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Before wizards, vampires and werewolves: A tribute to Enid Blyton

Before wizards, vampires and werewolves: A tribute to Enid Blyton

My earliest memories of books are centered largely around the Five Find-outers and Dog. I read the entire series and was very proud of it. I lost interest in the Secret Seven too soon, what  with all the unoriginal titles (Good job, secret seven, Hurrah, Secret Seven, Oh we are so cool, Secret Seven). And then came The Famous Five with their hidden treasure mysteries and the sea, mountain and castle of adventures.

With Malory Towers and Saint Claire’s, I was exposed to a whole different world:  Scones, Dinner bells, “Jolly old sports”, gullible French mistresses who always fell for classroom tricks and laughed about them later and prep (which is Enid Blyton for Homework)

In retrospect, I wouldn’t call Enid Blyton a great author. She was, however, a brilliant storyteller and I believe they probably invented the word prolific for her. I can’t imagine any other author churning out the amount of books Blyton has, and managing to be a part of so many childhoods in so many places and to at least two generations.

Blyton’s writing technique is fascinating in that there is hardly any. She wrote almost everything spontaneously, cheerfully winging it, without  plan, notes or structure. She thought of a few characters and everything else just came to her as she put her fingers to her typewriter. Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

She was born in 1897 in London, was married twice and has been frequently called a bad mother by her younger daughter. The BBC rejected her multiple times because her writing was considered ‘stilted and longwinded’. The fact that her stories are as happy, pleasing and refreshing as her real life was erratic and unfulfilled, makes them so much more fascinating.

While I admit that the sexism and rascism, which are a huge part of the controversy surrounding Blyton is all justified, to 7 year old me, it didn’t matter. I never read the subtext because I was too busy imaging being friends with everyone in her books; Who would I be in the Malory Towers series (Alicia. I wanted to be the talented, intelligent and popular one).  Her stories flowed seamlessly and even the tiniest bit of drama would have me worrying. I would find myself hoping that Fatty and his friends escaped Mr.Goon, that nobody would catch the girls eating in the dorm room at midnight or that the Famous Five would manage to get out of the cave they were locked into. I wished he characters lived and breathed in my world. I dreamt of my own club with its own secret password and I pretended I really was part of every adventure I read. That’s what books should do.

I devoured her books when they came to me and waited breathlessly for the next ones. I had a library card and my mother’s monthly trips to Flora Fountain were something of a big event. Now, a portion of my salary is kept aside for books, I have a shelf that can barely hold all my books, there are so many authors I love and want to be, and all of it began with Enid Blyton.

– Sharanya

The art of storytelling

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The art of storytelling

People are storytellers. Some are good and some, not so much, but people tell stories all the time. A bar fight, a stupid boss, a date, a bad batch of popcorn; everything is a story and people get dramatic and emotional while telling them.

Children’s literature is full of the most brilliant writing techniques and ideas possible. It requires a special talent to hold a child’s attention. In my brief stint as an intern/writer/Harry Potter junkie at a magazine called Disney Adventures, I learnt that the only way to amaze and interest kids is to be amazed and interested yourself. I wrote about artificial satellites, flag designs and the Olympics, when I was convinced that kids only cared about Pokeman and Hannah Montanta (which they did) but a bunch of drawings, hand-made friendship bands and “I love buzz lightyear and want to go to NASA” emails reinforced my faith in humanity (this was before Justin Beiber). Children will read and love everything, if you know how to tell a story.

Speaking of stories there is something to be said about the ones who can take a complex, fantastic tale and make it simple and child-friendly. Uncle Pai. Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha taught me science, maths, geography and mythology in an 8-panel page. ACK is responsible for my having absorbed Krishna’s life to Anandamath and all of Indian literature’s classic stories: The gods had large biceps, maidens had large lustrous eyes and demons had long tongues: Ah the glory days. Clearly, Ananth Pai’s aim in starting this series has been fulfilled.

And then there is Dr Seuss commonly called The Genius (commonly called by me) where all of life’s lessons and philosophies came together in the most unfussy, simple way. Every time I write a sentence, I take a step back and wonder why it takes me so many words to explain one idea, when The Cat in the Hat, a Suess Favourite, has less than 250 words. Dr Seuss taught me brevity (although, I’m still learning, as is evidenced by the length of this sentence).

Then there were people who can just tell such an awesome story, it becomes actual formula in other books and art forms. I believe Earl Stanley Gardeners work (he wasn’t really writing for children but his books were a big part of my childhood) is the basis for all good courtroom dramas. I see traces of Perry Mason everywhere, from 1965’s Waqt through to 1993’s Damini and in 2004’s Aitraaz.

Stories, reading them, listening to them, watching them in film and television are important and they never leave us. As we get older, we begin to appreciate other good things about Art – Context, skill, craftsmanship, theme, subtext, metaphor, symbolism- but no matter how old you are, a good story gets you every time.

