The Famous Five live in a different world from 21st-century Britain, with a freedom to roam the countryside, poking their noses into old mines and the like, which children today can only dream of; but ‘out-dated’ isn’t ‘out of favour’. Despite criticism and controversy – including rumours of employing ghost writers and accusations of racism, sexism and xenophobia – Enid Blyton has remained one of the most popular and most widely read children’s authors.
The tales of happy bands of children having slightly scary adventures before coming home to tea belie the less than idyllic family life of their author. Enid Blyton spent her childhood in South London and Beckenham with a caring and inspiring father and an unsympathetic mother. Her father left to live with another woman when Enid was 13, after which she became increasingly estranged from the family. She left home as soon as she left school in 1915, her mother and father were not invited to her wedding in 1924, and she did not attend either of their funerals.
In 1916, Enid trained as a Froebel kindergarten teacher, afterwards working as a journalist, a teacher and a governess, while writing verse and stories and publishing her first collection of poems, Child Whispers (1922). After her marriage to Major Hugh Pollock, an editor at the publishing company George Newnes, she was able to devote her time to writing.
During the following four decades, Enid Blyton wrote some 600 books, including educational texts, books on nature and religious stories as well as fantasies such as The Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair and the much-loved series, among them Noddy, the Famous Five, Secret Seven and Malory Towers. She seemed to be a one-woman publishing house, and she was a shrewd business woman who could be very tough, taking legal proceedings against a librarian who circulated the ‘ghost writers’ rumour, and arranging to sue her husband for divorce to hide her own adultery and protect her reputation as a children’s writer.
At the peak of her powers in the 1950s, Enid Blyton published 37 books in one year, but her prodigious output was to dwindle after 1960 and stopped altogether in 1965, when dementia ended the stories which, she claimed, came to her unplanned, from her ‘under mind’, and which have continued to charm young readers to this day. She died in 1968.