Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What did Enid Blyton just do to my brain?

I decided to read The Enchanted Forest by Enid Blyton just because Noel Fielding and a home baker mentioned it in the Great British Bake-Off.

Enid Blyton is an interesting author. She was a one-woman writing machine who wrote literally hundreds of children’s books that have been cultural touchstones in England and other countries for generations. She has also been accused of being classist, sexist, racist to the point of xenophobic and having a writing style that is simplistic drivel. 

I’ve only read a couple of her books but, from the tiny representation I’ve read, yeah, that sounds about right.

Her work honestly reads like Victorian kiddy books but they were written and published in a post-Edwardian world. Heck, most of it was written after World War II so it doesn’t have the ‘fair for its day’ excuse. As for the writing style, I have read far more than any healthy human should of the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s books. They are the epitome of literary extruded matter and the writing is still better. (I don’t have a problem believing Blyton did all the writing herself without any ghost writers, though)

And, yes, I understand that a big part of her appeal is a yearning for a simpler, more innocent time that never actually existed. She’s also easy to read for very young readers. But those aren’t necessarily good things.

Okay. Enough bashing Enid Blyton in general. The Enchanted Forest.

Three kids move to the countryside and just happen to end up next to a magical forest. The highlight of the forest is the Faraway Tree, which is an interdimensional portal. Basically, the top of the tree pokes into other worlds. So the kids wander into other worlds and have silly adventures. That’s pretty much the book in a nutshell.

All right. A few years ago, I decided to read every fantasy work that L. Frank Baum wrote. Which mean that I read Dot and Tot of Merryland, which was one of the most twee things I had ever read. At that time. It made The Waterbabies look like Paradise Lost. I could literally write an essay making a point by point comparison how Dot and Tot has better characterization, plot structure and world building than The Enchanted Forest.

I don’t expect deep characters in a book for the young but not only are the three kids virtually interchangeable, they have a disturbing lack of any sense of self-preservation even for free-range kids in a nursery tale fantasy land. But the mom letting them go off with an inhabitant of the tree, even though he’s a stranger who she openly doesn’t trust, takes the cake. That crossed the line from ‘it was a different time’ to ‘wow, that’s horrible parenting.’

If there was a story arc, I couldn’t find it. After the kids find the Faraway Tree and understand how it works, it’s like Enid Blyton used a random encounter chart to write the rest of the book. If the book had been published in installments, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

The one-note magical lands don’t actually bother me as far as world building is coming concerned. The answer to any questions I have is ‘magic did it’ and that works perfectly fine. They still push the one-note element father than I think I have ever seen. Each world is literally one thing, as well as apparently only a few acres big.

The Enchanted Forest is so vapid that I actually wondered if that was the point, that the book was a parody of the genre. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, that wasn’t the case. I was hoping for light distraction but got morbid fascination instead. 

And, yes, I will probably read the next book.

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