As a child in the 1970s, I avidly read much Enid Blyton. My favourite was the mischievous trickster Brer Rabbit, always getting the better of Brer Fox and Brer Wolf and Brer Bear with his quick wit.
It was only when I re-read a few of the stories about a decade ago that I realised, to my dismay, that Brer Rabbit is not exactly a laudable hero. He is a con-artist and a fraudster, forever taking advantage of the trust and good nature of those around him. He is what the English, of a later generation and lower social class than Mrs Blyton, would call a spiv.
From the 1980s onward, Enid Blyton has been regarded as a literary persona non grata in children’s literature by many who are too clever to believe in witches but who are still willing to burn them. She is regarded as misogynistic and racist, through her portrayal of women as weak characters in her books, and through the inclusion of golliwogs (sometimes even as the heroes, rather than as the villains).
Some even read a homo-erotic relationship into the friendship between Noddy of Toytown and his elderly neighbour Big Ears. (Whether this is seen as a thought crime in the same light as the issues raised in the previous paragraph, I leave to you, gentle reader.)
You can read what you like into Blyton. Some of her greatest critics in 1980s England were the sort of people who ruled the Greater London Council, who banned the use of the terms ‘black’ or ‘white’ coffee from the workplace, because such terms were racist (instead you had to ask for coffee with or without milk).
Getting back to Brer Rabbit. Perhaps his subliminal influence as a trickster inspired the corporate fraudsters who plagued the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, like Nick Leeson of Barings Bank fame. Maybe he read too much of Blyton’s Brer Rabbit trilogy as a child?
I never read any of her secret society stories, ie the Famous Five and Secret Six. You might argue that those inspired people, when grown to nominal adulthood (like a cretinous former friend of mine) to join real secret societies like the Freemasons (or perchance bondage dungeons?).
But I do have a passing acquaintance with Noddy of Toytown, the hero of a series of stories for younger readers, complete with colourful illustrations.
Noddy, relationship with Big Ears aside, is the most inappropriate of Blyton’s characters, when reviewed through the eyes of her modern day critics. But they have tried to save him, with some careful historical revisionism to make him socially acceptable to the 21st century reader.
Let’s compare, and then comment, on the two covers of the highly inappropriate ‘Noddy Goes To School’. First the original, and then the sanitised one.
I think you can see a subtle difference there. The Golliwog (whose name, by the way, is Gilbert), has been removed. Exiled from Toytown, if you will. He has been replaced by a monkey.
Another subtle difference is that the slipper on the wall in the original version has been removed. This is consistent with the removal of a passage from the original story, in which one of the naughty children is asked to ‘fetch the slipper’ by the teacher, so that she can give him a spanking. Corporal punishment is a no-no these days.
I think that a more savage assessment of Noddy’s modern revisionist editors could be offered. Poet and literary critic TS Eliot was scathing about the translators of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, whom he said were atheists without even realising it. In the revisionist Noddy, not only is Gilbert Golliwog exiled, but he is replaced as the principal antagonist of the story by a ‘cheeky monkey’.
You could say that not only are the characters of colour erased from Toytown completely by those revisionists, but they have chosen a ‘cheeky monkey’ as a replacement in a denial of their humanity. Those revisionists may be well meaning, in the same way that many ideological zealots are, including when they send people to the gulags, but a case could clearly be made that they are racist without even realising it, the very thought crime of which they accused Enid Blyton.