"Another line, and one adopted by Barbara Stoney, is that Blyton was always a child who failed to grow up"

In the modern world, "naivete" is defined not by your actual knowledge, experience or actions, but by your ideology.

The "Book of Mormon" musical portrays the American Mormon elders as hopelessly naive about the suffering of Africans. As I've pointed out to my non-Mormon friends, "How many of you would spend two years living among Africans in abject poverty? My Mormon wife worked in an African orphanage. Who is it that hasn't got a clue about 'real life' again?"

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - Well, yes! But I remember the sense of moral superiority when, as a teen, I discovered that socialism made me better than everybody else - even or especially the lower classes, who I was now (by virtue of my mastery of socialist theory) fit to lead. Growing out of that was a bit of come down - and I am probe to relapses - but most intellectuals never do grow out of it, nor do they ever see the need.

(I have shielded myself from info about the BoM musical since I know for sure it is worthless - I can tell by the way that people talk about it, the headlines etc. I have, instead, been reading the BoM itself - but I still feel a long way from getting to grips with it. I feel a similar sense of not yet being attuned about the Old Testament which I have been reading for several years. However, on the plus side, I also suspect that I probably already get the BoM (and the OT) in the way that matters - and that 'mastery' is perhaps not a desirable goal in such affairs.)

dearieme said...

"I read a great deal of Enid Blyton in my early and middle childhood": so must I have done, guessing from the books lying around the house when I was older: The Famous Five, the Secret Seven, and so on. I remember not a word of it; not one character, not one incident.

I remember Biggles. I remember William Brown. I remember The Swiss Family Robinson, The Children of the New Forest, and Emile and the Detectives; I even remember - with distaste - attempting to read The Water Babies. But of Blyton not a sausage. I can't even remember being bored by her - so I suspect I wasn't, since I can remember being bored by an awful bloody thing called The Children's Newspaper.

Bruce Charlton said...

I went from Enid Blyton to Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Club books - which I thought were terrific. Then the next big impact author I remember was Captain WE Johns Biggles - which I read in considerable volume, refusing to read much else except autobiographies and memoirs of WWII pilots and air raids (I recall thinking Paul Brickhill's 633 Squadron was the best book I had read). As I moved into age 13-ish my English teacher began to despair, and bullied me to read Tarka the Otter (which was like wading through treacle) - then I discovered Tolkien, and that was it!...

as said...

She was very anti-American. The Americans in her books were always caricatures: stupid and immoral, and couldn't speak English properly.

Bruce Charlton said...

@as - Are you really in a position to make a statement such as "The Americans in her books were always caricatures" of the most prolific author ever? That 'always' makes me think you are talking wildly. And even if it was true - so what?

Sanne said...

I think Enid Blyton was a very good writer, especially when you compare her books to something like Harry Potter. Her stories remind me of my own childhood in more innocent times.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sanne - I agree that Blyton was technically a better writer than Rowling - but Rowling was writing for older-children/ adults - and her series was very ambitious (especially the last one) and she succeeded in this ambition - so I would say Rowling's average was lower but her peaks are higher.

as said...

@as - Are you really in a position to make a statement such as "The Americans in her books were always caricatures" of the most prolific author ever? That 'always' makes me think you are talking wildly.

I've read a lot of her books. Maybe there's an American character in one her books who isn't a caricature. Her treatment of Americans was so petty and mean. I noticed even though I was a kid.

And even if it was true - so what?

It's a comment. It makes me wonder about her.

Bruce Charlton said...

@as - There are 1001 reasons for someone taking a dislike to an author - and that's fine at a personal level; but nearly all such reasons are irrelevant to public discourse.