Enid Blyton

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Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton.jpg
Born Enid Mary Blyton
(1897-08-11)11 August 1897
East Dulwich, England
Died 28 November 1968(1968-11-28) (aged 71)
Hampstead, England
Resting place Golders Green Crematorium
Occupation
  • Novelist
  • poet
  • teacher
Period 1922–68
Genres Children's literature:
Notable work(s)
Notable award(s) Boys' Club of America for The Island of Adventure
Spouse(s)
  • Hugh Alexander Pollock (1924–42)
  • Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters (1943–67)
Children
Relative(s)

Signature

www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk

Enid Mary Blyton (11 August 1897 – 28 November 1968) was an English children's writer whose books have been among the world's bestsellers since the 1930s, selling more than 600 million copies. Blyton's books are still enormously popular, and have been translated into almost 90 languages; her first book, Child Whispers, a 24-page collection of poems, was published in 1922. She wrote on a wide range of topics including education, natural history, fantasy, mystery stories and biblical narratives, but is best remembered today for her Noddy, The Famous Five, and The Secret Seven series.

Following the commercial success of her early novels such as Adventures of the Wishing Chair (1937) and The Enchanted Wood (1939) Blyton went on to build a literary empire, sometimes producing fifty books a year in addition to her prolific magazine and newspaper contributions. Her writing was unplanned and sprang largely from her unconscious mind; she simply typed her stories as events unfolded before her. The sheer volume of her work and the speed with which it was produced led to rumours that Blyton employed an army of ghost writers, a charge she vigorously denied.

Blyton's work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books, particularly the Noddy series. Some libraries and schools banned her works, which the BBC had refused to broadcast from the 1930s until the 1950s because of their perceived lack of literary merit. Her books have been criticised as being elitist, sexist, racist, xenophobic and at odds with the more liberal environment emerging in contemporary post-war Britain, but they have nevertheless continued to be bestsellers since her death in 1968.

Blyton felt she had a responsibility to provide her readers with a strong moral framework, so she encouraged them to support worthy causes. In particular, through the clubs she set up or supported, she encouraged and organised them to raise funds for animal and paediatric charities. The story of Blyton's life was dramatised in a BBC film entitled Enid, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in the title role and first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Four in 2009. There have also been several adaptations of her books for stage, screen and television.

Early life and education

Enid Blyton was born on 11 August 1897 in East Dulwich, London, England, the eldest of three children, to Thomas Carey Blyton (1870–1920), a cutlery salesman, and his wife Theresa Mary Harrison Blyton (1874–1950). Enid's younger brothers, Hanly (1899–1983) and Carey (1902–76), were born after the family had moved to a semi-detached villa in Beckenham, then a village in Kent.1 A few months after her birth Enid almost died from whooping cough, but was nursed back to health by her father, whom she adored.2 Thomas Blyton taught Enid about nature; in her autobiography she wrote that he "loved flowers and birds and wild animals, and knew more about them than anyone I had ever met".3 He also passed on his interest in gardening, art, music, literature and the theatre, and the pair often went on nature walks, much to the disapproval of Enid's mother, who showed little interest in her daughter's pursuits.4 Enid was devastated when he left the family shortly after her thirteenth birthday to live with another woman. Enid and her mother did not have a good relationship, and she did not attend either of her parents' funerals.5

From 1907 to 1915 Blyton attended St Christopher's School in Beckenham, where she enjoyed physical activities and became school tennis champion and captain of lacrosse.6 She was not so keen on all the academic subjects but excelled in writing, and in 1911 entered Arthur Mee's children's poetry competition; Mee offered to print her verses, encouraging her to produce more.1 Her mother considered Blyton's efforts at writing to be a "waste of time and money", but she was encouraged to persevere by the aunt of a school friend, Mabel Attenborough.4

Seckford Hall in Woodbridge, Suffolk, was an inspiration to Blyton with its haunted room, secret passageway and sprawling gardens.

Blyton's father taught her to play the piano, which she mastered well enough for him to believe that she might follow in his sister's footsteps and become a professional musician.6 Blyton considered enrolling at the Guildhall School of Music, but decided she was better suited to becoming a writer.7 After finishing school in 1915 as head girl, she moved out of the family home to live with her friend Mary Attenborough. Blyton then left Beckenham and stayed with George and Emily Hart at Seckford Hall in Woodbridge in Suffolk, a house whose reputedly haunted room and secret passageway reportedly inspired her. At Woodbridge Congregational Church Blyton met Ida Hunt, who taught at Ipswich High School. Hunt invited Blyton to move to her farmhouse near Woodbridge, and suggested that she train as a teacher.1 Blyton was introduced to the children at the nursery school, and recognising her natural affinity with them she enrolled in a National Froebel Union teacher-training course at the school in September 1916,7 by which time she had had virtually ceased all contact with her family.1

Blyton's manuscripts had been rejected by publishers on many occasions, which only made her more determined to succeed: "it is partly the struggle that helps you so much, that gives you determination, character, self-reliance – all things that help in any profession or trade, and most certainly in writing". In March 1916 her first poems were published in Nash's Magazine.8 She completed her teacher-training course in December 1918, and the following month obtained a teaching appointment at Bickley Park School, a small independent establishment for boys in Bickley, Kent. Two months later Blyton received a Teaching Certificate with Distinctions in Zoology and Principals of Education, 1st class in Botany, Geography, Practice of Education, History of Education, Child Hygiene and Class Teaching and 2nd class in Literature and Elementary Mathematics.1 In 1920 she moved to Southernhay in Surbiton, as nursery governess to the four sons of architect Horace Thompson and his wife Gertrude.7

