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When you think of Enid Blyton's works what springs to mind? Maybe the adventures experienced by the Famous Five? How about the escapades of the Secret Seven? Or the loveable Noddy and friends? These are all well known stories that out parents read to us and in some cases we are reading to our children. But what about the adventures of Jo, Bessie and Fanny? Or the funny ways of the Saucepot Man? Or Moon-Face, the man with a great beaming, round face along with a great beaming smile? Hmm, they're not so well known!
The Enchanted Wood is a brilliant read, full of mystery and delightful enchantment, things I constantly daydreamed about and desired! Let me start from the beginning.
I have to confess, even though I knew the name well, I didn't really have any idea about the individual behind that name. I'd always imagined a lady in her mid-forties with a wicked sense of humour and a captivating personality for both adults and children alike. I was right.
Enid was born in a tiny flat in East Dulwich in 1897. The eldest of three children, she was described as always having her nose in a book, much to the frustration of her mother, Theresa Mary Hamilton. As her father, Thomas Carey Blyton, was a skilled, imaginative man (he wrote poetry, painted, taught himself languages, played the piano and was a keen photographer) Enid was expected to become a musician. Enid's mother did not support her husband's pursuits whatsoever and when Enid's father had affair, Teresa moved, with her children, to Beckenham in Kent. While Thomas was hardly ever around the children, he did sustain their tuition and paid regular funds towards their wellbeing.
Her first published works were in magazines and were often poems. Although, as mentioned previously, Enid's family had anticipated she would be a musician, it was writing that she really treasured and loved. Therefore, she carried on undismayed by their efforts to stop her doing so. She published various books, but it was only in the 1920's that she dedicated herself to being an author.
Enid's earliest complete junior adventure book was The Secret Island, published in 1938. During the Second World War publishing was severely restricted due to the economic hardships the country faced. Yet, in true Blyton style she managed to get her books in print. The Faraway series was first published in 1939.
Enid died peacefully in her sleep in November 1968. She wrote in total over 700 books and articles and although some of her books are frowned on because of claims they are discriminative, chauvinistic and pretentious by some, they have always found new (and old) booklovers from all generations.
____ The Good Ol' Days ____
As this book was written almost 70 years ago, you would expect the language to have completely altered from the way children's books are written today. Even the very names of the children are obsolete. For example Jo today is widely regarded as a girl's name, short for Joanna/e (whereas today 'Joe' is the male version of Joseph) so it can be quite confusing to read that 'Jo was helping his father in the garden.' Bessie (short for Elizabeth) isn't used much, if at all, these days except maybe for cows and Fanny is a rather crude term for ladies genitals in Britain.
Some of the language is completely out of use, for example: 'hallo', 'I say!', and 'queer' being some of the phrases the children often say! Even still, despite the differences in language the book is still exceptionally enjoyable and understandable.
Also, I thought I'd add the point that several characters and key storylines have recently been altered so as not to offend anyone. These changes did initially take place in Australia. For example, ABC news held a story in 2001 that highlighted some of the changes to make the books more 'modern' and 'politically correct'. These included:
a. The removal of the Golliwog, who's been replaced with a teddy bear b. The character Dame Slap becoming Dame Snap, and no longer smacks children, c. Bessie has been changed to Beth because of connotations of black slavery, Jo to Joe and Fanny to Frannie (for obvious reasons)
I've yet to see a revised edition, but to be quite honest; I don't think I'd want to. Altering these wonderful books would be like repainting the Mona Lisa in The Simpson's style just so that younger people would look at it more. And surely it's drawing more attention to black people and rude body bits. A lot of children would pick up these amendments as different to the original stories and wonder why people thought they were so incompetent to comprehend that literacy changes over time. When children read the original books and ask what a Gollywog is, parents can talk to children about how things have changed and how things were.
That's my little rant over, back to the book!
____ The Faraway Tree Collection ____
The stories revolving around the Faraway Tree and its loveable characters start with 'The Enchanted Wood'. This book introduces us to the children and the main characters in the Tree.
The next book in the series is 'The Magic Faraway Tree' where the children take their cousin Dick (no laughs please!) to the wood.
'The Folk of the Faraway Tree' revolves around their snobby, posh cousin Connie and her adventures with the Tree and its populace, and the final instalment is…
'Up the Faraway Tree', where the children are joined by Robin and Joy who have read all about the magic Faraway Tree and want to share in it's magic and enchantment.
This review is focused on the first book of the series.
____ The Characters ____
The characters in this book are as follows:
Jo, Bessie, Fanny …The three children. They lived in the town but were so happy to find themselves in the country. Jo is the oldest of the three and assumes the protective older brother role. Bessie is the middle child and takes care of her two siblings in a very motherly way. Fanny is they youngest of the three and as such is prone to crying and getting worn out easily.
