In Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood (1939), a tree that tears through the skies captivates the story’s young protagonists, Jo, Fanny, and Bessie. At the treetop, the kids discover a ladder which takes them through the clouds to a magical land — sometimes welcoming, sometimes not — every time they climb up. The good folks at the Royal Mint of the United Kingdom, it would appear, have ascended a similar ladder. But unfortunately, the Bank’s officials seem to have become witness to a landscape where Blyton’s blemishes are the only distinguishing features of her literary arc. They have reportedly blocked plans to unveil a 50-pence coin commemorating Blyton. Because it would have led to a backlash due to the author’s “racist, sexist and homophobic views”.
Blyton built entire worlds for children. From popular mysteries such as The Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Malory Towers to stand-alone characters like Noddy, her books captured the imagination of children across the world. From “crusty loaves”, bacon, “crisp lettuces, dewy and cool” to “jugs of creamy milk”, in Blyton’s work one can also trace the dietary austerity of a generation in the shadows of World War II. Characters like Moon-Face — with his simple demand of toffee from anyone who wishes to descend the Faraway Tree using the Slippery-Slip (a hole in the floor of his house) — have universal appeal. Georgina’s attempts to defy gender tropes, in Famous Five, seem ahead of the curve.
The golliwog — an allegedly racist caricature — has drawn criticism. However, while such literary debates are crucial, they cannot be the only prism to look at a writer and her work. Charles Dickens — Blyton’s contemporary — was criticised on grounds of racism and anti-semitism. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda remains the literary genius of the lovelorn despite his now well-known transgressions. Criticisms of Blyton are valid. But they cannot be the only measure of her contribution.