Early writing career

In 1920 Blyton moved to Chessington, and began writing in her spare time. The following year she won the Saturday Westminster Review writing competition with her essay "On the Popular Fallacy that to the Pure All Things are Pure".9 Publications such as The Londoner, Home Weekly and The Bystander began to show an interest in her short stories and poems.1

Blyton's first book, Child Whispers, a 24-page collection of poems, was published in 1922.9 That year she began writing in annuals for Cassell and George Newnes, and her first piece of writing was accepted for publication in Teachers' World, "Peronei and his Pot of Glue". Her success was boosted in 1923 when her poems were published alongside those of Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare and G. K. Chesterton in a special issue of Teachers' World. Blyton's educational texts were quite influential in the 1920s and '30s, her most sizable being the 3-volume The Teacher's Treasury (1926), the 6-volume Modern Teaching (1928), the 10-volume Pictorial Knowledge (1930), and the 4-volume Modern Teaching in the Infant School (1932).10

In 1923 Blyton published Real Fairies: Poems and Responsive Singing Games. They were followed by The Enid Blyton Book of Fairies, Songs of Gladness and Sports and Games in 1924, and the Book of Brownies in 1926.7 The following year she published several books of plays, including A Book of Little Plays and The Play's the Thing with illustrator Alfred Bestall, which at 25 shillings was the most expensive book of her career. She also wrote Silver and Gold and The Animal Book, and between December 1927 and August 1928 contributed to The Outline. In 1929 she published The Book Around Europe and Enid Blyton's Nature Lessons, described as a "floral fantasy in an Old English Garden".11

In the 1930s Blyton developed an interest in writing stories related to various myths, including those of ancient Greece and Rome; The Knights of the Round Table, Tales of Ancient Greece and Tales of Robin Hood were published in 1930. In Tales of Ancient Greece Blyton retold sixteen well-known ancient Greek myths, but used the Latin rather than the Greek names of deities and invented conversations between the characters.12 The Adventures of Odysseus, Tales of the Ancient Greeks and Persians and Tales of the Romans followed in 1934.13

Birds at Home, part of Blyton's Old Thatch series, was published in 1935, as was The Children's Garden. She also released The Green Goblin Book, republished in abridged form in 1951 as Feefo, Tuppeny and Jinks, after the characters in the book.14 The following year she published The Yellow Fairy Book, illustrated by H. R. Millar, which exhibits some similarities with the Enid Blyton Book of Brownies in that it features a search for a missing princess.15

Commercial success

New series: 1937–48

Blyton's first serial story and first full-length book, Adventures of the Wishing-Chair, was published in 1937. The Enchanted Wood, the first book in the Faraway Tree series, published in 1939, centred on a magic tree inspired by the Norse mythology that had fascinated Blyton as a child.7 According to Blyton's daughter Gillian the inspiration for the magic tree came from "thinking up a story one day and suddenly she was walking in the enchanted wood and found the tree. In her imagination she climbed up through the branches and met Moon-Face, Silky, the Saucepan Man and the rest of the characters. She had all she needed."16 As in the Wishing-Chair series, these fantasy books typically involve children being transported into a magical world in which they meet fairies, goblins, elves, pixies and other mythological creatures.

Blyton's first full-length adventure novel, The Secret Island, was published in 1938, featuring the characters of Jack, Mike, Peggy, Nora, and Prince Paul of Baronia.17 Described by The Herald as a "Robinson Crusoe-style adventure on an island in an English lake", The Secret Island was a lifelong favourite of Gillian's and spawned the Secret series.16 Also in 1939 Blyton released her first book in the Circus series, as well as the first books in her Brer Rabbit series: Brer Rabbit and Heyo, Brer Rabbit!.18 The following year she published her initial book in the Amelia Jane series, Naughty Amelia Jane! According to Gillian the main character was based on a large handmade doll given to her by her mother on her third birthday.16

During the 1940s Blyton became a prolific author, her success enhanced by her "marketing, publicity and branding that was far ahead of its time".19 In 1940 Blyton published two books – Three Boys and a Circus and Children of Kidillin – under the pseudonym of Mary Pollock (middle name plus first married name),20 in addition to the eleven published under her own name that year. So popular were Pollock's books they that one reviewer was prompted to observe that "Enid Blyton had better look to her laurels", but Blyton's readers were not so easily deceived. Many complained to her and her publisher, and as a result all four of the books published under the name of Mary Pollock were reissued under Blyton's name.21 Also in 1940 she published The Naughtiest Girl in the School, which followed the exploits of the mischievous schoolgirl Elizabeth Allen at the fictional Whyteleafe School, the first novel in the Naughiest Girl series. It was also the first of Blyton's boarding school story books, followed by The Naughtiest Girl Again (1942) and the first of her six novels in the St. Clare's series in 1941, The Twins at St. Clare's, about the twin sisters Patricia and Isabel O'Sullivan.10

