Worldwide travel and lashings of ginger beer
A generation (or two) of travellers owe their wanderlust to the books they read as children. Gosh! says Jeremy Atiyah
Sunday 11 May 1997
Blyton's attitude to travel can look rather banal. Outings into a fresh, sunny countryside inevitably feature picnic hampers from obliging farmers' wives, comprising new-laid eggs, freshly picked raspberries, ham and tomatoes and - gosh! - cream cheese. Everything is washed down by fresh water from babbling springs.
In fact, the Famous Five and in particular the children of the Adventure series are hardy travellers who think nothing of sleeping in caves, drinking from streams or building huts from twigs in the forest.
"The sense of travel-freedom in her books was the key to it," says Jennifer Cox, publicity manager of Lonely Planet, the leading guidebook series. "You could set off into somewhere tame like the Cotswolds and never know what would happen. And the children were so resourceful. Even in the wild they find food to eat and comfortable patches of heather to sleep on."
Lawyer Patrick Dunn, who says he has read all 21 Famous Five books at least five times each, agrees. "They kept trying to have normal holidays, but always got more than they bargained for. That's the main reason I keep travelling. One day I'll find my own treasure island."
In terms of actual destinations, the Famous Five tended to stick to rural Britain. However, the Adventure children several times turned up in highly exotic - unnamed - locations. In the River of Adventure, for example, they find themselves in a mysterious world of turbaned snake charmers; in the Valley of Adventure they get onto the wrong plane and are whisked away to an obscure part of Central Europe where old Nazis are looking for hidden war loot.
Enid Blyton did not inspire through poetry. The nearest thing to description in the Valley of Adventure are phrases such as "awfully beautiful - but awfully lonely" and "the mountains ... were magnificent". But all is "exciting": the sound of the waterfall; the musty cave; the tumble-down barn. Travellers need no more encouragement.
Other children's authors have also had an impact on travel. Jennifer Cox remembers that it was C S Lewis's Narnia books that got her going - books such as the Voyage of the Dawn Treader where children travel by ship to the ends of the earth, visiting stranger and stranger countries. "Again there was that sense of discovery and encounter," says Jennifer. "And at the end a triumphant homecoming, which is also very important for travellers."
Travel writer Jeremy Seal nominates Willard Price as his inspiration to travel. "Price was basically a butch Enid Blyton," he says. "The stories are about two boys who travel the world collecting animals. The information is all wrong - the black mambas can stand on their tails and the anacondas are 60 feet long - but it's great fun to believe."
Herge's Tintin books go further: they not only contain real, named countries, but depict them in serious, almost scholarly detail. Tibetan monks, Arabian Bedu, Peruvian Indians, East European despots - Tintin's world is an accurate, if superficial, reflection of ethnographic realities. "Tintin made going to places like India and South America feel like a homecoming," says backpacker Kate Fletcher. "I felt I'd seen all these places before."
In a sense the Tintin books are caricatures, a series of touristic snapshots of camels and llamas with exotic backdrops. But that is mainly what modern-day travel is about. "If I can see the whole world to the same depth as Tintin did, I'll be pretty satisfied," adds Kate.
But what of Enid Blyton? In her centenary year, can she really still inspire people to travel, other than the occasional New Zealand stowaway? "Of course," says Jennifer Cox. "Her basic message is still true. Just go to the bottom of your garden. You might have an adventure out there."
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