Enid Blyton was an English children’s author whose books have been translated into 90 languages and have sold more than 600 million copies. Making an assumption that each of those copies has been read by, let’s say, three people – that means we are going on for two billion people who have read her books. As a slice of the total human population on the planet from the 1930s when she began writing up until today – it’s a staggering number.
Enid Blyton continued to write up until her death in 1968, and somewhere along the way, I read her books. All this is interesting, but here’s the thing. She was due to be commemorated on a new 50p coin but it isn’t going to happen. In their recommendation, the advisory committee to the Royal Mint are said to have described her as “a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”.
If quantity is a measure of how ‘well-regarded’ a write she was, then she was well regarded. 600 million copies is a lot of copies, no?
In response to the advisory committee’s recommendation, a TV talk-show host commented that ““It seems to me that if you were to draw a line in the year say 1955 and go backwards from there you could pretty much pick up anybody based on our modern values.”
I agree. When Enid Blyton wrote, she was speaking conventional truths through her characters – white is better than black, boy is better than girl, etc.
On her being homophobic, well it would be right and proper for her to be so in her time. Homosexual acts were a criminal offence in the UK until the The Sexual Offences Act was made law in 1967, and that only decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21.
So to accuse Enid Blyton of being a homophobe is strange. In her lifetime she would be better described as an upstanding citizen decrying criminal behaviour. Of course, she could have been more sympathetic to homosexuality, but then she could have been more sympathetic to rapists, and what would the upstanding citizens of today say about that?
As I said, I read several of her books as a child. And perhaps my attitudes have been formed because of what I read. I haven’t trawled through her books to write this piece, so maybe I would be ‘absolutely appalled’ if I were to read her stuff now.
Assuming I would not be appalled, then I have sympathy for the opinion that we are living in a world of dangerously virtuous moral finger pointing at people who lived in another era.