It’s ages since I posted a blog post (yeah, yeah), so I thought I’d blog about this. Back in June I saw a few tweets relating to English Heritage branding Enid Blyton’s work as ‘racist and xenophobic’. As a 10-year-old, the first full-length book I ever read was First Term at Malory Towers. It inspired me to want to write for children, but when I read more of her books, and became aware of, but didn’t read, her stories involving characters like ‘golliwogs’, did I think she was a racist? No, because when I was growing up, there was no such word as or reference to being ‘woke’ and a golliwog to me was just a black doll. Robertson’s marmalade used to give away golliwog badges. I had a couple. They were just pretty, colourful badges to me.
Do I think she’s racist and xenophobic now I’m an adult? The answer’s yes. I’m in a better position to judge her work more closely and I live in a diverse, multicultural, multiracial country in a time when racism and prejudice is a sensitive issue. As a football fan, I support the Kick It Out campaign. Blyton’s stories, and those of other children’s authors like Angela Brazil and Elinor M Brent-Dyer from her era, are full of racist and prejudicial overtones. Blyton was even said to be a Nazi sympathiser. Recently, I’ve been re-reading The Chalet School series by Brent-Dyer. The character of Biddy O’Ryan, a wild Irish girl who is found hiding near the school after she’s abandoned, is deemed unsuitable to be a pupil at the school because of how she speaks, so there is talk of her becoming a servant to one of the girls, until it’s discovered she is clever and would benefit from the Chalet School’s influence. An example like that makes me cringe, so why do I keep reading these books, and why do the likes of Blyton and Brent-Dyer still sell, when, if I tried to imitate them, not only would I be branded a racist, I might even end up in the dock! The nearest Brent-Dyer gets to multiculturalism and diversity is through those of her characters from European nations, but there are no girls from African countries in her school, nor are there any at Malory Towers or St Clare’s. These books just don’t fit into today’s world, so why do they still appeal?
It’s a mystery. The only explanation I can give is that perhaps it’s the ideas and plots that are appealing, not the stories or characters themselves. It’s been said Blyton was a poor writer. Maybe, but her estate still gets the royalties. The opinion on Twitter is divided: some accuse English Heritage of being woke, others say it was just the sign of the times, other tweets say they feel uncomfortable reading her books to their children. What I want to know is what took English Heritage so long to come to that conclusion when most of us knew what her books were like for years?
Here’s the link to English Heritage’s statement: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/search-news/enid-blyton/