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"Modernising" Enid Blyton books

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  • "Modernising" Enid Blyton books

    I just read a bunch of articles about Enid Blyton's books having changes to them made in recent years so that they can avoid being offensive or outdated.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010...-five-makeover
    http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/culturev...nd_of_doa.html
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...hasing-us.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enid_Blyton

    Changes apparently include things along the lines of:
    - replacing/removing words such as "fellow", "peculiar", and "jolly". Also changing words which changed in meaning over time, such as "gay" to happy, "queer" to strange, etc.
    - altering plots so that boys do their share of the housework
    - changing Dame Slap to Dame Snap and having her yell at people rather than hitting them.
    - altering times in Malory Towers/St Clares and so forth when characters were "spanked" to them being "scolded"
    - removing racist references like golliwogs, and changing tinkers to travellers.
    - ...changing "biscuits" to "cookies" to appeal to an American audience.
    - name changes such as Bessie to Beth, Jo to Joe, Fanny to Frannie, Dick to Rick, Mary to Pippa, Jill to Zoe.

    I find it interesting as let's face it, Blyton was writing a long time ago and has plenty of content that would rightly go down badly if written today. There are some changes which would have to be made in order for anyone to give the books to little kids without explaining that times were different back when Blyton wrote. But many of the little phrasing changes made to phrasing (like "mother" to "mum", and not saying "jolly") in order to modernise it annoy me a lot.

    One point in one of the articles above: "The settings and the characters' names and attitudes reflect the time in which they were written. How absurdly anachronistic, then, to have a contemporary Pippa and Zoe munching 'cookies' in a post-war kitchen where a maid bustles around filling a picnic hamper."

  • #2
    You might find this thread interesting reading.

    It can be particularly tricky with children's books however IMO: an adult can be expected to consider the time and context of the writing of a book; a child less so. I'm not sure what way I'd jump.

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    • #3
      They might as well have written whole new books. I've never read any of them, myself, but it's my understanding that they reflect the times. It looks like the books are being readied for a film tie-in, Dreamworks bought the rights a couple of years ago according to Wikipedia. Seriously, if they wanted something more contemporary, they should have just written new books instead of whitewashing old ones.

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      • #4
        Let me preface my remarks below by noting that Blyton's books aren't exactly "great literature" in the first place and so I don't see revising her books posthumously in order to make them more 'relevant' to modern readers as the literary equivalent of doing this.

        Originally posted by K.A. Maybury View Post
        Changes apparently include things along the lines of:
        - replacing/removing words such as "fellow", "peculiar", and "jolly". Also changing words which changed in meaning over time, such as "gay" to happy, "queer" to strange, etc.
        I don't see an issue here except from the purist postion of nothing must change ever; the purpose of words is to convey meaning and if the meaning of words changes then it can't be wrong to change the original words in order to maintain the original, intended, meaning - unless you believe introducing ambiguity to the original work to be an improvement.

        - altering plots so that boys do their share of the housework
        This doesn't seem problematic to me in principle, assuming these are incidental alterations. If the girls are washing up and the boys out playing football and then the plot fundemental starts I don't see that it necessarily matters if one or other of the genders is swapped. This happens all the time in modern productions of Shakespeare with parts originally written/performed as male are performed by actresses where the gender of the character is entirely incidental to the plot (i.e. I've seen productions of Hamlet where either Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern has undergone a gender reassignment from male to female without any impact on the outcome of the play).