In 1941 Blyton published The Adventures of Mr Pink-Whistle, about a half-brownie and half-human character who is able to make himself invisible. The book featured illustrations provided by Dorothy M. Wheeler,22 who also worked on Five O'Clock Tales, released in the same year. Evans Brothers published Blyton's Happy Stories, Jolly Tales, Ho Ho and Too Smart and Tale of the Toys in 1942 all in the Evans Little Books series with illustrations by Alfred Kerr. Blyton also released the first book in the Mary Mouse series, Mary Mouse and the Dolls' House, about a mouse exiled from her mousehole who becomes a maid at a dolls' house. Twenty-three books in the series were produced between 1942 and 1964; 10,000 copies were sold in 1942 alone.23

Blyton's first novel in the Famous Five series, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942, with illustrations by Eileen Soper. It's popularity resulted in twenty-one books between then and 1963, and the characters of Julian, Dick, Anne, George (Georgina) and Timmy the dog becoming household names in Britain. Matthew Grenby, author of Children's Literature, states that the five were involved with "unmasking hardened villains and solving serious crimes", although the novels were "hardly 'hard-boiled' thrillers".24 Blyton based the character of Georgina, a tomboy she described as "short-haired, freckled, sturdy, and snub-nosed" and "bold and daring, hot-tempered and loyal", on herself.8

Blyton had an interest in biblical narratives, and retold Old and New Testament stories. The Land of Far-Beyond (1942) is a Christian parable along the lines of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1698), with modern children as the central characters.25 In 1943 she published The Children's Life of Christ, a collection of 59 short stories related to the life of Jesus, with her own slant on popular biblical stories, from the Nativity and the Three Wise Men through to the trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection.26 Tales from the Bible was published the following year,27 followed by The Boy with the Loaves and Fishes in 1948.28

The first book of Blyton's the Five Find-Outers series, The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, was published in 1943, as was the second book in the Faraway series, The Magic Faraway Tree, which in 2003 was voted 66th in the BBC's Big Read poll to find the UK's favourite book.29 A number of Blyton's works during this period have seaside themes; John Jolly by the Sea (1943), a picture book intended for younger readers, was published in a booklet format by Evans Brothers.30 Other books with a maritime theme include The Secret of Cliff Castle and Smuggler Ben, both attributed to Mary Pollock in 1943; The Island of Adventure, the first in the Adventure series of eight novels from 1944 onwards; and various novels of the Famous Five series such as Five on a Treasure Island (1942), Five on Kirrin Island Again (1947) and Five Go Down to the Sea (1953).

Capitalising on her success, with a loyal and ever-growing readership,10 Blyton managed to produce a new edition of many of her series such as the Famous Five, the Five Find-Outers and St. Clare's every year in addition to many other novels, short stories and books. In 1946 Blyton launched the first in the Malory Towers series of six books based around schoolgirl Darrell Rivers, First Term at Malory Towers, which became extremely popular among girls.31

By 1948 Blyton had written her seventh novel in the Famous Five series, Five Go Off to Camp, her sixth Five Find-Outers novel, The Mystery of the Hidden House, the fourth book in the Adventure series, The Sea of Adventure, and Third Year at Malory Towers.32

Peak output: 1949–59

The first of six books in Blyton's The Barney Mysteries series, The Rockingdown Mystery, was published in 1949. Brockhampton Press launched her first novel in The Secret Seven series that same year, intended as an easy reading alternative to the Famous Five for younger readers.33 The series is centred on the Secret Seven Society, consisting of Peter, his sister Janet, and their friends Colin, George, Jack, Pam and Barbara, who meet regularly in a shed in the garden to discuss peculiar events in their local community. Blyton rewrote the stories so they could be adapted into cartoons, which appeared in Mickey Mouse Weekly in 1951 with illustrations by George Brook. The French author Evelyne Lallemand continued the series in the 1970s, producing an additional twelve books to add to Blyton's fifteen, nine of which were translated into English by Anthea Bell between 1983 and '87.34

Blyton's characters Noddy and Big Ears

Blyton's Noddy, about a little wooden boy from Toyland, first appeared in the Sunday Graphic on 5 June 1949, and in November that year Noddy Goes to Toyland, the first of at least two dozen books in the series, was published. The idea was conceived by one of Blyton's publishers, Sampson, Low, Marston and Company, who in 1949 arranged a meeting between Blyton and the Dutch illustrator Harmsen van der Beek. Despite having to communicate via an interpreter he and Blyton hit it off immediately, and agreed on some initial sketches of how Toyland and its characters would be represented. Four days after the meeting Blyton sent the text of the first two Noddy books to her publisher, to be forwarded on to van der Beek.35 The Noddy books became one of her most successful and best-known series, and were hugely popular in the 1950s.36 An extensive range of sub-series, spin-offs and strip books were produced throughout the decade, including Noddy's Library, Noddy's Garage of Books, Noddy's Castle of Books, Noddy's Toy Station of Books, Noddy's Shop of Books.37

In 1950 Blyton established the company Darrell Waters Ltd to manage her affairs. By the early 1950s she had reached the peak of her output, often publishing more than fifty books a year, and she remained extremely prolific throughout much of the rest of the decade.38 By 1955 Blyton had reached her fourteenth Famous Five novel, Five Have Plenty of Fun, her fifteenth Mary Mouse book, Mary Mouse in Nursery Rhyme Land, her eighth book in the Adventure series, The River of Adventure, and her seventh Secret Seven novel, Secret Seven Win Through. She completed the sixth and final book of the Malory Towers series, Last Term at Malory Towers, in 1951.31

