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30 July 2010

Enid Blyton's novels to be modernised

Source: ABC

Phrases like "awful swotter" and "mercy me!" look set to vanish from children's vocabularies for good, with publishers announcing they are re-editing Enid Blyton's classic books.

The publishers of Blyton's children's books, such as the Famous Five series and Faraway Tree series, say they are erasing some words and phrases from the novels to replace them with modern versions.

Words and phrases reportedly getting the chop include "house mistress", which will be replaced with "teacher", "school tunic" which will be pasted over with "uniform" and "dirty tinker", which now becomes "traveller".

But children's literature experts say it is tragic that these expressions could be lost forever.

Children's Book Council president Maj Kirkland told ABC Radio that the language in Enid Blyton's books is unique and loved by children.

"Well we could say let's not stop with Enid Blyton, why not change Shakespeare?" she said.

She says language is specific a time and place and is defined by the context in which it is used.

Ms Kirkland says children understand this.

"My son loved the Faraway Tree. He enjoyed the words as well and he used to walk around the house saying 'awful swotter'," she said.

"Young people are often underestimated.

"Children don't always have to know exactly what the word means to enjoy the sound of those words."

Ms Kirkland says language is constantly being changed and she says efforts should be made to retain historical works.

"We're in a state of change so much. We have text language that we use on Twitter and how quickly does that change?" she said.

She says strange words used in Blyton's novels actually help children expand their vocabulary and become better communicators.

"It's a good chance for the adult and the child to talk about what it meant at the time," she said.

"They do build their vocabulary and build their understanding of the world."

She says if the books are going to be changed in any way the publishers could instead publish a glossary at the end of Blyton's books to explain unfamiliar words.

My two cents: I grew up reading Enid Blyton. The earliest book that was read to me, the first book I read to myself, and the books I collected as a child were all written by Enid Blyton. I bonded with both my parents over her books, as they had also grown up reading them. I was transported to a time before my own, with charming language, engaging characters and a sense of naiveté that I wish most children were able to keep. I also claim she is the reason I have always been mainly a fantasy reader. The only problem I ever had with Enid Blyton was her passive racism – but I think that was a product of her time, rather than an act of hate. I know some of her books have previously been in the headlines because her use of golliwogs in Noddy (which were substituted in a politically correct re-release of her stories in the 80s), and I have to say I saw them as dolls as a child, not as humans, and I was too naïve to realise their cultural origins until it was pointed out to me years later. Calling gypsies “dirty tinkers” is a sign of the times also. This racism still occurs today, yet it is never really touched on by the media – and history ignores the fact that they were also targeted by Hitler’s death camps.  What I am alluding to is different from the above story. I was kind of surprised that this article mentioned the “dirty tinkers” phrase in the context of editing Enid Blyton’s novels yet didn’t expand on it. It didn’t talk about racism, cultural insensitivities or ageing mores, just that it has dated slang. Despite the fact that we have all grown up with these books, and their inherent racism, it does appear, according to this article, that the books are being re-released solely because of the dated colloquialisms? WTF? I am taken aback. Those words and phrases have been dated for decades – even my mother growing up in the 60's and 70's wouldn’t have used these in general usage. And I don't think it matters that the words are no longer in our everyday usage.I think that broadens a child's mind. I know it did mine. I still love reading a lot of pre-80's children's literature, and I am fascinated by the colloquialisms that have passed in and out of fashion over the years. And they do come back. I am distraught. I think Enid Blyton's books will loose their charm! What do you think?

1 comment:

Marg said...

It is so hard for me, because I grew up reading and loving these books, especially the Magic Faraway Tree books and the Adventures of the Wishing Tree books. They are very much products of another time, and yet the magic is still there.

Are reading the original books a chance for parents to talk about the things that have changed over the years or should they be modernised, and perhaps sterilised for our children's generations of readers?

My overriding sentiment is that it is a shame to do this to Blyton's books... again but I think that is because I have such fond memories of them myself.

And you know, I always saw the golliwogs as dolls too.

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