Children, Language and Meddling

When I grew up, I was fond of Enid Blyton books. I think she told good stories. It was cool how kids were given free reign to do extraordinary things. She did very well at writing books for very different levels of reading. Noddy was for very young kids, Secret Seven was at a lower level of reading than Famous Five. She told the adventure/detective stories like Seret seven and Famous Five, but also much more fairy tale and fantasy with things like the Wishing Chair and The Faraway Tree series, I enjoyed the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s series, and all of this was fairly far removed from my own experiences.

It seems to be the case that the world of the not-fantasy Blyton books, that innocent, idealised, Fifties England (we assume it’s England, at any rate), never really existed. Except in our heads. And that’s OK.

In recent times, kids have been absorbed into the fantasy world of Harry Potter. At school I remember being exposed to a bit of Chaucer, and I think we’re still teaching kids Shakespeare. Expelliarmus and forsooth.

There are worlds, like Chaucer’s and Dickens’ and Shakespeare’s, that expose us to English cultures that are very different to the culture of today. We joke, of course, that we wish these books had been written in English (even without the assistance of General Chang). we expect kids to be able to grasp differences in culture and language (sometimes with the aid of footnotes. “Get thee to a nunnery!”).

Worlds like Harry Potter’s, Middle-Earth, and (not so much for kids but worth mentioning) the world of Stephen King’s Dark Tower (do ya kennit?) invite us to learn new languages, as a significant aid for introducing these new places to us.

This isn’t exclusively the realm of books we expose older children to. If you think that way, you really haven’t read enough Dr. Seuss, who sometimes writes in an exaggerated real-ish world, sometimes in super-crazy nonsense world, and sometimes switching between those places where it doesn’t make any sense.

And of course, it’s not just these. Gilbert & Sullivan. The Eragon books. Jane Austen. And it’s not just books: Disney (bibbedy-bobbedy-boo, supercalifragilisticexpialedocious). Doctor Who. Star Trek (“taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vlqelnlS. quv’a’, yabDaq San vaQ cha, pu’ je SIQDI’? pagh, Seng blQ’a’Hey SuvmeH nuHmey SuqDI’, ‘ej, Suvmo’, rlnmoHDI’?“).

And as a rule, even when we do revise the text (there’s been modern-day retellings of Shakespeare, for instance), the original versions are widely available.

So I don’t understand the revisionism we see with Enid Blyton books.

The word “queer” gets changed to “weird”, “gay” gets changed, too (probably to “happy”?). Spankings get changed to something more politically correct. We can explain Chaucer and Shakespeare to kids, but can’t explain slightly archaic uses of words, or the fairly recent cultural appropriateness of corporal punishment?

“Dick” and “Fanny” get renamed to “Rick” and “Franny”. I know people with these names. If kids can’t get their giggles out of the way while reading the books, and getting invested in the characters, what happens if they meet people with these names (or hear secondhand of someone with these names)? Especially if they find out about the doctoring of these books.

I find it disappointing that I can’t be sure my kids are reading the same books that I read. That I probably didn’t read quite the same books that my parents read. That the publishers don’t trust my kids with Blyton, the way that they (and the schools) trust them with Shakespeare or Chaucer. That they respect practically every other author enough to not rewrite their work, but don’t respect Mrs Blyton enough to give her the same courtesy. That it’s just about impossible for the general public to find the text as-originally-published (not to completely dismiss the role of the editor), even just for comparison. Heck, when buying the Secret Seven books for Oldest recently, prior to purchase I couldn’t find out which revision of the text it was (I don’t think that anybody’s been able to keep track of the incremental changes that have happened over the years – I went looking).

I might joke about the publishers needing forty lashings, but I’d much prefer the original texts as an option. Let the market decide how much the revisions are worth (you can tell my opinion).

I’ll keep the lashings of ginger beer, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>