In January 2013, Enid Blyton’s hometown, which had planned buoyant festivities to mark her arrival to the town seventy-five years ago, faced inordinate pressure to not let the commemoration take place. While the town went ahead with the revelries in the end, there was a significant dent in the ideologies of people who had so far looked up to the woman as perhaps a benevolent grandmotherly celebrity figure- 2013 was the last year she was celebrated in the town. As the world changed and greater awareness of the social injustices prevalent emerged, scrutiny of Blyton’s writings increased and certain nuances proved too problematic to ignore.
Enid Blyton’s discriminatory works are neither subtle nor muted. Taking the example of ‘The Little Black Doll’, Sambo- the black doll referenced in the title- runs away after facing torrential hatred by the other toys owing to its black face. Yet it is gladly welcomed home and warmly embraced once a shower of rain washes its face ‘clean’, rendering it pink. Another book, The Three Golliwogs, has main characters called Golly, Woggie and Nigger. Admittedly, Blyton lived in different times where the use of the word to describe black people was commonplace; her usage of it can be excused. The negative connotations she associated with it, however, run deep and cannot be as easily forgotten. Golliwogs in general tend to occupy the role of villains in all her toy universes, and hiding amongst ‘dark shadows’ and becoming near invisible in ‘black nights’ to avoid being caught are common occurrences. The portrayal of blackness as inferior does not stop with the inanimate. In Mister Meddle’s Muddles, a character meets people to collect money so that ‘the poor black children may be taught manners’. In the same book is the line, ‘you are not fit to be here with us. You need to be taught more manners than the little black children. I am really ashamed of you.’
In fact, Enid Blyton seems to have a predisposition towards making the antagonists of her books different from the Caucasian, middle class, prep school attending English protagonists- people on the wrong side of the fence are mainly foreigners or non-whites. Characters are suspected- and usually proven- to be criminals on the mere account of looking foreign and talking funny. ‘Are you mad, Tinker? Didn’t you guess that that foreign fellow was trying to pump you about your father’s hush-hush job?’ demands Julian in ‘Five Are Together Again’. ‘And he was dressed in fisherman’s clothes, and – he spoke foreign,’ he continues. Blyton was irrevocably xenophobic, a sentiment dangerously echoed by societies throughout the ages but none as blatantly as the present day. This makes reading and appreciating her work especially dangerous today.
Gypsies and other minorities do not remain unscathed either, with the author choosing to either give them either inconsequential roles in her books or negative ones, thus heavily stereotyping them. “What a pair!” says Dick to Julian in ‘Five Fall into an Adventure’. “I hope they don’t come near us. I feel as if I can smell them from here.” The ‘pair’ referenced is a couple of gypsies. The St. Claire’s books feature Carlotta, a ‘wild Spaniard circus girl’ who is often referred to as a gypsy despite having no discernable Roma origins (her Spanish heritage is emphasized upon several times). Carlotta was heavily stereotyped in an era where discrimination against the Roma people was at its height and had started being highlighted following the pre-war genocide. Mrs. Blyton had been strictly middle class before success, and by the time the St. Claire books were out she was mingling with the intellectuals of the upper classes. A middle-class woman feeling no sympathy for Romanian gypsies, who have historically been the most persecuted European group, is understandable. Less so is a woman surrounded by varied opinions and ideas from every corner, yet following the same thoughts she did earlier. The evidence of prejudice was at one point so overwhelming that
Most of Enid Blyton’s books consist of groups of children having adventures together. While all of them incorporate sexism to an extent, it is mostly observed most clearly in writings containing a structured establishment where hierarchy is evident such as the Famous Five and Secret Seven series. There is usually a fixed template- there is an alpha male of the pack, other males who, while not having the same amount of authority as the alpha, still wield power, a girl who enjoys conventionally boyish activities and is constantly berated and told to be more feminine (‘’If danger was about, he could deal with it better than Georgina could. After all, she was only a girl!’, said Dick’), and another female who assumes the role of the frail damsel cooking and packing meals for every excursion. There is rampant objectification; a queer sense of knowledge of the contribution of the females, yet blatant rejection of the same due to internal biases that refuse to be dislocated. ‘She’s brave – and bold, and don’t-care-ish – and she doesn’t cry if she hurts herself, and she’ll stick by her friends through thick and thin. If she were a boy I’d like her awfully – but as she’s a girl, she’s just a nuisance,’ says a character the Secret Seven series. Traits that are favourable in males are distasteful for women, a clear separation of the sexes and an indication of their positions in the social strata.
Easy to follow stories, repetitive plots, and simple vocabulary are all characteristically Blyton, and a huge reason why she has enjoyed so much success throughout the years. She has, however, often been criticized for having books with very simplistic themes which effectively prove detrimental to the reading and comprehension skills of children in the long run. Nevertheless, the real damage is probably done by the content of her works. For someone who lived through two World Wars and saw the participation of women in employment opportunities and other such sectors increase drastically, Blyton was still archaic in her thought processes. ‘House at the Corner’, one of her last works, featured a protagonist who achieved peace in the end when she came to terms with her role as a wife and a mother instead of an independent free-thinking rebel.
2017 was a year like none other- while the main focus was the United States and all the changes the Trump administration entailed, the rest of the world also saw a rise in intolerance, bigotry, and hatred, with far-right hardliners emerging in several countries. In a situation like this, providing material to children which irrevocably leads to implicit prejudices in impressionable minds should not be tolerated. Enid Blyton is dangerous precisely because nobody assumes her to be so- nobody in the previous generation registered the themes that came along with her books, and thus very few people today would deny their children the pleasure of reading seemingly harmless books they had themselves once enjoyed. Unlike other authors who can be taken off the shelves for content that is no longer acceptable by today’s standards, there is still a long way to go before volumes of Enid Blyton books will stop being sold- a harsh but unavoidable reality for a good reason- they simply generate too much revenue.