Blyton published several further books featuring the character of Scamp the terrier, following on from The Adventures of Scamp, a novel she had released in 1943 under the pseudonym of Mary Pollock.39 Scamp Goes on Holiday (1952) and Scamp and Bimbo, Scamp at School, Scamp and Caroline and Scamp Goes to the Zoo (1954) were illustrated by Pierre Probst. She also introduced the character of Bom, a stylish toy drummer dressed in a bright red coat and helmet, who featured with Noddy in TV Comic in July 1956,40 and a book series began with Bom the Little Toy Drummer, featuring illustrations by R. Paul-Hoye.41 Blyton followed with a series of books, including Bom and His Magic Drumstick (1957), Bom Goes Adventuring and Bom Goes to Ho Ho Village (1958), Bom and the Clown and Bom and the Rainbow (1959) and Bom Goes to Magic Town (1960). In 1958 she produced two annuals featuring the character, the first of which included twenty short stories, poems and picture strips.42

Final works

Many of Blyton's series, including Noddy and The Famous Five, continued to be successful in the 1960s; by 1962, 26 million copies of Noddy had been sold.1a Blyton concluded several of her long-running series in 1963, publishing the last books of The Famous Five (Five Are Together Again) and The Secret Seven (Fun for the Secret Seven); she also produced three more Brer Rabbit books with illustrator Grace Lodge: Brer Rabbit Again, Brer Rabbit Book, and Brer Rabbit's a Rascal. In 1962 many of her books were among the first to be published by Armada Books in paperback, making them more affordable to children.1

After 1963 Blyton's output was generally confined to short stories and books intended for very young readers, such as Learn to Count with Noddy and Learn to Tell Time with Noddy in 1965, and Stories for Bedtime and the Sunshine Picture Story Book collection in 1966. Her declining health and a falling off in readership among older children have been put forward as the principal reasons for this change in trend.43 Blyton published her last book in the Noddy series, Noddy and the Aeroplane, in February 1964. In May the following year she published May – Mixed Bag, a song book the music for which was written by her nephew Carey, and in August she released her last full-length books, The Man Who Stopped to Help and The Boy Who Came Back.1

Magazine and newspaper contributions

Blyton cemented her reputation as a children's writer when in 1926 she took over the editing of Sunny Stories, a magazine that typically included the re-telling of legends, myths, stories and other articles for children.7 That same year she was given her own column in Teachers World, entitled "From my Window". Three years later she began contributing a weekly page in the magazine, in which she published letters from her fox terrier dog Bobs.1 They proved to be so popular that in 1933 they were published in book form as Letters from Bobs,44 and sold ten thousand copies in the first week.1 Her most popular feature was "Round the Year with Enid Blyton", which consisted of forty-eight articles covering aspects of natural history such as weather, pond life, how to plant a school garden and how to make a bird table.45 Among Blyton's other nature projects was her monthly "Country Letter" feature that appeared in The Nature Lover magazine in 1935.46

Sunny Stories was renamed Enid Blyton's Sunny Stories in January 1937, and served as a vehicle for the serialisation of Blyton's books. Her first Naughty Amelia Jane story, about an anti-heroine based on a doll owned by her daughter Gillian,47 was published in the magazine.1 Blyton stopped contributing in 1952, and it closed down the following year, shortly before the appearance of the new fortnightly Enid Blyton Magazine written entirely by Blyton herself.48 The first edition appeared on 18 March 1953,49 and the magazine ran until September 1959.7

Noddy made his first appearance in the Sunday Graphic in 1949, the same year as Blyton's first daily Noddy strip for the London Evening Standard.1 It was illustrated by van der Beek until his death in 1953.150

Writing style and technique

Blyton worked in a wide range of fictional genres, from fairy tales to animal, nature, detective, mystery and circus stories, but she often "blurred the boundaries" in her books, and encompassed a range of genres even in her short stories.51 In a 1958 article published in The Author she wrote that there were a "dozen or more different types of stories for children", and she had tried them all, but her favourites were those with a family at their centre.52

A 2000 article in The Malay Mail considers Blyton's children to have "lived in a world shaped by the realities of post-war austerity", enjoying freedom without the political correctness of today, which serves modern readers of Blyton's novels with a form of escapism.53 Brandon Robshaw of The Independent refers to the Blyton universe as "crammed with colour and character", "self-contained and internally consistent", noting that Blyton exemplifies a strong mistrust of adults and figures of authority in her works, creating a world in which children govern.54 Blyton's daughter Gillian noted that in her mother's adventure, detective and school stories for older children, "the hook is the strong storyline with plenty of cliffhangers, a trick she acquired from her years of writing serialised stories for children's magazines. There is always a strong moral framework in which bravery and loyalty are (eventually) rewarded".16 Blyton herself wrote that "my love of children is the whole foundation of all my work".55

Victor Watson, Assistant Director of Research at Homerton College, Cambridge, believes that Blyton's works reveal an "essential longing and potential associated with childhood", and notes how the opening pages of The Mountain of Adventure present a "deeply appealing ideal of childhood".56 He argues that Blyton's work differs from that of many other authors in its approach, describing the narrative of The Famous Five series for instance as "like a powerful spotlight, it seeks to illuminate, to explain, to demystify. It takes its readers on a roller-coaster story in which the darkness is always banished; everything puzzling, arbitrary, evocative is either dismissed or explained". Watson further notes how Blyton often used minimalist visual descriptions and introduced a few careless phrases such as "gleamed enchantingly" to appeal to her young readers.57

In a letter to psychologist Peter McKellar,b Blyton describes her writing technique:

