At age four, I remember a light green hard bound book with dog eared pages and a colourful pciture on the cover, thrust in my hands. I remember Noddy, whose blue cap and red shorts remain etched in my mind even now after twenty years. Noddy and his friends- who fascinated me. I was in another world as words and pictures weaved magic.
I was then introduced to the Magic Faraway Tree – Jo, Bessie, Fanny and their magical friends Moon face, Silky and Saucepan man. A world where children had amazing adventures in the woods where an old enchanted tree stood and spoke an English which was so different from mine. Who would say words like smashing, golly and gosh.
I read about boarding school travails in the Malory Towers series and saw Darryl Rivers grow into a young woman. I drew parallels of my classmates with Gwendoline, Alicia and the rest of the gang. I heard about fascinating sports like lacrosse and mid night feasts of cakes. Even now, Darryl reminds me of my elder sister – short tempered, intelligent and caring. I always identified with her younger sister Felicity.
Then came the Five Find Outers - Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets and Famous Five George, Dick, Julian, Anne and Timmy, followed by Secret Seven. Their mysteries in small English villages, where they travelled on cycles, ate hot scones and jacket potato and drank tea with cream and ginger ale. They found thieves in caravans, lived in cottages, went to fairs, encountered gypsies, and went for camping trips and found adventures in caves, highlands and moors. A world so removed from mine.
Enid Blyton’s books have been such an important part of my early years, memories of hot summer days, my nose buried in reading, visualizing their adventures, living them through those words. I absolutely devoured all the Blyton books I could lay hands on – school library and the local library near home unaware that in Britain these books were in a midst of debate – depicting middle class England and being politically incorrect.
And now Disney has recycled the ‘Famous Five’ and put the characters in a new setting with multi ethnic identities. The characters are now not in idyllic England instead they are in sunny California, they eat pizza, guzzle coke and use laptops and mobile phones. The Enid Blyton loyalists and ardent fans like me will scream blue murder. My favourite books and characters are been given a face lift I don’t want. I wish instead of repackaging the classic and giving a generation leap (à la saas-bahu serials!) they could have started a new series.
I came across some interesting view points in British and Scottish media. The opinion column of Scotsman says-
“In an act of sheer literary vandalism, Disney – who else? – has stripped the very heart out of Enid Blyton's adventures and characters and in their place offered up a pale imitation of Scooby-Doo.”
While Times opinion column says-
“What are we doing to these well-loved characters?... Our longest waiting lists were for the Famous Five books.” Funnily enough, it goes on to add an ‘immigrant’ angle. While the regular news story is more ‘politically correct’.
While everyone has been harping about adding an Anglo-Indian character in the new series no one has analyzed why such a character has been introduced. I believe it shows the cultural influence of India and growth of its soft powers. I also think Chorion and Disney are trying to appeal to a wider audience – a large chunk of which may be South Asian or Indian.
Here’s hoping Jyoti and her gang don’t stray too far from the original! I wouldn’t want Enid Blyton turning in her grave.