I’ve been reading a lot of Enid Blyton recently. From her gloriously mad autobiography through to the Famous Five, her mark on children’s literature remains arguably unsurpassed. And when I was on holiday in France recently, I was startled and then greatly pleased to see rows and rows of freshly issued Blyton books in the supermarkets.
I’ve been reading a lot of very excellent articles recently on the nature of women characters. Zoe Marriott is very interesting on the topic. In a post titled “REAL GIRLS, FAKE GIRLS, EVERYBODY HATES GIRLS”, she talks about the nature of female characters in children’s literature and the reaction to them in comparison to the male characters. It’s a heartfelt, passionate read and one worth dwelling on.
It seems to have been a bit of a week for passionate oratory. In “I hate strong female characters”, Sophia McDougall talks about how male characters such as Sherlock Holmes get to be ”brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”
And all that leads me to think about Anne.
TVTropes defines her as The Chick and the official website refers to her as being “a little bit absent minded but loves to look after the other members of the Famous Five especially if it involves making them a delicious picnic!”.
Want to know the truth?
It’s all lies.
As outlandish as it seems, there really *was* an Anne. She lived in Bourne End and played with Gillian and Imogen, Enid’s children. I discovered this purely through happenstance, turning left in the library instead of right and going to the fourth floor instead of the third, and picking up the interesting looking book on the bottom shelf. And then there was a note inside it which made me sit down and hyperventilate just a little bit.
A transcription of the note follows:
TO THE FINDER.
Hello! I sort of hope you’re not reading this. I’ve hidden it in a book that I think may never be read [ed. note: The book Anne refers to is 'Aesthetics of Copper Saucepans'.] and in a way I hope it isn’t. The writing of this is proving salvation enough.
My name is Anne. You’ll know me from those books.
It was all real. Julian, George, Dick and I played with Enid’s daughters in the village and there, I suppose, was where her mother got the idea from. And so it began. The Famous Five. Finding myself in a book was quite the shock I can tell you! It feels a little as though somebody has stolen your face, but it was such a compliment I couldn’t bear to say anything.
Well, nearly all of it. We didn’t solve as many crimes as Enid would have you believe, nor rescue as many captives, but we did have a lot of fun. But that’s not my main problem. I mean, I wouldn’t have had a problem if she’d have been – truthful.
Gosh, I sound awful, but I need to say it. She didn’t write me as I was. I mean, food! Food! That’s all I seemed to care about. That and getting back before dark, or being scared. Oh, it’s not true! It’s not true! That’s not all I was and am and are!
Reader, I did more, much more than you’ll ever know. And now I’m doing more than I think anybody ever expected I could. Whilst Julian sits at home in the hope that he’ll be needed to rescue somebody, and George hangs around with the eighteenth dog she’s named Timmy, and Dick is just being Dick somewhere, I went out. I’ve travelled, reader, I’ve seen the world! I’ve fought off street robbers in Ankara and sailed the Magellan Strait! I’ve seen the sun rise in Prague and I’ve watched it set in in Myanmar!
My life is more than those damn books. I’m more than those damn books. Don’t judge me on what she put in them. Please, please, don’t. Take this letter and tell the world. Please.
Tell them that Anne was more than that.
(You don’t know how much I wish the above was true. But it’s not.)
(But maybe, that’s the thing.)
(Maybe, with some characters, we just need to look twice. Maybe that’s the thing with characters we thought we loathed. If we just reframe the dialogue around them, if we look at somebody and imagine a life for them, a world beyond the pages, then maybe we can understand them and through that understanding understand ourselves that little bit better.)
(And maybe, it’s not about how they’re presented to us.)
(Maybe, it’s about how we read them.)