I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind's eye ... The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don't have to think of it – I don't have to think of anything.59

In another letter to McKellar she describes how in just five days she wrote the 60,000-word book The River of Adventure, the eighth in her Adventure Series,60 simply by listening to what she referred to as her "under-mind",61 which she contrasted with her "upper conscious mind".62 Blyton was unwilling to conduct any research or planning before beginning work on a new book, which coupled with the lack of variety in her lifec according to Druce almost inevitably presented the danger that she might unconsciously, and clearly did, plagiarise the books she had read, including her own.63 Gillian has recalled that her mother "never knew where her stories came from", but that she used to talk about them "coming from her 'mind's eye'", as did William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens. Blyton had "thought it was made up of every experience she'd ever had, everything she's seen or heard or read, much of which had long disappeared from her conscious memory" but never knew the direction her stories would take. Blyton further explained in her biography that "If I tried to think out or invent the whole book, I could not do it. For one thing, it would bore me and for another, it would lack the 'verve' and the extraordinary touches and surprising ideas that flood out from my imagination."16

Blyton's daily routine varied little over the years. She usually began writing soon after breakfast, with her portable typewriter on her knee and her favourite red Moroccan shawl nearby; she believed that the colour red acted as a "mental stimulus" for her. Stopping only for a short lunch break she continued writing until five o'clock, by which time she would usually have produced 6,000–10,000 words.65

From the mid-1950s rumours began to circulate that Blyton had not written all the books attributed to her, a charge she found very distressing. She published an appeal in her magazine asking children to let her know if they heard such stories, and after one mother informed her that she had attended a parents' meeting at her daughter's school during which a young librarian had repeated the allegation,66 Blyton decided in 1955 to begin legal proceedings.1 The librarian was eventually forced to make a public apology in open court early the following year, but the rumours that Blyton operated "a 'company' of ghost writers" persisted, as some found it difficult to believe that one woman working alone could produce such a volume of work.67

Charitable work

Blyton felt a responsibility to provide her readers with a positive moral framework, and she encouraged them to support worthy causes.68 Her view, expressed in a 1957 article, was that children should help animals and other children rather than adults:

... they [children] are not interested in helping adults; indeed, they think that adults themselves should tackle adult needs. But they are intensely interested in animals and other children and feel compassion for the blind boys and girls, and for the spastics who are unable to walk or talk ...69

Blyton and the members of the children's clubs she promoted via her magazines raised a great deal of money for various charities; according to Blyton, membership of her clubs meant "working for others, for no reward". The largest of the clubs she was involved with was the Busy Bees, the junior section of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, which Blyton had actively supported since 1933. The club had been set up by Maria Dickin in 1934,70 and after Blyton publicised its existence in the Enid Blyton Magazine it attracted 100,000 members in three years.71 Such was Blyton's popularity among children that after she became Queen Bee in 1952 more than 20,000 additional members were recruited in her first year in office.70 The Enid Blyton Magazine Club itself was formed in 1953.1 Its primary object was to raise funds to help those children with cerebral palsy who attended a centre in Cheyne Walk, in Chelsea, London, by furnishing a hostel attached to the centre among other things.72

The Famous Five series gathered such a following that readers asked Blyton if they might form a fan club. She agreed, on condition that it also had some useful purpose, and suggested that it might raise funds for the Shaftesbury Society Babies' Homed in Beaconsfield, on whose committee she had served since 1948.74 The club was duly set up in 1952, and provided funds for equipping a Famous Five Ward at the home, a paddling pool, sun room, summer house, playground, birthday and Christmas celebrations, and visits to the pantomime.73 By the late 1950s Blyton's clubs had a membership of 500,000, and had raised £35,000 in the six years of the Enid Blyton Magazine's life.4

By 1974 the Famous Five Club had a membership of 220,000, and was reportedly growing at the rate of 6000 new members a year.75e The Beaconsfield home it was set up to support closed in 1967, but the club continued to raise funds for other paediatric charities, including an Enid Blyton bed at Great Ormond Street Hospital and a mini-bus for disabled children at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.77

Jigsaw puzzles and games

Blyton capitalised upon her commercial success as an author by negotiating agreements with jigsaw puzzle and games manufacturers from the late 1940s onwards; by the early 1960s some 146 different companies were involved in merchandising Noddy alone.78 In 1948 Bestime released four jigsaw puzzles featuring her characters, and the first Enid Blyton board game appeared, Journey Through Fairyland, created by BGL. The first card game, Faraway Tree, appeared from Pepys in 1950. In 1954 Bestime released the first four jigsaw puzzles of The Secret Seven, and the following year a Secret Seven card game appeared.34

Bestime released the Little Noddy Car Game in 1953 and the Little Noddy Leap Frog Game in 1955, and in 1956 American manufacturer Parker Brothers released Little Noddy's Taxi Game, a board game which features Noddy driving about town, picking up various characters.79 Bestime released its Plywood Noddy Jigsaws series in 1957 and a Noddy jigsaw series featuring cards appeared from 1963, with illustrations by Robert Lee. The puzzles and games continued to be very popular throughout the 1950s and '60s and beyond. Arrow Games became the chief producer of Noddy jigsaws in the late 1970s and early '80s.78 Whitman manufactured four new Secret Seven jigsaw puzzles in 1975, and produced four new Malory Towers ones two years later.34 In 1979 the company released a Famous Five adventure board game, Famous Five Kirrin Island Treasure.80 Stephen Thraves wrote eight Famous Five adventure game books, published by Hodder & Stoughton in the 1980s. The first adventure game book of the series, The Wreckers' Tower Game, was published in October 1984.81

