Enid Blyton becomes a victim of woke culture?

Jun 21 2021. views 159


Prolific children’s author Enid Blyton is largely credited with whisking countless generations of children on magical adventures and helping them vicariously become child detectives, boarding scholars, circus performers and intrepid adventurers. For decades her books have been the staple fodder for children around the world. In her lifetime London born, Enid Blyton wrote just over 13,000 short stories many of which were published in over 750 books and translated into 90 languages. Her sales figures of 600 million copies sold are eye wateringly impressive. 

However, with the passage of time, certain quarters deemed her stories to be full of racism, sexism, class bias and lacking merit. The accusations of racism in Blyton’s books were first made by a newspaper article in 1966, where Blyton’s The Little Black Doll was highly criticised. Sambo, the black doll, is hated by his owner and the other toys owing to his “ugly black face”, and runs away. A shower of rain washes its face clean, after which it is welcomed back home with its now pink face. In Blyton’s ‘The Three Golliwogs’, for example, the characters are named Golly, Woggie and Ni**er, clearly indicating their racial identity. 

In 1963 Blyton was snubbed by St Pancras libraries with the statement, “We consider her books are generally sloppily written. They do nothing to add to a child’s imagination or mental horizon”. In 1964 they were removed from Nottingham libraries for not having a “sufficiently wide vocabulary”.

Blyton was also banned from the BBC for almost 3 decades as the corporation believed her to be a “second-rater” whose work lacked literary value.  Away from British shores, in the English speaking world, there was tangible concern about her racist, sexist and classist overtures in her books. In 1964 her books were taken from the shelves of a public library in Melbourne for their “stereotyped” nature while in 1967 they were removed from Cape Town libraries for being “hackneyed” and in Transvaal, they were removed for their “low literary value”. In 1975 in the UK a Schools Council report on children’s reading placed Blyton’s books in the category of “non-quality books”. Blyton was also excluded from lists of recommended reading published by national Library Associations and by the National Book League.

A few days ago Blyton was back in the spotlight when English Heritage, a cultural foundation that commemorates famous British personalities by attaching blue plaques on buildings to mark their homes or workspaces, updated its online information associated with Blyton’s plaque. Citing a 1996 report by The Guardian newspaper that explored Blyton’s book The Little Black Doll, where the character of Sambo is accepted once its “ugly black face” is washed “clean” by the rain, their website stated, “Blyton’s work has been criticized during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit.” It is thought that this move is part of  English Heritage’s efforts in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter movement to better reflect “the values or perspectives of people today.” Some British newspaper columnists of a certain vintage opined that this was part of the woke culture that had pervaded Britain and were up in arms that people were attempting to “cancel” Blyton’s work.

Halfway across the world, Sri Lanka’s contingent of  Enid Blyton fans was also up in arms angered by the barrage of criticism levelled against their favourite childhood author.  With opinion divided: some entrapped by nostalgia could see no wrongdoing in her books while others stating her stories were an attempt at colonization. Almost 70 years later the context in which her stories were written may seem archaic and inappropriate for modern times, but either way, there is no denying that Blyton’s stories encouraged countless generations to read and enriched their literary skills. Here’s is a cross-section of our reader’s opinions.

Chrishantha Jayasinghe
“Goodness me I never realized that there was any racism in Enid Blytons. In fact, I might have to purchase some of her books once again and read them just to see where all this negativity is. I am grateful to her because thanks to her books I got into the habit of reading. Mr Gallianos Circus is still one of my favourite books.”

Madhubhashini Disanayake Ratnayake
“In Enid Byton what struck me most was the classism inherent in the books. Loved the books growing up, but nevertheless, now I see that deep ideological stances were passed through them.”

Anura Saparamadu
“Even if classism and racism are in books, it’s up to the reader to accept and retain what he wants and to reject the rest. If everything that offends woke sensibilities were to be banned or removed from circulation, then even religious books should be banned because they too contain things that can be construed as offensive... this is as bad as the fools who used to burn books they deem inappropriate.”

Samanthi Colonne
“It’s definitely “politically correctness” gone mad. Those of us in our generation who read her books didn’t end up being racist. It’s the younger generation who have not read her books and thereby have no idea of inclusiveness have ended up being racist. I remember back in the day, British Council Sri Lanka didn’t stock her books as a directive had been issued from UK. At that time I thought it was a stupid idea and I still do.”

