Thursday, September 4, 2008


In a poll to determine Britain's best-loved authors, Enid Blyton, a children's author, came out tops, ahead of J. K. Rowling, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.

I cheered; because her books are the ones that turned me on to reading.

I was about nine when my brother, no doubt tired of his pesky little sister bugging him to play, threw me an Enid Blyton book. I continued to bug him, to ask him meanings of words, but his ploy eventually worked. I was so caught up with the story and the characters that I simply skipped over all the words I didn't know and read on.

That was it. I was hooked. I raided his bookcase for all the Enid Blyton books I could find. I especially loved the Famous Five and Mallory Tower books and read them at least three or four times each. I even wrote a story that took place in a boarding school in England even though I'd never been to a boarding school and knew nothing about England.

Maybe Blyton's writing cannot withstand literary scrutiny, maybe her views are old-fashioned, but she had something special. I don't know what it is: ability to tell a good story, desire to create memorable characters, understanding for her young readers? Whatever it is, she paved the way to a much richer life for me, and probably all the adults who participated in that poll. I wouldn't be surprised that in thirty years' time, Rowling would be the chosen author in a similar poll.

Maybe you can argue that the list is ridiculous, but it is a best-loved list, in which people voted not on literary merits but how much they love the books. It should at least give us pause when we re-consider the reason we write.

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