Personal life

Blyton's home "Old Thatch" near Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, 1929–38

On 28 August 1924 Blyton married Major Hugh Alexander Pollock, DSO (1888–1971) at Bromley Register Office, without inviting her family. Pollock was editor of the book department in the publishing firm of George Newnes, which published two of her books that year; it was he who requested Blyton write a book about animals, The Zoo Book, which was completed in the month before they married.1 They initially lived in a flat in Chelsea before moving to Elfin Cottage in Beckenham in 1926, and then to Old Thatch in Bourne End (called Peterswood in her books) in 1929.782

Blyton had two daughters: Gillian, born on 15 July 1931, and Imogen, born on 27 October 1935.1 In 1938 Blyton and her family moved to a house in Beaconsfield, which was named Green Hedges by Blyton's readers following a competition in her magazine. By 1939 Blyton's marriage to Pollock was troubled, and she began a series of affairs.83 In 1941 she met Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters, a London surgeon with whom she began a relationship.84 The state of her marriage worsened after Pollock rejoined The Royal Scots Fusiliers and narrowly escaped death in an air raid, after which the couple argued until Pollock demanded a divorce.83 Pollock accused Blyton of adultery, and of having a lesbian affair with one of her children's nannies after finding them locked in the bathroom.8385 During the divorce proceedings Blyton blackmailed Pollock into taking blame for the failure of the marriage, knowing that exposure of her adultery would ruin her public image.83 She promised that if he admitted to infidelity she would allow him unlimited access to their daughters, but after the divorce Pollock was forbidden to contact them, and Blyton ensured he was unable to find work in publishing. He began drinking heavily and was forced to petition for bankruptcy in 1950.83

Blyton and Darrell Waters married at the City of Westminster Register Office on 20 October 1943, after which she changed the surname of her daughters to Darrell Waters.86 Her second marriage was very happy, and as far as her public image was concerned she moved smoothly into her role as a devoted doctor's wife, living with him and her daughters at Green Hedges.1

Blyton's health began to deteriorate in 1957, when during a round of golf she started to complain of feeling faint and breathless,87 and by 1960 she was displaying signs of dementia.88 Her agent George Greenfield recalled that it was "unthinkable" for the "most famous and successful of children's authors with her enormous energy and computer-like memory" to be losing her mind and suffering from what is now known as Alzheimer's disease in her mid-sixties.88 Blyton's situation was worsened by her husband's declining health throughout the 1960s; he suffered from severe arthritis in his neck and hips, deafness, and became increasingly ill-tempered and erratic until his death on 15 September 1967.8489

The story of Blyton's life was dramatised in a BBC film entitled Enid, which aired in the United Kingdom on BBC Four on 16 November 2009.90 Helena Bonham Carter, who played the title role, described Blyton as "a complete workaholic, an achievement junkie and an extremely canny businesswoman" who "knew how to brand herself, right down to the famous signature".19

Death and legacy

Blue plaque on Blyton's childhood home in Ondine Street, East Dulwich

During the months following her husband's death Blyton became increasingly ill. Afflicted by Alzheimer's, she was moved into a nursing home three months before her death. She died at the Greenways Nursing Home, London, on 28 November 1968, aged 71. A memorial service was held at St James's Church in Piccadilly,1 and she was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, where her ashes remain. Blyton's home, Green Hedges, was auctioned on 26 May 1971 and demolished in 1973;91 the site is now occupied by houses and a street named Blyton Close. An English Heritage blue plaque commemorates Blyton at Hook Road in Chessington, where she lived from 1920 to 1924.92

Since her death and the publication of her daughter Imogen's 1989 autobiography, A Childhood at Green Hedges, Blyton has emerged as an emotionally immature, unstable and often malicious figure.19 Imogen considered her mother to be "arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct. As a child, I viewed her as a rather strict authority. As an adult I pitied her."93 Blyton's eldest daughter, Gillian, remembered their mother rather differently; Imogen's biography of Blyton contains a foreword by Gillian stating that her memories of childhood with her mother were mainly happy ones.

The Enid Blyton Trust for Children was established in 1982 by Imogen, and in 1985 established the National Library for the Handicapped Child.7 Enid Blyton's Adventure Magazine began publication in September 1985, and on 14 October 1992 the BBC began publishing Noddy Magazine and released the Noddy CD-Rom in October 1996.1

The first Enid Blyton Day was held at Rickmansworth on 6 March 1993, and in October 1996 the Enid Blyton award, The Enid, was given to those who have made outstanding contributions towards children.1 The Enid Blyton Society was formed in early 1995, to provide "a focal point for collectors and enthusiasts of Enid Blyton" through its thrice-annual Enid Blyton Society Journal, its annual Enid Blyton Day, and its website.94 On 16 December 1996 Channel 4 broadcast a documentary about Blyton, Secret Lives. To celebrate her centenary in 1997 exhibitions were put on at the London Toy & Model Museum (now closed), Hereford and Worcester County Museum and Bromley Library, and on 9 September the Royal Mail issued centenary stamps.1

The London-based entertainment and retail company Trocadero plc purchased Blyton's Darrell Waters Ltd in 1995 for £14.6 million and established a subsidiary, Enid Blyton Ltd, to handle all intellectual properties, character brands and media in Blyton's works.17 The group changed its name to Chorion in 1998, but after financial difficulties in 2012 sold its assets. Hachette UK acquired from Chorion world rights in the Blyton estate in March 2013, including The Famous Five series95 but excluding the rights to Noddy, which had been sold to DreamWorks Classics (formerly Classic Media, now a subsidiary of DreamWorks Animation)96 in 2012.

