The other evening I was chatting with a good friend, and like all great conversations go, this one comfortably drifted from one thing to another and stretched well past midnight.
We ended up discussing ‘inspirations.’ We talked about science-fiction, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. We went on to talk about Frank Herbert. The rumination was extremely refreshing. Since then, I have been thinking about a few posts on my inspirations, including some of the aforementioned.
But before I get to Asimov, the mighty one whose ‘Nightfall’ single-handedly implanted in me a love of science fiction that keeps on going, I have to make another trip. Back to my middle school days. The days when I gorged on Enid Blyton. Days that were full of innocent beliefs-that life was
inherently simple. All the world needed was a bunch of kids who were brave enough and righteous enough to solve problems big and small.
My first foray into Enid Blyton was through the school library when I fell in love with Malory Towers. I was then in a boarding school myself and almost living the life Blyton describes in those books-midnight feasts, the travails of the new entrants, the quintessential sensible girl who tries to save the day.
Later on, I picked up the Famous Five and the Secret Seven, enjoying both series.
A lot can be said about the gender stereotypes and the racial typecasting in Blyton’s work, and a lot has been said about it already. It is true-there is a lot of it in the books, a reflection of society as it was then.
Let’s consider The Famous Five for a second. It is offensive to me now that the ‘girly’ Anne is relegated to all the cooking and the cleaning up, and George is always so busy rejecting being a girl in favor of being intelligent and mature like boys. As if girls are incapable of being in charge, or being intelligent and sensible.
Looking back, I remember feeling bad about Anne being the brunt of the jibes for liking to cook. Am I sure if I would be happy letting my daughter read them? Not entirely.
But then again, even with all the resentment I had about Anne being treated as a second rate member of the team, only by virtue of her being a girly girl, I only remember being immensely happy when reading an Enid Blyton book.
Why was that? Probably because as a child, those stereotypical statements did not make an imprint on me. Instead, I latched on to the dreamier aspects of the stories-the endless picnics, the boat rides to mysterious islands, the circuses that made their way through idyllic towns.
Isn’t it possible that a child reads books differently than adults? That’s why, even after having dealt with all the stereotypes in these books, I have turned out fine (engineer, entrepreneur, mom-and happy in each role).
Curiously, I have also hung on to the premise Blyton repeats endlessly in her books, the idea of innocent and well-meaning kids triumphing over the luckless, not-so-intelligent, unprincipled adult crook.
Is it surprising then that my YA series is not too different in its assumptions? Guess not, right?
The Lightbound Saga clings to that innocence-at its core is the same belief in empowered kids, likely carried over from my reading too many Enid Blytons.
Is Enid Blyton’s writing flawless? No.
Does her books contain hurtful stereotypes that I find difficult to cruise through? Sure.
Has she inspired me nevertheless? Oh, yeah. Big time.
And I am sure she will continue to enthrall and captivate children through the ages.