Nayomi Munaweera
“I grew up reading Blyton and loved her.  I also know that my young imagination was completely colonized by those books because I was not exposed to a single black or brown author’s work. I did not see anyone who looked like me on the page until I was in my 20s. That’s a sad state of invisibility for any human. Multiply that by the millions of POC kids all over the world who grew up, however joyously and not knowing they were missing anything because there literally was nothing to miss. In my humble opinion, black and brown solidarity is of prime importance. Can we imagine a world where Blyton is available but black and brown children’s books are as famous and ubiquitous as hers? Where brown and black children’s bodies, stories, adventures 
are centred?”

Swanthi Samarakkody
“I loved reading her books and I think I have read almost all her books many times over. I don’t think I can form an opinion about her books based on my readings from childhood. If I read them now I may have a different opinion about her writing and its connections to racism. I do wish that we had other non-white authors to look up to as kids.”

Nayomini R Weerasooriya
“To consider Enid Blyton racist would be to label the heart of England as racist. This is sad because the rest of the world is laughing at the west for the woke nightmare they are putting themselves in.”

Suendrini Wickremenayaka
“I was very much a part of a generation of kids whose daily literary diet indeed included reading copious amounts of Enid Blyton books. I AM appalled to hear that her work is being ‘cancelled’ on account of alleged racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia, in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter, fuelled by the woke generation. I was not offended nor did I think anything negative about the brown bear aka tubby bear in her books.”

Jon Philpott
“I honestly don’t believe the white people who perpetrate all this nonsense see how patronizing all this crap is to 
us “minorities.”

Menaka Fonseka
“I don’t agree to racism of any form. Grew up reading so many Enid Blyton books. Right now I can’t seem to recollect racism in those books.”

Maithri Jansz
“I probably read every single Enid Blyton that was accessible to me. Never once felt a hint of racism, sexism or any -ism at the time. But to be honest we lived in an age of innocence. We didn’t know all these issues existed. We imagined the white’s world as our own and never questioned why there was no representation. It really didn’t matter in the world we lived in; we were all brown, we never faced racism or xenophobia or discrimination of sexual orientation… that was not us. But I know it matters more to me now that as a family, our children live in a multicultural society as minorities. We as a society evolve over time. It’s a good thing to be aware of diversity. I prefer to leave such things in the past and move on but also not become so extreme that we cannot just acknowledge the past and move on.” 

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
“I’m a fiction writer. I do this professionally. I grew up reading a few Enid Blyton books. It was very clear that Blyton was writing a sort of small-town Little Brittania, a closed-loop fantasy of a sort, in much the same way that King writes small-town America. I eventually stopped reading when I realized the books were formulaic crap. I do not see why an author of any particular race or ethnicity has an obligation to include all races or ethnicities in a book: I have no interest in playing the Diversity Olympics. Tagore wrote of India; Wodehouse wrote of British dandies; Austen wrote, also, of British dandies. I do not see a need for each to miraculously start including the other. At the same time, internalized assumptions are a thing. Critical reading is a different skill. Examining the principles behind world building is different from being woke or complaining about being woke on Facebook. Understanding the impact of history on economics is a different skill. Blyton was considered racist and xenophobic in the 60s, by the standards of the time she worked in. Whether or not you got those vibes from Famous Five is beside the matter: those books are so formulaic and thin on ideas that there isn’t anything in them worth discussing, for good or ill, except perhaps the food. Those who are inclined to defend her should take a look in the mirror and ask what century they live in and whether Blyton would have been delighted or revolted at them. 
This debate is already pointless. A new generation will grow up not on Blyton, but on far more advanced forms of media. The world changes. For those who fear the future, I recommend reaching into the past and reading Ozymandias until they have got the message.”

Nil Murrell
“Early editions of Enid Blyton’s work undoubtedly used racist language, however, they have since been modified. The question is whether an author’s work can be enjoyed once all the unacceptable items are removed. If ‘woke’ means being anti-racist, isn’t that a good thing?”