Blyton's granddaughter, Sophie Smallwood, wrote a new Noddy book to celebrate the character's 60th birthday, 46 years after the last book was published; Noddy and the Farmyard Muddle (2009) was illustrated by Robert Tyndall.97 In February 2011 the manuscript of a previously unknown Blyton novel, Mr Tumpy's Caravan, was discovered in a collection of papers belonging to Blyton's daughter Gillian that had been auctioned in 2010 following her death.9899 It was initially thought to belong to a comic strip collection of the same name published in 1949, but it appears to be unrelated and is believed to be something written in the 1930s, which had been rejected by a publisher.100

In a 1982 survey of 10,000 eleven-year-old children Blyton was voted their most popular writer.1 She is the world's fourth most translated author, behind Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.101 From 2000 to 2010, she was listed as a Top Ten author, selling almost 8 million copies (worth £31.2 million) in the UK alone.102 In 2003, The Magic Faraway Tree was voted 66 in the BBC's Big Read.29 In the 2008 Costa Book Awards, Blyton was voted Britain's best-loved author.103104 Her books continue to be very popular among children in Commonwealth nations such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malta, New Zealand, and Australia, and around the world.105 They have also seen a surge of popularity in China, where they are "big with every generation".53 In March 2004 Chorion and Chinese publisher the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press negotiated an agreement over the Noddy franchise, which included bringing the character to an animated series on television, with an expected audience of a further 95 million children under the age of five.106107 Chorion spent around £10 million digitising Noddy, and as of 2002 had made television agreements with at least 11 countries worldwide.108

Critical backlash

Blyton's range of plots and settings is limited and continually recycled.63 Responding to claims that her moral views were "dependably predictable",109 Blyton commented that "most of you could write down perfectly correctly all the things that I believe in and stand for – you have found them in my books, and a writer's books are always a faithful reflection of himself".110 Many of her books were critically assessed by teachers and librarians, deemed unfit for children to read, and removed from syllabuses and public libraries.7

From the 1930s to the 1950s the BBC operated a de facto ban on dramatising Blyton's books for radio, considering her to be a "second-rater" whose work was without literary merit;111112f Jean E. Sutcliffe of the BBC's schools broadcast department wrote of Blyton's ability to churn out "mediocre material", and that "Her capacity to do so, amounts to genius ... anyone else would have died of boredom long ago".113 Michael Rosen, Children's Laureate from 2007 until 2009, wrote that "I find myself flinching at occasional bursts of snobbery and the assumed level of privilege of the children and families in the books."114 The children's author Anne Fine presented an overview of the concerns about Blyton's work and responses to them on BBC Radio 4 in November 2008, in which she noted the "drip, drip, drip of disapproval" associated with the books.115 Blyton's response to her critics was that she was uninterested in the views of anyone over the age of 12, claiming that half the attacks on her work were motivated by jealousy and the rest came from "stupid people who don't know what they're talking about because they've never read any of my books".116

Simplicity

Some librarians felt that Blyton's restricted use of language, a conscious product of her teaching background, was prejudicial to an appreciation of more literary qualities. In a 1958 article in Encounter, Colin Welch remarked that it was "hard to see how a diet of Miss Blyton could help with the 11-plus or even with the Cambridge English Tripos",7 but reserved his harshest criticism for Blyton's Noddy, describing him as an "unnaturally priggish ... sanctimonious ... witless, spiritless, snivelling, sneaking doll."43 Although Blyton's works have been banned from more public libraries than those of any other author, there is no evidence that the popularity of her books ever suffered, and she remains very widely read.117

Author Nicholas Tucker notes that it was common to see Blyton cited as people's favourite or least favourite author according to their age, and argues that her books create an "encapsulated world for young readers that simply dissolves with age, leaving behind only memories of excitement and strong identification".118 Fred Inglis considers Blyton's books to be technically easy to read, but to also be "emotionally and cognitively easy". He mentions that Michael Woods believed that Blyton was different from many other older authors writing for children in that she seemed untroubled by presenting them with a world that differed from reality. Woods surmised that Blyton "was a child, she thought as a child, and wrote as a child ... the basic feeling is essentially pre-adolescent ... Enid Blyton has no moral dilemmas ... Inevitably Enid Blyton was labelled by rumour a child-hater. If true, such a fact should come as no surprise to us, for as a child herself all other children can be nothing but rivals for her."119 Inglis argues though that Blyton was clearly devoted to children and put an enormous amount of energy into her work, with a powerful belief in "representing the crude moral diagrams and garish fantasies of a readership".119 Blyton's daughter Imogen has stated that she "loved a relationship with children through her books", but real children were an ­intrusion, and there was no room for intruders in the world that Blyton occupied through her writing.120

Children's literary critic Margery Fisher likened Blyton's books to "slow poison",7 but in an age marked by what was seen by contemporaries as an invasion of American culture, Blyton's output was generally considered to be a more "savoury" English alternative to the likes of Disney and comics, which she was astute enough to capitalise on as criticism mounted.10