Mother and Father …It seems that Father moved to the country for work reasons. Whatever the case, the parents are quite happy to let their children explore the woods and surrounding areas, and even meet some of the residents of the tree! They play a very menial role in the book.
Moonface …A rather odd chap, his head is big and round and when he smiles it shines like the moon! He lives nearest the top of the tree and is always getting into trouble for being so mischievous. He knows a good few magic spells and lots of the inhabitants of the woods. He plays a large part in all the faraway tree books and accompanies the children on all their adventures. He acts as their mentor, advising them which lands to go in and which to stay far away from! In his round room is the Slippery-Slip, a slide that helter-skelters all the way down the tree. They must use a pillow otherwise it could be quite painful! A rabbit in a red coat waits at the end of the slide to collect the pillows!
Silky …The maker of Pop Biscuits, she is very kind and loving toward the children and looks after them as if they were her own. She is a pixie and has long, silky, golden flowing hair.
Mr Watzisname and The Saucepan Man …These are great friends and seem to have known each other for a long time. When the Saucepan Mans world floats by and leaves him behind in the tree he lives with Mr Watzisname. As you can tell, the names are very descriptive. Saucepan is quite and old man and is covered in, yes, you guessed it, saucepans! As a result of all the noise they make he has been left slightly deaf and always keeps the children in fits of laughter! Mr Watzisname doesn't know his name (we find out later in the series) and can be grumpy at times! He loves laughing at Saucepan's deafness too!
Angry Pixie … He really lives up to his name! When Jo sees a window in a tree imagine how surprised he is! Now what child (or adult for that matter) wouldn't want to have a peek? When he does he really feels the wrath of the AP!
Dame Washalot … A lady that loves to wash! She is forever washing clothes and tipping the water down the tree. The children get soaked by her on numerous occasions. Now how did she get that water up there is what I want to know!
There are lots of others too, like the Snowman and the Polar Bears, Dame Slap, Goldilocks and her Three Bears, the walking-chiming clock…
____The Lands in the Tree______
I won't go into too much detail, but these are some of the lands encountered…
The Land of Take-What-You-Want …As the name suggests, you can take whatever you want! Your imagination is the limit, so if it's a plane, a cow, some chickens, a clock, a sack of gold, an endless supply of candyfloss, absolutely anything, you can take it! Picture it, what would you take?
The Land of Birthdays … can you believe the luck of it? Bessie's birthday is coming up and it ties in perfectly with the arrival of the Land of Birthdays! The cake is a real wishing cake, and you can imagine how things turn out with Saucepan's turn! The children party all night long and are surprised and surprised again and again by this wondrous land!
The Land of Dame Slap … This isn't such a nice place. The children end up here by a slip-up from a previous land and are mistaken for naughty children in Dame Slaps School! They are taken to lessons and have pranks pulled on the by the other naught elves and fairies and as a result get locked in the naughty cupboard! How will they get out and get back home?
There are many more lands that the children visit, but you'll have to read the book to find out what they are!
____Why So Appealing to Children?______
The reason I loved these books is because when you read them, you can actually imagine yourself being there with the characters, in the lands, having their adventures and sharing in their fun. It completely draws you away from reality to a place with no rules, no parents and no oppression. They are timeless and can be read again and again and again.
In the books, the adult characters are usually either authority figures such as policemen, teachers, or parents, or enemies to be overcome by the children and their friends. The children are often self-sufficient, spending whole days, or even more than one day, away from home with no worries from their parents. Any adults featured in the book have menial roles; I suppose to keep the book within reality a tiny bit!
Back when these books were written (after WWI and during WWII) children were used to a rationed way of life. Food was bland, they couldn't explore and many lived in fear of death. These books portrayed a world free from this opression, where their parents would allow their children to have endless days in the counntry, going where they pleased, eating what they want and coming back at early hours of the morning! It was a life that children missed and some never got the chance to have.
____ Availability ____
I first recived the 1970's version of the book, the green one with the 70's style drawings on it, from my Grandads collection. These are still available and can be bought off eBay for about £5 inc. postage. Elsewhere (Amazon, Waterstones etc) the newer, 2000 and onward version retail at about £3.99 plus p&p.
I'd stick to eBay and get the old school style books. That way, the language ties in with the book cover and it looks a lot better!
____ What I Think ____
I much prefer these books to any other, including the Rowling books. They are so magical and well told, your children will love having them read to them and you'll love reading them just as much! Enid Blyton is a well reputed author and her stories have fascinated children for decades upon decades. This book especially was my favourite and I still love reading it even today!
Fantastic review, reading that took me right back to when I was little and often away in Blyton's world, happy memories. xx
post-it-note 25.04.2006 12:53
Great Review, bought a sentimental smile to my face - i loved this book as a kid and always wanted my own slippery slip with squirrels bringing me cushions.. alas it never happened! I will have to hang onto my Australian pre censored version instead (wherever my copy is!)