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swim faster too. I can sail a boat as well as any fisher-boy on this coast. You’re to call me George. Then I’ll speak to you. But I shan’t if you don’t.’

The speech highlights not only the social expectations for girls at the time, but a crisp, black-and-white character assessment that is distinctly Blyton. There is little room for nuance or reflection. George, a girl who acts out of type, is depicted as a straightforward anomaly, a ‘boy-girl’. Perhaps not the world view we are keen to pass on to our children. Yet, read on and it is increasingly difficult not to get caught up in George and the gang’s adventures, or to admire George’s strength of character. Blyton’s worlds have a sense of clarity and display an ethic that a sensible, can-do spirit wins the day. Her adventurous optimism is most persuasive.

communicate directly with her readers. She really cared about what they wanted,’ says Gillian. She was also one of the first to sell directly to children, without the need to please both parent and child that shaped children’s authors before her. Her aim was entertainment, not didacticism. She understood children’s fantasies, and the importance to them of an escape from interfering adults. While Enid Blyton is often compared to JK Rowling for her popularity, her books were certainly not aimed at crossing over into the adult market, and it has been said that she wasn’t interested in any critic over the age of 12. Her influence today is seen far and wide in contemporary writers, in Francesca Simon’s

Horrid Henry series, in Gwyneth Rees’ fairy books, in Jacqueline Wilson’s creation of a vast and loyal fan base.

‘It’s impossible to celebrate Britain’s literary heritage for children without including our most successful author, Enid Blyton,’ said Seven Stories’ CEO Kate Edwards. ‘There is no doubt that she was a complex person - a keen naturalist, progressive teacher, working parent and canny business woman. Her work has endured, constantly re-interpreted through its decades in print, and enthralling generation after generation of children.’ It is the complexity of the woman behind the work, as well as the chance to re-enter that clear and optimistic world of adventure, that makes this exhibition of such interest. n

For her own part, Gillian says that finding out more about Enid Blyton’s childhood helped her understand the author’s body of work. ‘Her parents had a terrible marriage and there was a lot of fighting at home. Enid used to sit upstairs with her brothers and tell them stories. Then when she started teaching it was obvious that she had a talent for telling stories to her pupils. The criticism of her books – that her characters are two-dimensional – ties in with that oral storytelling tradition: she keeps the child with her. Her books are exciting and they keep the pace going. She knew exactly what children wanted and she knew how to give it to them. I felt that her work made much more sense when looking at it from the background of oral storytelling.’

And praise must be given for an author who so successfully hooked children into reading. ‘Enid Blyton was one of the first authors to

Books for Keeps No.200 May 2013 9

Mystery, Magic and Midnight Feasts: The Many Adventures of Enid Blyton is at Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books until spring 2014. In summer 2013, a digital exhibition will be launched at

Laura Fraine is a freelance journalist based in the North-East.

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