General · Problematic faves

Your problematic fave: Enid Blyton

Like every other bookworm, my love for reading started with Enid Blyton’s books. My first ever novel with multiple chapters in it was from the Famous Five series–a book I still own to this day. I haven’t re-read her books in many years, but I still held her books close to my heart, a testament to the good old days Kirrin Island gave me. Enid Blyton was simply the best and no other children’s book author could take her place.

Boy, was I wrong.

I did not set out to ruin my childhood fave for myself at all. I was just searching for a BBC Documentary on Blyton’s personal life that my friend Uma from Books. Bags. Burgers. was telling me about, when I stumbled across one article calling her problematic.

I chose to go down the proverbial rabbit hole over the course of the next few weeks, supplemented with copious amounts of re-reading excerpts from the books I myself own. And I was able to come to only one conclusion–my childhood fave was a racist bigot and her books reflected it.

Trigger warning: Sexism, racism, and xenophobia.

George and gender politics

Anne, the “girly” cousin, is frequently put down for behaving like “a proper little housewife”. On the other hand, there’s George who plays into the usual tomboy stereotype. She proudly declares “I shall only answer if you call me George. I hate being a girl. I won’t be. I don’t like doing the things that girls do. I like doing the things that boys do.”

As much as it challenged gender stereotypes, considering the year of publication, this quote definitely wasn’t to start a discussion about the gender spectrum. Putting this together with the way Anne was treated, isn’t it obvious that these books–along with many others published at the time–are disdainful of traditional femininity?

There’s also this quote from Five on a Treasure Island:

George: “I cried for days- and I never do cry, you know, because boys don’t and I like to be like a boy.”

“Boys do cry sometimes,” began Anne, looking at Dick, who had been a bit of a cry-baby three or four years back. Dick gave her a sharp nudge, and she said no more.

George looked at Anne. “Boys don’t cry,” she said, obstinately. “Anyway, I’ve never seen one, and I always try not to cry myself.

Ya know, if boys cry, they’re weak. Fragile. Some would even say “feminine”.

Sexist much, Enid?

The Five Are Xenophobic Again

The Mystery That Never Was was rejected by Macmillan way back in 1960 because “there is a faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia in the author’s attitude to the thieves: they are ‘foreign’ … and this seems to be regarded as sufficient to explain their criminality”.

From reading her books in your own childhood, I’m sure you remember that the bad people were always foreigners and travellers. In Five Go To Mystery Moor, they were gypsies, later edited to “travellers” in reprints.

The Wishing Chair and the racist slur

It doesn’t get better, my dudes.

The Wishing Chair series has a character called Chinky. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how that’s an ethnic slur. And even worse, Chinky is an imp whose illustration is an elf-like creature with slitted eyes.

I’ve never read this series, but if I had, I would have recognised how problematic Blyton was sooner. This was a slur that all the kids in my school knew was offensive, probably the first time any of us learned what a slur was. And here it was, being freely used in books aimed at our reading level.

Make way for racism in Noddy

Even more shocking is how Blyton uses the grossly offensive golliwog caricature in the Noddy books. Golliwog, a fictional character later turned into a children’s toy is actually an anti-black caricature and a racial slur. In Here Comes Noddy Again, a golliwog asks Noddy for a lift and then steals his car. Portraying golliwogs as thieves was a common trend in Blyton’s books.

While Blyton included golliwogs in many stories, there were three dedicated entirely to the caricature: The Three GolliwogsThe Proud Golliwog, and The Golliwog Grumbled. And their portrayal was definitely racially insensitive. I mean, one of the golliwog characters is legit called the N-word. Here’s a quote from The Three Golliwogs:

“Once the three bold golliwogs, Golly, Woggie, and N*****, decided to go for a walk to Bumble-Bee Common. Golly wasn’t quite ready so Woggie and N***** said they would start off without him, and Golly would catch them up as soon as he could. So off went Woogie and N*****, arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song.”

What was their favourite song? Ten Little N***** Boys. You know, the one that celebrates the deaths of ten black kids one by one.

The golliwogs were quietly removed from later editions of the book.

This was not the only time Blyton brazenly used the N-word in her books. In Five Go Off to Camp, she describes George as “black as a n***** with soot”. This was changed in later reprints to “black as night”.

Even when she wasn’t outright using the N-word, her stories were still insensitive nonetheless. In The Little Black Doll, a doll is hated by his owner and other toys for his “ugly black face”. They later accept him only after the rain washes away the color of his face and he returns home scrubbed pink.

“But that’s how it was back then!”

In my research into Blyton being a racist bigot, I came across this message board. The popular opinion seems to be that her books were published years back and her offensive and racist slurs were written out of ignorance rather than malice. Weeeeelll, I’m sorry to break it to you, but POC existed back then too and outright discrimination and bigotry cannot be explained away as ignorance.

