Growing up in the '90s, I, like most young readers in India, read a lot of Enid Blyton books. My school library had an impressive collection, and so did my older cousins, and some of the books had been passed down to me from my brother.
I read Enid Blyton ferociously and repeatedly. I read and reread each story until I knew all the characters, towns, and animals mentioned, and the snacks the kids had devoured. When the books were such that they had to be returned to a library or a friend within a specified time, I would read the book in one go and then immediately start again. I made a mental note of the number of books left for me to complete each series — I think this is where my love for checklists started.
So many of my relationships were built on the basis of those books too. I regularly traveled to my grandmother’s house, where there was a cabinet full of Enid Blytons to read. Some were procured from a classmate’s mother. The classmate in question, M, wasn’t much of a reader, but her mother had a wonderful collection of Enid Blytons from her own childhood. I still remember she had the missing book in the Barney Mystery series that I needed, to complete the series. In the process of begging for those books, I became pretty close to M and her mother.
It was easy enough to find copies of the usual Blytons — the Famous Fives, Secret Sevens, Five Find-Outers, and the Boarding School stories. But some of my favourites are not the usual ones. In fact, some of them don’t come up often in conversations or in bookstores. The best bet for me, as a child, was to hope that someone’s family had a copy of them hidden somewhere. As I grew older, I would buy them for my bookshelf wherever I could find copies: second-hand bookstores, books by weight sales, a library cafe.
In time of course, I also understood the problems with the books. And there were many. Critics and scholars can’t stop talking about them. The gender roles are messed up, and Blyton is racist and xenophobic. You can’t ignore these problems as an adult reader of her works. And they are undeniable. When I reread the books now, I read with full knowledge and awareness of the problems. But the books are still thrilling to read, and the children's adventures fascinating.
On Enid Blyton’s 125th birth anniversary, let me share a list of her underrated books that you might have missed. These books are equally adventure-ridden and share some of the same values that Enid Blyton is so well-known (and often criticised for).
The Adventurous Four: Siblings Tom, Jill, and Mary find themselves in a fishing village on holiday, where they make friends with Andy. Andy, a little older than them, is a young fisherboy, used to being out on the sea in all weather conditions to help his father. They take the boat out for a picnic and get caught in a storm. In the process, they unearth some national security threats. The two books in the series, The Adventurous Four and The Adventurous Four Again, are full of thrilling adventure and some extremely dangerous men popping up in unexpected places. But Andy’s street smartness is usually enough to combat whatever danger is upon them, and they manage to return safe and sound.
The Family at Red Roofs: A new family takes up the beautiful house in the village, Red Roofs. Molly, Peter, Michael, and Shirley have regular lives and loving parents. Till, one day, everything comes crashing down, and the children are forced to become adults earlier than their time. The children deal with their problems with maturity but not without a shred of grief at their lost childhood. That stood out for me: the children don’t bear their troubles with a smile but actually mourn their losses. It’s fascinating how they make a success of their lives, though.
The Children at Green Meadows: Francis, Claire, and Sam are mad about animals and turn their home Green Meadows into some sort of makeshift animal shelter. In the process, they make some great friends and are helped by the people whose animals they are helping. It’s a warm, feel-good novel, Blyton at her best, with her typical fondness for all kinds of animals and children who care for them.
The Rilloby Fair Mystery: There’s always some sort of adventure when Roger, Diana, Snubby, and Barney get together with Loony, the dog, and Miranda, the monkey. But this particular Mystery remains a favourite with Snubby’s tales of the Green Hands Gang, the children’s attempts to keep things hidden from the adults, and all kinds of characters at the Fair. The mystery, too, is one of the better ones in the series, and the conclusion of it is fascinating and scary in equal parts.
The Secret of Killimooin: The Secret Series featuring Jack, Mike, Nora, and Peggy are all underrated and brilliant, but The Secret of Killimooin stands out for the danger it poses and the new country it introduces — Prince Paul’s kingdom, Killimooin. As state guests, the children get all kinds of privileges but are also caught up in a mystery with an unknown tribe, who live hidden in the mountains. The new mountainous setting and the dangerous expedition stand out, though, of course, the boys have all the fun while Nora and Peggy sit and wait for them to come back successful in their quest.
Shreemayee Das writes on entertainment, education, and relationships. She is based in Mumbai, and posts as @weepli on Instagram and Twitter