Keith Wijesuriya
“We GREW UP on Enid Blyton. At that time, we were not exposed to the issues we are today. And especially as children, we did not delve too much into the intricacies of the plot and the quality of the writing. There was no analysis. Moonface, Saucepan Man, Wiggie, Willie and Wollie, the Five Find-outers, ALL of them were simply lovable characters into whose lives we metamorphosed, living fully in the moment. Today, being more aware, we cannot condone the content, especially if it made THAT kind of sense to a generation of British readers of that generation. This question should be rightly posed to them, not us.”

Ameena Hussein
“I think I thought I was White when I was reading those books, so I wouldn’t have seen any racism. Such was the colonial brainwash we colonized countries went through.”

Vivimarie Van Der Poorten
“Just because we grew up reading her and enjoyed her books at a time of childhood when we knew no better it doesn't mean we should treat her as sacred. We know better NOW. So many things in childhood were certainly not right. Like so-called uncles touching you inappropriately. Since it has been found that her writing is racist sexist homophobic and all that yeah we should not unleash her on the next generation of kids. Or anyone.”

Manique Liyanage
“Yes, I remember reading about Golliwogs and how they were ridiculed in her books. It’s very understandable that they’ve taken these much-loved books down from the shelves. It did make me aware of coloured people and how they were treated in the western world.”

Pi Fernandez
“I am of mixed heritage and grew up devouring Enid Blyton’s books. I learnt of magical worlds and that children can do so much on their own. Never ever was I made aware of racism or xenophobia through those books. This is such nonsense”.

Sumudu Muthu
“I never knew that racism or homophobia existed as the world Enid Blytons books created was nothing but an innocent childhood dreamland. Growing up at school with multiracial kids never did I think anyone was different and neither did her books ever prompt me or lead me to think so. Being a brown kid myself I was never offended or made to feel small, instead, her books developed my creative thinking, made me better at English and challenged me to become a better person and embrace good values and taught me to treat creation with respect.”

Marc Bilimoria
“I too grew up on Enid Blyton.  I’ve read about Enid Blyton’ life story and it was certainly not always a happy or wholesome one where family values dominated. Did she allow her personal prejudices to emerge through her writings? A social scientist or a psychologist would perhaps answer that question differently. I see her work as a creation of her context and of her reality at a particular time in human history. But when I read her work in all its multifaceted forms I never felt the urge to treat any other human being with disrespect or to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their colour, ethnicity, class, caste, gender or sexual orientation. While we need to stand up and be counted and speak out against all forms of discrimination that dehumanize other human beings on one basis on another, we must also be advocates of the forms of free expression and creativity that books represent. Or else very soon we will live in a sanitized society like that we see described for example in Ray Bradbury’s 1953 book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where it would be illegal to read books deemed unfit by authoritarian regimes. Education plays a huge role in developing the right attitudes. In some cultures, official textbooks are more a danger to growing minds in terms of wrong influences and false narratives that can have a huge impact on attitudes and world view”.

Linda West
“That seems just ridiculous to me, I read and loved Enid Blyton books and read the Famous Five series over 
and over.”

Nishu Gunawardana
“Sometimes I don’t understand why we take things so far. The real issue is not with what’s in a book you read. It’s in what you teach your children about diversity and tolerance etc.”

Ashok Ferrey
“The important thing to bear in mind is that the goalposts keep changing all the time. What’s normal for one society at any one time is often seen as barbaric or retrograde to another. The simplistic view of so many old-time conquistadors and modern-day missionaries is this: We know better than you, so put up with our morality or shut up. The olden day (and essentially very sophisticated) Buddhist views of live-and-let-live, compassion and understanding of others are fast disappearing – what we’re getting instead is mob rule: You are either with us or against us. We are in the Age of the New Puritans. This is absolutely NOT to say that I condone so many of those old views. But I HAVE to make allowances for the age in which that sort of behaviour was considered “normal.” If, for instance, Mozart or Beethoven were found to be child molesters, should there be a fatwa on us listening to their music? This brings me to the most important point. It seems to me hugely patronizing for you to tell me what I must or must not think, must or must not read. This presupposes that I must be an idiot. The truth is that if you continue to treat me like an idiot, I surely will become one!”.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Features Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno tinajourno@gmail.com


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