By JR on Wednesday, July 04, 2012
A comment from Australia below on the wonderful children's books by English author Enid Blyton. I was a keen reader of them myself in my now long-gone childhood. The stories are set in England in the first half of the 20th century and so use "prewar" English idioms. The owners of the copyright, however, do from time to time reissue the books with "modernized" language in them. Like the writer below, I regard that as a great loss -- JR
I went on ABC Radio in Melbourne yesterday to talk about Enid Blyton‘s latest bout with the rewrite man (or woman). Now, we all know that the Famous Five and Secret Seven books have been tinkered with in the past to remove what were seen as sexist and racist themes. Personally I don’t think that was necessary, but I can see why some people did and I don’t have a huge argument with them.
But this latest rewrite, to “update” the language of Blyton’s young characters, to edit out their goshes and gollys and make their speech “timeless” (read of this time), is, as I said on radio, absolute nonsense. Here’s how Marlene Johnson, head of Hachette’s children’s books in the UK, explained the decision:
"These days you don’t talk about jolly japes to kids."
She’s right, but so what? Kids these days don’t eat tinned tongue either, so do we rewrite the books to replace that staple foodstuff with a cheeseburger and fries?
And one of the stranger changes is to replace “peculiar”, such a lovely word, with the blander “strange”. Mercy me!
When I first read one of Blyton’s stories to my 7yo he was amazed and disgusted to learn that the kids in it ate tongue. It was wonderful to share that with him.
And this is my point: I love reading books to my son that expose him to the concept that people behaved differently in different times, and spoke differently. And that people in different nations have different customs and so on. I believe this is called learning!
This doesn’t apply only to old books either. My son loves Jeff Kinney‘s Wimpy Kid books, and when reading them I often have to explain American references that he doesn’t get. “In America," I say, “they call a footpath a sidewalk”, and so on. Only last night I had to did deep to explain the words Barry Manilow .
I think this sort of thing, working out that that there are different words that mean the same thing in different places, is good for the nimbleness of one’s brain, like doing the crossword. And the more you do it, the better you get. A few days ago we were reading an American book and the word "nimrod" came up. I asked the boy if he knew what a nimrod was and was pleased that he’d worked it out from the context. “A dickhead," he replied.