It would be ages before I could decide which book I wanted for my birthday each year, for what a momentous decision it was! In earlier years, The Naughtiest Girl in School, the Adventurous Four, the Faraway Tree, and Six Cousins were among my hot favorites. Then there were the 'school' phases. Should I buy 'Twins at St Clares' or 'The Second Form at Malory Towers'? Of course there was always the lifelong ambition of owning the entire Famous Five series, and this threatened the purchase of any other of her titles. The truth is, I wanted most of the books on those shelves, even though I had a prodigious collection at home. Escaping into the Enid Blyton world was one of the best parts of childhood. With her high teas, perfect farms, butter-churning, boarding schools, dorms, midnight feasts, smugglers, kidnappers, helpful dogs, pranks, secret islands, hidden castles, magical forests, golliwogs, ginger beer, scones, and ham sandwiches, Enid made a perfect world for us to inhabit. It was sheer joy to dive into those pages. She covered every emotion of childhood. The fun of picnics, the joy of playing with friends, the jealousy towards someone who has more or does more, the girl who so wants to be a boy, the unquenchable desire to have a dog, that terrible apprehension on the first day of school, the thrill of sneaking around at night, the fear of unknown places, and the knowledge that there is always a warm secure home to return to. These are emotions only children can feel, and somehow she was able to make millions of children re-live them with absolute authenticity.
In recent years Enid Blyton has had several criticisms hurled at her, including being racist (golliwogs must account for that), sexist, and colonial. Some people believe it is wrong to stuff the heads of Indian children with things they can't have, and a life that is far removed from their reality. But the fact is, I never expected my life to turn into an Enid Blyton book. We never asked for ginger beer, or expected to discover a secret passage below our house (though we did beg for a dog). The essence of fiction is to let you travel and live in a different time and space, and this she accomplished with ease. Dive into one of her books, and a whole afternoon could pass in blissful absorption. Is it wrong to keep a child gleefully reading for days, even years on end? Her books, often simply yet beautifully illustrated, have led generations of children well into adulthood. In some cases, her books are the reason children remain avid readers well beyond childhood. She made the habit of reading so addictive and enjoyable, one could never dream of not reading.
Today is Enid Blyton's birthday. She was born in 1897, and has been enriching childhood since she started writing. Incidentally, just yesterday I was at Crossword, a popular bookstore. While my better half was poking around in the fiction section, I found myself wandering into the children's section - it's often quite entertaining there. I came upon a high pile of Enid Blyton books, hard bound, with her name written on the top in it's signature style. Even twenty years later, it was a moment of pure joy to open these titles, see the large serif type, and, for a glorious ten minutes, read about toys having a problem in the nursery.
The author is co-founder and Director, Content Design at Steta