I was talking to an extremely well-read American friend and writer a couple of weeks ago and I discovered that not only had he never read Enid Blyton, he’d never even heard of her. OK, he’s younger than I am, but I’d never realised Blyton was such a British thing. Like most people of my generation, I devoured her books as a child, despite a growing climate of disapproval: her language was limited, her characterisation non-existent, her undercurrents of bondage and corporal punishment disturbing and potentially harmful. Some schools and libraries went so far as to ban her and I have a vestigial recollection of being looked at askance by a Lichfield librarian as I checked a Blyton out. I must have been six or seven.
I don’t remember ever much caring for the ones she wrote for the very young, like Noddy, but I have vivid memories of her re-working of the Pilgrim’s Progress, entitled The Land of Far Beyond, and of the Adventure series. This illustration, one of dozens produced by the extraordinary Stuart Tresilian for the series, comes from The Mountain of Adventure and has haunted me for years. I visited Lefkada some summers ago and discovered that, centuries before, the people on the island would sacrifice one of their number, usually a cripple or simpleton – known as the pharmakos, because his death, like medicine, was believed to heal the tribe. They’d attach wings to his arms and fling him from the cliff, the cliff from which Sappho also committed suicide, and I remembered this scene from the book; the scene and the illustration, as though they’d been waiting to be understood. I suspect that Blyton tapped into deeper veins than she was given credit for at the time. I think I’ll take a look at some of the books again. If you’re interested, The Enid Blyton Society seems to be a good place to visit.