Blyton debate to assess author's literary merit

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The Independent Online
The decades-long argument over Enid Blyton's influence on her millions of young readers will ignite again tomorrow. A major conference to mark the centenary of the author's birth will set defenders of her lasting power to cast a spell on children against accusers who condemn her books for their snobbery, racial bigotry and sheer escapism.

Tomorrow's conference, at the Roehampton Insitute in London, is organised by the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature. The Centre's director, Dr Kim Reynolds, acknowledges that some critics and parents try to steer children away from a writer whose dismissive view of the working class and other races match her "repetitive plots and persistent falsification of reality".

But for Nicholas Tucker, an expert in children's writing at Sussex University, Blyton's strength lay precisely in her ability "to move straight from her imagination into the child's imagination without the real world intervening". He points out that the idea of armies of teachers and librarians sweeping Noddy from the shelves always owed more to the media than the truth: "The opposition to Blyton was always very tenuous, but it got a lot of publicity".

Blyton (right), who died a millionaire in 1968, produced one book a month. She could finish a full-length novel within a working week and insisted on a minimum print-run of 25,000 in the post-war years of paper shortages.

She remains big news and big business. Thanks to new EU rules, the lucrative copyrights to the Famous Five, Secret Seven and their friends will stay under the control of Enid Blyton Limited until 2037.

In recent years the Blyton Estate has sidestepped critics by updating the books. Offending details (such as the black-faced Gollies who mug Noddy in one book) simply disappear. So today's young readers fail to see why anyone could ever have objected. And as Nicholas Tucker notes: "One thing you can always do with bad literature is rewrite it".