Racism, xenophobia and sexism

Accusations of racism in Blyton's books were first made by Lena Jeger in a Guardian article published in 1966, in which she was critical of Blyton's The Little Black Doll, published a few months earlier. Sambo, the black doll of the title, is hated by his owner and the other toys owing to his "ugly black face", and runs away. A shower of rain washes his face clean, after which he is welcomed back home with his now pink face.121 Jamaica Kincaid also considers the Noddy books to be "deeply racist" because of the blonde children and the black golliwogs.122 In Blyton's 1944 novel The Island of Adventure, a black servant named Jo-Jo is depicted as an enemy of the British. Although he is portrayed as very intelligent, Jo-Jo is a spy for the Nazis and is particularly cruel to the children.123 Another example of alleged racism is the phrase "black as a nigger with soot", which appeared in Five Go off to Camp.124

Accusations of xenophobia were also made. As George Greenfield observed, "Enid was very much part of that between-the-wars middle class which believed that foreigners were untrustworthy or funny or sometimes both".125 The publisher Macmillan conducted an internal assessment of Blyton's The Mystery That Never Was, submitted to them at the height of her fame in 1960. The review was carried out by author and books editor Phyllis Hartnoll, in whose view "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." Macmillan rejected the manuscript,126 but it was published by William Collins in 1961,127 and then again in 1965 and 1983.126

Blyton's depictions of boys and girls are considered by some critics to be sexist. In a Guardian article published in 2005 Lucy Mangan proposed that The Famous Five series depicts a power struggle between Julian, Dick and George (Georgina), in which the female characters either act like boys or are talked down to, as when Dick lectures George: "it's really time you gave up thinking you're as good as a boy".128

Revisions to later editions

To address criticisms levelled at Blyton's work some later editions have been altered to reflect more modern attitudes towards issues such as race, gender, animal rights and the treatment of children; modern reprints of the Noddy series substitute teddy bears or goblins for golliwogs for instance.129 The golliwogs who steal Noddy's car and dump him naked in the Dark Wood in Here Comes Noddy Again are replaced by goblins in the 1986 revision, who strip Noddy only of his shoes and hat and return at the end of the story to apologise.130

References to George's short hair making her look like a boy were removed in revisions to Five on a Hike Together, reflecting the idea that girls need not have long hair to be considered feminine or normal. Similarly, Arabella Buckley in The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor originally wore slippers with swansdown trimmings, changed to "blue silk slippers" in editions published since the 1970s, out of deference to modern views on animal rights and animal welfare. The Faraway Tree's Dame Slap, who made regular use of corporal punishment, was changed to Dame Snap who no longer did so, and references to characters in the Malory Towers and St. Clare's series being spanked, or being threatened with a spanking, were changed to being scolded.131

Stage, film and TV adaptations

In 1954 Blyton adapted Noddy for the stage, and produced the Noddy in Toyland pantomime in just two or three weeks. The production was staged at the 2660-seat Stoll Theatre in Kingsway, London at Christmas;132 Its popularity resulted in the show running for five or six years.133 Blyton was delighted with its reception by children in the audience, and attended the theatre three or four times a week.134 There have also been several TV adaptations of Noddy since 1954, including one in the 1970s narrated by Richard Briers.135

A number of Blyton's other works have also been adapted for stage, film and television. In 1955 a stage play based on The Famous Five was produced, and in January 1997 the King's Head Theatre toured the UK with The Famous Five Musical, which toured the UK for six months to commemorate Blyton's centenary. On 21 November 1998 The Secret Seven Save the World was first performed at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff.1

The Famous Five has been adapted for film and television several times: by the Children's Film Foundation in 1957 and 1964, Southern Television in 1978–79, and Zenith Productions in 1995–97.7 It was also adapted for the German film Fünf Freunde, directed by Mike Marzuk and released in 2011.136

The Comic Strip, a group of British comedians, produced two parodies of the Famous Five series for Channel 4 television: Five Go Mad in Dorset, broadcast in 1982, and Five Go Mad On Mescalin, broadcast the following year.1 A third in the series, Five Go to Rehab, was broadcast on Sky in 2012.137

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ In 1960 alone, eleven Noddy books were published, including the strip books Noddy and the Runaway Wheel, Noddy's Bag of Money, and Noddy's Car Gets into Trouble.1
  2. ^ McKellar had written to Blyton in February 1953 asking for the imagery techniques she employed in her writing, for a research project he had undertaken. The results of his investigation were published in Imagination and Thinking (1957).58
  3. ^ In her leisure time Blyton led the life of a typical suburban housewife, gardening, and playing golf or bridge. She rarely left England, preferring to holiday by the English coast, almost invariably in Dorset,63 where she and her husband took over the lease of an 18-hole golf course at Studland Bay in 1951.64
  4. ^ Despite its name, the society provided accommodation for pre-school infants in need of special care.73
  5. ^ The Famous Five Club was run by the publisher of Blyton's Famous Five series.76
  6. ^ Blyton submitted her first proposal to the BBC in 1936.112

Citations

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  3. ^ Blyton (1952), p. 54
  4. ^ a b c Bensoussane, Anita, "A Biography of Enid Blyton – The Story of Her Life", Enid Blyton Society, retrieved 25 January 2014 
  5. ^ Thompson & Keenan (2006), p. 77
  6. ^ a b Druce (1992), p. 9
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Bibliography

Further reading

External links








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