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Seven go on a 21st-century adventure: Enid Blyton classics to be rewritten

  • @MrNickClark

Cripes! The Secret Seven are off on a new adventure. They are shelving the jolly japes and following the Famous Five into the digital age, taking modern dialogue with them on their travels.

Having modernised the Famous Five ahead of the quintet's 70th birthday this year, publisher Hachette UK has snapped up the rights to Enid Blyton's entire estate, excluding Noddy, and plans to bring more of her most famous characters into the 21st Century.

Marlene Johnson, the managing director of Hachette's children's books division, said that following the deal they had "great plans for the future".

These include new illustrations and updated language, as well as making many more Blyton works available for digital download. In all, it will "catapult Enid Blyton into contemporary society," she said. Hachette, which for some time has published the Famous Five under licence from Chorion, had already called in illustrators including Quentin Blake to "reinterpret" the intrepid child adventurers. There was controversy when the language of theFive was updated last year, but more of Blyton's work, including the Secret Seven and The Naughtiest Girl novels, are now set to ditch their lashings of pop and jolly hockey sticks.

"We will look at all of the works," Ms Johnson said. "We modernised the Famous Five last year, amid much murmuring. But these days you don't talk of jolly japes to kids."

Despite an outcry, the company believes that a revamp could boost sales of the books – in which the stories are unchanged – attracting kids who may have been put off by language they could not relate to.

There might even be a new Famous Five tale to tell, alongside the 21 existing adventures. Ms Johnson said that yesterday they stumbled across an original manuscript called Happy Christmas, Five: "I'm not aware of it being published before." There is a reference to a story of the same title in a Princess Gift Book for Girls, but it is unclear whether it is the same.

Blyton, who died in 1968, was a prodigious writer, with Hachette estimating it now has the rights to over 800 of her novels and short stories. She also remains one of the most popular: having sold as many as 600 million books over the decades, last year Blyton was the 20th best selling author in the UK. Hachette is going to push ahead with digitising her works, of which only about 50 are currently available for download and is confident that digital will be a huge growth area.

Yet some of Blyton's books have been criticised for racism and elitism, perhaps another reason why the language is being updated. Michael Rosen, Children's Laureate between 2007 and 2009, has said: "I find myself flinching at occasional bursts of snobbery and the assumed level of privilege of the children and families in the books. Admittedly, this might go over the heads of the modern children reading now."

While Ms Johnson is "delighted" to have secured the rights to most of the Blyton estate, she was sanguine that Noddy was not included. "Those books have never done well in Britain," she said. "They were more popular in France."

Lady of letters: Enid Blyton

* Blyton's first book, a collection of poems called Child Whispers, was published in 1922.

* In 2009, BBC4 screened Enid, a drama based on the author's life, with Helena Bonham Carter in the title role. It attracted 1.28 million viewers – the third-highest number the young channel had received.

* The first Famous Five novel, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942. The last in the series, which comprised 21 volumes, arrived in 1963.

* Blyton's works have been translated into 90 languages.

* The author is believed to have penned up to 800 books.

* She had a ferocious work rate, penning up to 10,000 words a day – perhaps fuelled by ginger beer.

* Blyton has sold 600 million books worldwide.

* In the BBC's 2003 Big Read poll, The Magic Faraway Tree came 66th.

* In the first decade of this century, Blyton sold £31.2m worth of books, more than Twilight author Stephenie Meyer and Philip Pullman, who described the Noddy author's work as "two-dimensional" and "mechanically recovered".