A few of my favourite things

A few of my favourite things

This is my love letter to all the books that I read as a child, a little girl and then a teenager. To the stories from the Big Book of Bedtime Tales that were read out to me by parents, to the illustrations I pored over and the comics I borrowed from friends. (“Archie’s isn’t something you buy” my mother used to say). You filled my soul with “wild imaginings” and with my nose three inches from your pages, I could be anything I wanted.

Thank you Louisa May Alcott for Little Women, Good Wives and Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. Making Jo March a rough and tumble tomboy who also cried piteously over books broke the stereotype.

Enid Blyton. Thank you for Hurrah for the circus which made me believe that one day, an ordinary child could just get up, join the circus and live the rest of his days in a caravan. Thank you for The Folk of the Faraway tree, for Mr. Pink Whistle and for teaching me that parents said things like “By George” and children said things like “Good golly.”

To The Five find outers and dog, with Frederick Algernon Trotteville aka Fatty at the helm. You had the best mysteries and were the funniest, The Famous Five, you came a close second.

As for the debate over whether Malory Towers was better than St. Claire’s, well we might as well just give up. Malory Towers had a swimming pool that filled with the tide and was hacked out of a rock. But the girls at St. Claires had better midnight feasts.

To The wind in the willows for Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad and all their lovely adventures. Also for the beautiful pictures of their little homes: Checked table cloths, slippers by the fire and strings of onions that hung from the ceiling at winter time. (How cute.)

Thank you to the slim volumes of Ladybird classics and Childrens Illustrated that made complicated literature simple for the benefit of my 9-year old brain.

To the Just William series by Richmal Crompton for introducing me to the uproarious, scruffy William and the Outlaws. The great thing about William is you can read it as an adult and still laugh your head off. On another note, William totally turned up his nose at his meat and potato dinners which meant that meat and potatoes (feast and fancy dinners here) were boring sabji-roti type meals in England. Curiouser and coriouser. Which brings me to Alice in Wonderland. Thank you Lewis Carrol, for The Mock Turtles story with its amazing wordplay. And before you bring it up,the mad hatters tea party was wildly overrated. Yes, I just said that.

To Sweet Valley and The Babysitters club series. For all the fun, the fights and the drama.

To Judy Blume for keeping it all real.

To JK Rowling and CS Lewis, for endless magic and wonder.

To Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and all the books about Dorothy that followed. For fantasy and clever, breathless adventures that left me disoriented when the last page was turned.

To The Secret Garden, A little Princess, The Railway Children and Daddy Long legs for the beautiful imagery, the lively descriptions but mostly for the happy endings.

To the Diary of Anne Frank for infinite beauty and because it got me to love history.

To Roald Dahl, for things like Oompa Loompas and Vermicious Knids. Also for the rhymes (Aunt Spiker was as thin as a wire, and dry as a bone, only drier….)

To Lois Lowry for appealing to my dark side. To Madelaine L’Englebert for the genius that was A wrinkle in Time. Also, because Meg Murray was the first female protagonist who was bespectacled. At least the first one I read about. Yay, girl power and glasses.

To the Little House series, for the sumptuous detail, Christmas dinners that went on for chapters and for filling me with a restless thrill every time Pa Ingall’s “wanderin’ foot got to itchin.’”

To books that taught me things, books that stayed with me and books I left behind, books that I grew up on, the ones that made me cry, laugh or think. To authors who made me vow that I wanted to be “just like him/her when I grow up.” Thank you for all the love. Thank you for all the reading.

Things we hate about…

Things we hate about…

The Hardy Boys: The fact that these boys (who in my head, have come to look like the Jonas Brothers) never discussed their case with their father, even though at the end of every mystery, it becomes evident that their detective father, Fenton Hardy was working on the same damn case. If you are smart enough to foil the mafia’s plan and use Morse code to escape kidnappers, surely you must see this pattern. If you exclaim, “oh, father was dealing with the same criminals” after the 900th case, it stops being a surprise, morons!

The Archie Comics: Little Archie. It’s funny that Archie is caught in the love triangle with Betty and Veronica, but when you make them kids, it’s just creepy. Sure, restaurant dates become picnics and smooches become pecks on the cheek, but hey hey, they are children! There’s a pervy little boy hitting on two chicks and it’s not cute. Also, Betty’s perpetually perfectly S-shaped ponytail.

The Nancy Drew Series: Nancy Drew. Also, what kind of idiot dates someone with a name like Ned Nickerson?

The Harry Potter Series: The fact that Victor Krum was friendless and alone before he met Hermoine Granger. In the second task of the Triwizard Tournament, the person you would miss most had to be rescued and Krum’s person was Granger. We are talking about a Quidditch star here, who just a few months ago had taken the wizarding world by storm with his feinting. It’s impossible to believe that for years, he had no friends, girlfriends or even quidditch buddies that he would miss and instead bestowed all his yearning for a girl he met a few weeks ago at a new school. A Quidditch star, STAR, with no social life? C’mon.

Malory Towers and Saint Claire’s: Girls who didn’t play or like sports were never the “good sort”, they were always the weak little ninnies who would be laughed at later or given a “dressing down.” It is possible to hate games and still be a good sport okay. OKAY! YOUR MOM IS A NINNY!


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