Most of the messages on the board are old, but it was this 2019 one that was most shocking:

When this book was published in 1938, the N word was used frequently, by everyone, with no offense to anyone intended. In some cases it was used as a term of endearment.

Oh is “terms of endearment” the phrase we now use for a derogatory word white people came up with for black folks and used as a tool of oppression? I have so many questions.

question mark wtf GIF

Being the biggest book nerd in my family, when my niece was born, I wanted to be the person who got her her first books. Nostalgia led me towards Enid Blyton and I regret it now. It’s time we all took a look at such classic novels with the twenty-first century eye to see them for what they are–bigoted.

I know it is hard to set aside our own nostalgia but our children deserve to read books that are more accepting and don’t misrepresent entire races.

As this Independent article says, “Nostalgia is all well and good, but some things – black and white television, puppet shows based on domestic violence, fig rolls, drink-driving, and the works of Enid Blyton – are surely best left in the past.”

Sources:

  1. The Golliwog caricature
  2. The Telegraph: Publisher rejected Blyton tale for being ‘xenophobic’.
  3. The Week: Why the Royal Mint refused Enid Blyton commemorative coin
  4. The Guardian: In her faraway world, Enid Blyton is the Jimi Hendrix of children’s writing

~ Shruti

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

20 thoughts on “Your problematic fave: Enid Blyton

  1. Enid Blyton is and will forever be one of my favourite authors, her books were the reason I started reading. I can definitely recognise that her writing is problematic, but I don’t know whether you can disregard the time in which she was writing and the societal norms of her time. That’s not to say that it was right but to say that it shouldn’t matter is a little odd to me. I will still read Enid Blyton and buy them for my kids, and will tell my children that the language used then denotes a different time and isn’t acceptable now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I respect that! I have a friend who does read some of Blyton’s books to her son, but she replaces anything offensive with words of her own. But she does have an entire list of contemporary—and more importantly, not racist—children’s books she highly recommends too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my god I had no idea! The famous five is my childhood gem. It’s so disappointing to hear this. I recently also found out that Ronald Dalh was anti-semitic when I was researching on something for a blog post. Nonetheless, thank you so much for this informative post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Going to be honest – I don’t think I ever read any of her books as a kid :-/ First time I’m hearing of her! I guess I was living under a rock!! It is disappointing when you find out an author or celeb or whoever you enjoy ends up having views or opinions that you don’t agree with. It’s like when I re-watch a lot of the old Disney movies with my daughter I think ‘this is the most racist shit for a kid!’

    I do agree with one of the comments (from Jordann), that she was writing during a completely different era and you can always explain to kids (if they’re old enough) that times were different then. And I still want my daughter to enjoy Harry Potter when she’s older- there are so many other good themes in the books !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always disappointing to read/watch something you enjoyed as a kid and find out it was actually super problematic.

      I do like the idea of using it as a teaching moment for kids, but of course, they should also be introduced to contemporary reads that are more inclusive. I completely understand wanting kids to have the same experience we did, though! ❤️

      Like

  4. Hi, Shruti. It’s been a long time since I read your post. Honestly speaking, I never read Enid Blyton. I was more inclined to reading Tintin, Chacha Choudhury, and Amar Chitra Katha when I was a child. I wouldn’t even read English newspapers, It was after a lot of persuasion from my father that I started reading anything English other than what was prescribed in school syllabus.
    My first exposure to English novels was Rowling’s Harry Potter, that too, after reading the first book in Hindi. 😛 But I was hooked and I started reading the later books in the series in English. There was no looking back after that.
    It’s a great post. No matter how much we love our role models, if they are wrong, we should call them out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Debjani! Ahh, Chacha Choudhury! It’s been ages since I last heard that name!

      My first exposure to English novels was through Famous Five. Until then, I only read English translations of Tamil comics like Tenali Raman. That’s why this was even more shocking! 🙈

      Liked by 1 person

  5. *criiiiiiiiiiinge*

    Enid was … the beginning of reading for me. It definitely hurts reading this. My heart broke severely the more I read.

    I think we can agree that the argument of the writing being appropriate based on times-then culture is moot, because in the times-now, it is very inappropriate, heart-breaking and insensitive. Which means, it’s not what I would want to buy or read or promote to the next generation. We take (both as children and as adults) a lot of subconscious messages from books, movies and media. And in the times-now where there’s a widespread want, awareness and respect for sensitivity, exposing a child to a book/movie that preaches the opposite so blatantly is confusing.

    It doesn’t mean you can’t read the story yourself and tell it to your child in your words, or just write/type out your own version of it that the child can read.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s