Throwback Thursday is a topic hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. It’s a chance to share some old favourites or books that have been on your ever growing To Be Read list.
So here’s my first Throwback Thursday post. A throwback to an old favourite, read through more experienced eyes.
-Some thoughts on Five go to Mystery Moor.
This was one of the first Enid Blyton books that I read. It’s certainly the first Famous Five book. I loved it as a child and looked forward to rereading as an adult. The story is sweet, the characters are lovable, the intrigue is perfectly geared to its youthful audience. Reading this book in 2017, as opposed to the late 1980s did provide a new perspective, however. There were some controversial statements and ideas that made me cringe while reading, my adult sensibilities being far more delicate than those of my eight-year-old self.
Two issues in particular stood out for me. The first is showcased through George and Henry (Georgina and Henrietta). Both these girls desperately want to be accepted by the boys and want to be treated as boys. They put on mannerisms far beyond the average tomboy and are only happy when others mistake them for the opposite sex. There are also several offhand comments throughout the book espousing male superiority. A nine-year-old boy is seen as more competent than an eleven-year-old girl by virtue of his gender only. If this series had been written in the 2000s it would have been roundly criticized and sparked debate about sexual identity and gender norms.
A second controversial theme that emerged was class and ethnic conflict. This is revealed when the ‘gypsies’ are described as dirty, thieving and untrustworthy. Even my darling Julian is used to display the coarse attitude held against the nomadic people. He is only a boy of 13 and speaks very respectfully to Captain Johnson but unabashedly speaks down to Sniffer’s father (a gypsy man). George pre-emptively decides Sniffer’s caravan would be too smelly for her to enter, and Dick carelessly throws biscuits at the gypsy boy who comes to spend time with them.
In speaking to a friend about Five go to Mystery Moor we got into a discussion about the appropriateness of some texts in today’s culture. Should these books be ‘sanitized’ to remove offending words, themes, ideas? Or should they be left alone as a reflection of the times in which they were written? You have to take into account that this book was written in the 1950s by a middleclass English woman, born at the turn of the 20th century, who like all authors was influenced by her society. Her society at that time was far more homogenous than it is today. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that Blyton’s work would be called out for recurring xenophobic and sexist content. The 1980s would see some revised editions, adjusting content to be more inoffensive, liberal and current. I might be naïve, but taken in its time and context, I don’t believe the novels meant to insult. Besides, I don’t want to overanalyze a favourite children’s book.
Dated attitudes aside, I enjoyed my walk down memory lane and can’t wait to go on another adventure with George, Anne, Dick, Julian and Timmy. I’ll be continuing my journey through the original Famous Five series and blogging about some of the books as I get through them.