Golly gosh! Enid Blyton’s tips on chums are still as good as gold
Her themes are timeless, particularly in her treatment of friendship and the bonds between women
Golly! Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s death. More than half a century has passed, then, since she was at the height of her literary powers, but she remains one of the most popular children’s authors: her total book sales exceed 500 million.
Undoubtedly, her work shows its age; it is generally preferable to take your charmingly bucolic childhoods minus lashings of sexism, racism and class snobbery. Even so, the majority of her themes are timeless. Nowhere is this more clear than in her treatment of friendship, and the bonds between women.
Here’s what she taught me on the subject:
First, that society might pressure us to find “The One”, friendship-wise, almost as much as it does when it comes to romance – but that it’s okay to reject that idea. Malory Towers fans will recall that, along with being forced to don an unsightly sounding orange and brown uniform, protagonist Darrell Rivers’s first term at school is clouded by her lack of a best friend – an especially tricky position in a milieu which is so pairs-obsessed that girls go for walks only with the schoolmate who is their particular chum.
Bizarre, maybe, but is it any less so than the modern habit of bragging about your platonic BFF (Best Friend Forever) on social media?
Fortunately, even though Darrell eventually joins forces with reliable Sally, by the end of the series the characters have matured enough to favour cheery group hangouts over claustrophobic tête-à-têtes. The message? Happiness doesn’t come from one special bond. Instead, it lies in recognising that we need different things from different people.
Second, that holiday fear of missing out (fomo) isn’t just a product of the Instagram age.
It’s no coincidence that the characters greeted most warmly at the start of Blyton’s terms are also the ones attracting remarks in the mould of: “I say, Isabel, how awfully brown you are!” Cultivating an air of exotic mystery via the medium of time away and a tan is clearly a social tactic as old as time.
Third, that an outright insult can be the best way to both clear the air and convey the depth of one’s exasperation. See: “You mean pig”, “you beast” and – a barb that deserves resurrection more than any other – “fathead”.
Finally, that women are more supportive of one another than popular culture likes to suggest.
As the author who created the notoriously subservient Anne, in The Famous Five, one of children’s literature’s best examples of damaging gender stereotypes, it seems odd to look to Blyton for feminist wisdom. But her observations about boarding school life boil down to one heartening notion: that on the whole, women have one another’s backs.
Indeed, reading her books at an early age provided a lifetime’s inoculation against the erroneous patriarchal message that we women exist for the sole purpose of spitefully outdoing one another.
Don’t get me wrong. From sisterly discord between the St Clare’s twins to hearty disagreements over which classroom tricks to play, Blyton was a far cry from patronisingly suggesting that women agree on everything. But in documenting how we laugh together and egg one another on, her stories make as convincing a case for the power of female friendship as any of today’s titles on the subject do.
And that, as she might say, is frightfully wizard.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited