Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The assault on the Enid Blyton books

A comment from Australia below on the wonderful children's books by English author Enid Blyton.  I was a keen reader of them myself in my now long-gone childhood.  The stories are set in England in the first half of the 20th century and so use "prewar" English idioms.  The owners of the copyright, however, do from time to time reissue the books with "modernized" language in them.  Like the writer below, I regard that as a great loss -- JR

I went on ABC Radio in Melbourne yesterday to talk about Enid Blyton‘s latest bout with the rewrite man (or woman). Now, we all know that the Famous Five and Secret Seven books have been tinkered with in the past to remove what were seen as sexist and racist themes. Personally I don’t think that was necessary, but I can see why some people did and I don’t have a huge argument with them.

But this latest rewrite, to “update” the language of Blyton’s young characters, to edit out their goshes and gollys and make their speech “timeless” (read of this time), is, as I said on radio, absolute nonsense. Here’s how Marlene Johnson, head of Hachette’s children’s books in the UK, explained the decision:

"These days you don’t talk about jolly japes to kids."
She’s right, but so what? Kids these days don’t eat tinned tongue either, so do we rewrite the books to replace that staple foodstuff with a cheeseburger and fries?

And one of the stranger changes is to replace “peculiar”, such a lovely word, with the blander “strange”. Mercy me!

When I first read one of Blyton’s stories to my 7yo he was amazed and disgusted to learn that the kids in it ate tongue. It was wonderful to share that with him.

And this is my point: I love reading books to my son that expose him to the concept that people behaved differently in different times, and spoke differently. And that people in different nations have different customs and so on. I believe this is called learning!

This doesn’t apply only to old books either. My son loves Jeff Kinney‘s Wimpy Kid books, and when reading them I often have to explain American references that he doesn’t get. “In America," I say, “they call a footpath a sidewalk”, and so on. Only last night I had to did deep to explain the words Barry Manilow .

I think this sort of thing, working out that that there are different words that mean the same thing in different places, is good for the nimbleness of one’s brain, like doing the crossword. And the more you do it, the better you get. A few days ago we were reading an American book and the word "nimrod" came up. I asked the boy if he knew what a nimrod was and was pleased that he’d worked it out from the context. “A dickhead," he replied.



Bird of Paradise said...

Liberals want all kids book to conform to PC new age poppycock

Anonymous said...

liberals have many phobias unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

conservatives are insane unfortunately

Anonymous said...

2:57 - perfect example of the phobia side speaking. I do not take offense.

Anonymous said...

I guess we all (or should) eventually get over the era-related prejudices inculcated by our parents and grandparents (and their co-generations) -it's almost too embarrassing to look back on - if not traumatizing! So be VERY careful what you say to your young children, grandchildren/relatives!

f said...

". . .- if not traumatizing!. . ."

Therein lies the problem with liberals. It is too painful to remember what life was like, events that happened, language that was used in the past.

Apparently "nimrod' is a much more destructive word than 'dickhead', we shouldn't be aware that slavery was a fact of life (it still is in parts of the world), that various nationalities were disparaged when the first came to the U.S., etc.

So, in their drive to make a perfect world we must protect our children's frail psyches by changing words and making sure they know only peace, happiness and light.

And, 3:24, you were being sarcastic, weren't you?

Anonymous said...

They try the same thing now and again with Huck Finn.. From banning it to trying to modernize it. Leftists are big about book burnings.

Anonymous said...

From this Aussie I would have thought 'Nimrod' closer to dork, dweeb, or loser rather than the much coarser and vulgar 'dickhead'.

Anonymous said...

One word describes those for whom Enid Blyton is but a deceased cash cow

Prigs ....... all.

The erasure of all that is British, in both memory and people.

When will you stand White Men and Women of Britain ?

You know this to be true..... The British of the 40's and 50's did not wittingly fight for this "Britain" did they ?

Neither did Enid Blyton write for this "Britain".

jonjayray said...


This usage is thought likely to have originated with the classic cartoon character Bugs Bunny, who referred to Elmer Fudd as a "poor little Nimrod."[1] While this was most likely meant to refer sarcastically to the biblical Nimrod, the word came to connote one who was easily confounded.

Another explanation for this usage derives from the John Steinbeck memoir Travels with Charley: In Search of America, in which Steinbeck used the term sarcastically while describing an inquest after a hunter accidentally shot his partner: "The coroner questioning this nimrod..."[2]

The Oxford English Dictionary, however, cites a 1933 writing as the first usage of nimrod to refer to a fool, predating Bugs Bunny by at least five years and Steinbeck by nearly thirty.[3] However, this could still have been used in the sense of a hunter (i.e. someone pursuing a love interest).

Another possible explanation is from the play entitled "The Lion of the West" by James Paulding. First performed in 1831, it features a comedic characterization of Davy Crockett named Col. Nimrod Wildfire who attempts to woo a young French woman. Subsequent reference may refer to this character.

Nameless Cynic said...

How can you possibly blame the language being updated on liberals? Where does liberalism even creep in here? It's modernization. Period. Unless you want to say that conservativism is all about preventing progress, you have a pretty weak argument there.

On an unrelated note, tongue is not inedible, but I'm not going to go looking for it. And it can be fairly tough - it's a muscle that gets used constantly, after all - and I would suspect that "tinned tongue" is doubly so.)