As a child, I was a great fan of The Famous Five, and read just about any Enid Blyton books I could get my hands on. As an adult, I’ve not re-read them, probably because I’m pretty sure the experience would be disappointing. However, having been such a reader of them in the past, I was keen to read Enid Blyton: The Biography.
Authorised by one of Enid Blyton’s daughters, it’s written by Barbara Stoney. First written in the 1970s, less than a decade after Blyton’s 1968 death, an updated edition was released in 2006. Stoney spent a huge amount of time researching the author, and had unprecedented access to letters and diaries, as well as interviewing people who knew or met Enid personally or professionally.
Enid Blyton was an incredibly prolific author who wrote far more than I realised. It was fascinating to read how she developed her craft, from writing poems as a teenager, to working as a teacher and writing newsletters for teachers and students, although she started out wanting to write for adults. It was through the newsletter and the poems and short stories for children that she progressed onto novels and other formats including magazines, comics, and plays.
Long before today’s commercially successful children’s authors and publishers, Enid Blyton also developed her own brand. It was amazing to discover how for years, starting in the 1920s, she received hundreds of letters from children each week, even before her novels were published. She also created children’s clubs for her readers, and each club benefited a cause like children with disabilities or animal welfare.
Enid Blyton was however a complicated and complex woman whose life was surely impacted by a difficult childhood. Born in 1897, she left home to study and appears to have been mostly estranged from her family, living a very private and relatively isolated life. She had a compulsive, perhaps almost obsessive, desire to write, and a ‘card index’ memory that served her well in doing so.
Enid Blyton died at 71 following an illness which sounds like dementia or Alzheimer’s, although the biography doesn’t specify it, instead describing her as retreating into her imagination and happier early days.
Controversy and criticism plagued particularly the later years of her career, but Enid Blyton wrote for children and they kept buying and reading her books, which was what mattered to her. Her stories were certainly a product of the times, yet even now, millions of Enid Blyton books are sold each year.
Whether or not you’re a fan, I recommend Enid Blyton: The Biography as a valuable insight into one of the world’s most popular children’s authors. Enid Blyton is a phenomenon whose stories continue to live on as long as readers read and enjoy them.
Title: Enid Blyton: The Biography
Author: Barbara Stoney
Publisher: The History Press, $32.99/$13.19
Publication Date: 2006/2011
For ages: 12+