Thursday, April 19, 2012

Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton's most notorious book. Not racist at all
say her defenders, just good old fashioned fun. 
Some time ago we were given a bundle of books including The Naughtiest Girl In School Again by Enid Blyton whom I had read as a kid but who was effectively destroyed in my mind forever by The Comic Strip Presents: Five Go Mad In Dorset which came out when I had just left primary school. Enid Blyton however is still quite popular in England and very popular here in Australia. Last night, hunting around for something to read to my daughter Sophie before bed I grabbed TNGISA. It begins with a recapitulation of the adventures of The Naughiest Girl In School where, apparently, the young heroine, Elizabeth, is sent off to boarding school at a tender age but is so upset by the experience of leaving home and missing her mummy that she decides to become the naughiest girl in school and get expelled. This sounds like a pretty good strategy and a nice tool for exposing the perverse cruelty of the English boarding school system, but unfortunately at the end of book 1, it seems that, rather like at the end of 1984, Elizabeth comes back not a rebel but a zealous convert to the system. This passage sent chills down my spine: 

Elizabeth had told her mother all about the Whyteleafe School. It was a school for boys and girls together, and the children ruled themselves, and were seldom punished by the masters or the mistresses.  Every week a big school Meeting was held, and all the children had to attend. The head boy and girl were the Judges, and twelves monitors, chosen by the children themselves were the Jury. Any grumbles or complaints had to be brought to the Meeting, and if any child had behaved wrongly, the children themselves thought out a suitable punishment. Poor Elizabeth had suffered badly at the weekly meetings, for she had been so naughty and disobedient and broken every rule in the school.

I'm not sure if this was written before or after Lord of the Flies but as any educator will tell you, children are often far more tyranical and cruel to their fellows than their teachers. But poor little brainwashed Elizabeth accepts and loves this inverted system with its kangaroo courts and summary justice. She feels sorry for the common children who don't get the privilege of being sent away to such a wonderful place as Whyteleafe. 
In a way the Harry Potter stories are simply a modern update of this rather vulgar idea. That is, the idea of the special child, separated from the dull, common herd and sent away from their parents to a place where they will face trials and tribulations but will ultimately come out steely and strong and ready to rule the lesser breeds of the Empire the Muggles. I'm afraid I couldn't really stomach much more of The Naughtiest Girl Again so I don't know how it turns out, but I can't imagine a denouement where Elizabeth burns the school down or drives the pupils to open revolt like Lindsay Anderson's terrific If (which would have made an awesome ending for the Potter series too).