Stories of Long Ago is actually the name of one of the many Enid Blyton books I own, but in this context it has a double entendre because I'm really talking about my long ago. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton. She was pretty much a mainstay of a British child's library in the....I want to say 70's, which was when I was reading her books, but I have at least a half dozen books - hardcover and plainly bound - from the 50's that belonged to my Aunt Val when she was young too.
So tonight, sitting here relaxing on a snowy evening, I picked up a book one of the girls had left on the coffee table: Enid Blyton's Bedtime Story Book.
The books I remember were all series books: The Secret Seven, The Adventure series, Mallory Towers, St Clair, the Brownie and Fairy books, Mr. Pink Whistle, Noddy and Big Ears, Mr. Meddle, The Magic Faraway Tree, and of course that watershed series of my own childhood - The Famous Five.
But I remember books like
Enid Blyton's Bedtime Story Book too. Stories about children and nurseries and toys and magical creatures. And the food, oh-my-gosh the food. Treacle Pudding, sticky buns, Tippy Toppy Tarts (no ideas, but they sound delightful), ginger beer, sausages, sandwiches.... I get almost as hungry reading Enid Blyton (even as I type, Andrew is off in the kitchen concocting something yummy for me) as I do reading Dickens.
So it was something of a shock glancing through as an adult. Oh, I know the stories are dated, but it's part of their charm. What surprised me was the moral underpinnings of all the stories.
There is Dame Poke-Around (and seriously, who invented the word Dame? Ick.) who is taught a moral lesson when she talks everyone in the village she is visiting not to contribute money to someone whose house just burned down, only to get home and find it was her house. Subtle, if you like sledge hammers over the head. Also extremely predictable.
Or Tig and Tag, the quarrelsome brownies who lose their bag of juicy apples to goblins, Snick and Snack after Snick and Snack incite the duo into an argument. Not only do Tig and Tag learn their lesson, but Dame Enid (I must assume) doesn't let greedy Snick and Snack off the hook either and sends them both home with tummy ache "which really served them right for they shouldn't have taken those apples."
Then there is poor Peter, who on his birthday gets a brand new bike. But does he listen to his mother who says he must learn the Highway Code before he takes it out? Oh no. Poor Peter goes for a ride anyway while Mom is on the phone, and ends up spending his birthday in hospital with a broken leg. A cautionary tale if there ever was one.
Greedy rabbits, cheeky children ("What he wanted was a good spanking, but nobody gave him that which was a great pity."), tiresome brownies, forgetful schoolboys, untidy pixies...they are all in here, learning their lesson, making me cringe.
I am now almost afraid to revisit The Famous Five. What if they too are preachy and condescending? Oh, the horror?
PS: as an aside, I am thinking of other books my kids might like. Ideas welcome. Erik is reading the classics this year (or some of them, at least). Was thinking of The Secret Garden for Anna. Or if I can find it, Tom's Midnight Garden which I loved as a kid. Black Beauty? Watership Down? The Hobbit? Grace is doing Harry Potter - as soon as I rediscover what we did with the first book. I know it's on a shelf somewhere...