Weaving a fantasy world - author Enid Blyton
We might admire JK Rowling for having found fame as a children’s author by chance after an idea that germinated on a delayed train journey took shape in the form of the Harry Potter series and catapulted her into fame. However, many, many years ago, another author took children young imagination by storm and continues to captivate them even today.
We are talking about Mary Pollock. Who, you ask? Not many people know that Mary Pollock was the pen name of Enid Blyton, famous author of children’s books. Her books continue to enthrall children today and have sold over six hundred million copies across the globe. Blyton’s characters – from Noddy, to the Five Find Outers, to the Secret Seven and the girls at Malory Towers are hallmarks of her career among many more. Blyton is known for scripting charactes of young children who have adventures with minimal help from adults and who get out of scrapes on their own effortlessly, by using their intelligence and smarts. Adults have cameo appearences in her books, which are lagely children oriented and her settings are almost always in the country side, amongst trees and greenery, or set in a magical fantasy land like in The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair. She wrote a staggering number of books before she died, which amounted to at least 800 over a period of 40 years.
One would think that a writer who delighted children with detailed stories of adventure, fantasy and nature would have a personality and life mirroring her work because as they say, art imitates reality. However, the reality of Blyton’s life was very different from her idyllic tales of childhood fun.
Blyton was born to Thomas Carey Blyton, a cutlery salesman and Theresa Mary Harrisson Blyton on 11th August 1897 and had two younger brothers. Blyton was very close to her father and when he left the family to live with another woman, she was understandably devastated and her later arrogance and immaturity can be attributed to this. She did not share a happy relationship with her mother and eventually refused to acknowledge her existence, pretending to friends that her mother had passed on, even though she was very much alive at that time. So estranged was Blyton from her parents that she refused to attend either of their funerals when they died. She worked as an English teacher to supplement her livelihood and later met and married Major Hugh Alexander Pollock, an editor but her marriage to him did not last even though they had two children together. She was guilty of several extra marital affairs and one of them, with Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters, a london surgeon, evolved into a second marriage.
She reportedly blackmailed her first husband Pollock to take the blame for adultery knowing that if she were to be found to be guilty of the same misdeed, her public image as a children’s author would suffer. Pollock agreed on the condition that he would be allowed unlimited access to his daughters but that was not to be so. After the divorce Pollock was not allowed to meet his daughters at all and eventually drank himself to penury and had to declare bankruptcy. Her younger daughter Imogen has been quoted saying her mother was an insecure, arrogant and pretentious person who was skilled at sweeping unpleasant things under the carpet instead of dealing with them. However, her older daughter Gillian professes to have happier memories of her childhood with her mother, who has been portrayed in a posthumous biography as an emotionally immature and sometimes malicious character.
Blyton’s works have also courted controversies as many felt that there were sharp racist overtones in them and topics of gender and class are not treated well and the language she used was far too restrictive; she presented a very rosy view of the world which was not real and that her books don’t have much of ‘literary value’ because there is a lot of pixies, fairies and funny sounding names in them.
Despite the naysayers, her popularity did not diminish and she continued to find fame through her writings. In 2009, her lifestory was portrayed on film, with her character being played by Helena Bonham Carter. She remains Britain’s best loved author till date.