On how Enid Blyton gave me wood-envy

I have joked on this blog and elsewhere about my cultural Anglophilia – a love of all things British that seems to have been instilled very early in my process of identity formation.  I’m very happy to live in Australia, don’t get me wrong, but for as long as I can remember I’ve been more Beatles than Elvis, more Black Adder than Seinfeld, more Regent’s Park than Central Park.  There is a combination of influences that brought this about but I place a large part of the blame squarely at the feet of Enid Blyton.

I was an early reader, so by the age of 5 or 6, any skerrick of spare time was spent with my nose in a book and my mind up the Faraway Tree.  The Famous Five’s Julian (he of the foppish fringe, comfy jumpers and rakish authoritarianism) was my first real crush; indeed he set the standard for many similarly-fringed boys to come.   I wanted, more than anything, to live in a caravan like this (see pic, taken in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 2006.  My husband said we’d never get it through Customs.)  I named our first family dog Timmy (he ate the washing; he didn’t last long).   I kept all my childhood books – thanks to my parents’ generous garage – and now have the pleasure of sharing some of these stories with my own children.

My daughter started Prep this year.  She will be an early reader:  already keen as mustard to sound out street signs and pick out recognisable words over my shoulder as I blog (note to self…).  I am reading the children the first of the Faraway Tree series – The Enchanted Wood – one chapter a night, to whet their appetites for what I had always considered ‘good’ children’s literature.  To my surprise I’ve found myself having to translate as I read!  Rather than being the warmly familiar fantasies of my memory, they show many signs of foreignness, of both time and place.  I suppose this shouldn’t have been a complete revelation, since we all know that Noddy’s flamboyant shenanigans had to be reined in for more recent reprints, but in many ways Blyton’s books have not aged well.

For starters, my children have friends called Jett and Mikayla, not Fanny and Bessie.  They rarely describe curious things as ‘queer’ and would not expect to be slapped across the face by a teacher for their wrong-doings.   Tea is not often drunk at play lunch; fist-sized toffees would fail miserably in any Jamie Oliver school lunch audit. I can’t help but worry about normalising the idea of escaping to the woods in the middle of the night to visit your new friends who feed you syrup-filled ‘pop biscuits’.   I have found myself questioning whether these books are in fact ‘good’ for my kids at all, particularly as there are so many fine Australian authors these days whose work might be more relevant to my children’s everyday experiences.  Do I really want them growing up with the sort of misplaced envy that I did, where the bush was never as appealing as the woods and every possum I met was but a poor substitute for a squirrel?

My fears were abated this morning when we took off, laden down with bikes and picnics (hey, Anne is still my middle name!) for a local park.  The kids did a bit of riding and snacking, but then become completely engrossed in the tangled roots of a magnificent Moreton Bay Fig.  This tree – a type of strangler fig native to the East coast of Australia – is perfect fodder for childhood fantasies, full of hidey holes and secret spaces.  It dawned on me that my children had found the perfect place to enact their Blyton fantasies, with not a jot of wood-envy.  “I think this is where Moon-Face lives!”  Miss 3 decreed, gingerly poking fingers into a blunted trunk knot.  “I think these are bits of the ladder!” said Miss 5, pulling at stringy bits of vine.  They were suspending disbelief as only children can and saw no reason whatsoever why the Faraway Tree might not be smack bang in the middle of Brisbane, near the PCYC playground, just past the off-leash park.

Perhaps my children will be more relaxed about being citizens of the world?  Their lives are already a good deal more eclectic than mine at the same age. My mother often reminds me that avocado was exotic when I was a child, as opposed to a staple part of a child’s regular food court sushi.  They will probably grow up enjoying literature from all over the world, including a good deal of literature from right here at home, but they won’t get away without a few lashings… of ginger beer, that is.

11 comments for “On how Enid Blyton gave me wood-envy

  1. Enid Bite'Em
    June 24, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Hey, according to my childhood I thought the Faraway Tree was near the lakes in the middle of cold Tasmania (what do you mean, it’s in Brisbane?!) 🙂

  2. Deb
    March 29, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Hi,
    Just stumbled onto your blog through a friend’s post, have already sent it on to friends who also grew up with adventures full of ginger beer and lashings of strawberry jam!

    • This Charming Mum
      March 30, 2012 at 1:09 am

      HI Deb! Glad you found me. Hope you enjoy the blog. Yes, those stories bring back lots of good memories don’t they?

  3. duckformationfamily
    March 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    “the foppish fringe, comfy jumpers and rakish authoritarianism”? Oh spot on, I loved him too. Enid has a lot to answer for. Another lovely post. Thank you so much for picking up my morning and taking through some wonderful childhood memories too. xx

    • This Charming Mum
      March 26, 2012 at 1:07 am

      Thank you for reading! I knew I wasn’t alone in my Julian infatuation. Have a lovely day x

  4. Emma Fullerton
    March 26, 2012 at 8:16 am

    I got quite a chuckle re-reading The Magic Faraway Tree with my kids, now we are steadily going through a major Roald Dahl phase!

    • This Charming Mum
      March 26, 2012 at 10:10 am

      I’m looking forward to the Roald Dahl years! Thanks for reading x

  5. Kasper Beaumont
    March 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

    My littlies love the Faraway Tree too, as well as Blinky Bill, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and the Magic Pudding. Sometimes you do have to explain to their teachers that their understanding of ‘Queer’, ‘Gay’ and ‘Fanny’ comes from a more innocent time, but that’s what I love about them. Their innocence, imagination and love of reading is to be treasured. I keep all the love letters and treasure maps they make for me and last week had to buy a new filing cabinet to keep all their memories. Good on you for keeping the classics alive Charming Mum. xxx

    • This Charming Mum
      March 25, 2012 at 11:05 am

      The classics are great. Your kids seem to love books and reading Karen, so you’ve obviously been a good influence.

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