        - changing Dame Slap to Dame Snap and having her yell at people rather than hitting them.
        - altering times in Malory Towers/St Clares and so forth when characters were "spanked" to them being "scolded"
        Given that corporal punishment has been illegal in schools for decades now and physical chastisement of children has very strict parameters this doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

        - removing racist references like golliwogs, and changing tinkers to travellers.
        Alan Moore makes the argument in his 'last ever interview' that the Golliwogg, as devised by his original creator Florence Upton, isn't a racist character. Blyton, unfortunately, was one of many subsequent authors to fundementally alter the character of the Golliwogg, making her versions 'rude and untrustworthy' so while I'm kind of sorry to see the Golliwogg excised from the Noddy books I also feel that 'goblins' fit those particular characters better than continuing to sully the Upton Gollywogg's good name. (Besides, anything the Nazis banned can't be all bad. )

        - ...changing "biscuits" to "cookies" to appeal to an American audience.
        According to Wikipedia, "In AmE a biscuit is what in BrE is called a scone", so this falls into the 'original meaning' fix I mentioned in the first point. That said, as a British reader I'd prefer these sort of changes only applied to American editions rather than 'infecting' British editions.

        - name changes such as Bessie to Beth, Jo to Joe, Fanny to Frannie, Dick to Rick, Mary to Pippa, Jill to Zoe.
        I'd always assumed that 'Jo' was a girl based on the spelling so was surprised to discovered she was actually a 'he' when I heard a radio broadcast of The Faraway Tree last year so a revision to removed that confusion makes sense to me. 'Fanny' has different meanings depending on whether you're American or British, though I'd opt for 'Annie' rather 'Frannie' personally. But while 'Dick' has an obvious alternate meaning it doesn't seem to have presented too many problems for Dick Cheney, Dick Dastardly, Dick Turpin or Dick Grayson and I can't see the rationale for changing Mary or Jill, which seem perfectly sensible names to me.

        In the final analysis, given the immense popularity of the Blyton books over the years, if someone prefers to read her original, unaltered, 'uncensored' versions then it shouldn't be overly difficult to track down copies. (I have a copy of Christie's Ten Little Niggers bought in a secondhand shop years after it was re-titled And Then There Were None.) As such I'm not inclined to feel precious about modern editions making sympathetic alterations to her stories to bring them more in line with modern sensibilities.

        _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
        _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
        _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
        _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

        Comment


        • #5
          The Worst Title In Literary History. This article might have relevance here, not because it relates to Blyton specifically but because it shows how words and attitudes change. It's hard to believe that that Fontana edition was published in the late 70s...
          'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

          Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

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          • #6
            It would be interesiting to see how the sales of Blynon books are doing now. I read about three, but did not find them that interesting, more interested in Edgar Rice Burroughs or Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators by then. I was a slow starer.

            Incidentally, the Swanage YHA is booked up months before hand. That part of the Dorset was where Enid spent a lot of time and Corfe Castle even has an Enid Blyton shop. I think Corfe is meant to be in the Famous Five, but I think of the castle in Pavane by Keith Roberts.
            Papa was a Rolling Stone......

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by David Mosley View Post
              Let me preface my remarks below by noting that Blyton's books aren't exactly "great literature" in the first place and so I don't see revising her books posthumously in order to make them more 'relevant' to modern readers as the literary equivalent of doing this.
              I don't agree at all (at least I don't think I do, so long as I can't make that pesky link of comparison work).

              I will go so far as to say that it's o.k. to do revised editions in that way, if the proper estate wishes to, AND!!! if they make it thoroughly clear that the new edition is not the original work, but a commercial exploit.

              "Queer" and "gay", certainly, were both terms that had the same ambiguity in Blyton's days as in ours... and Christie's "nigger" is certainly beyond misinterpretation. Just because The Great British Empire has shifted its position, that's no excuse to try to cover up its crimes of the past.

              Next thing I know, they'll have Sherlock Holmes eating stalks of celeries instead of smoking opium in a pibe. It may be didactic and politically correct according to current fashion... but it's still as much a revision of history as anything we always blamed the Soviet Union for doing.

              And if we begin dividing works into "great literature" and "unworthy pop" (or whatever the term we might come up with) to decide which works should be above tinkering, then we're so knee-deep in Soviet practices that it approaches Stalisnism.
              Last edited by Jagged; 06-25-2014, 12:53 PM.
              "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.

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              • #8
                It's vandalism. And fraud, you can't put the author's name on something they never wrote. If you don't like the original version, write your own damn book.
                The Ralph Retort

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