Sacrilege: The new versions of The Famous Five Books. What next for the gang, piercings and Jedward haircuts?
It's not often I tackle serious issues on this blog but when I heard that one of the children's classics, the holy grail of kids' literature - namely Enid Blyton's Famous Five books - was being messed about with I got quite hot under the collar let me tell you. How can you mess with perfection I thought? But evidently publisher Hodder thought they could and have decided the books needed a revamp because they were turning off young readers. The result is a relaunch of the books with classic Blyton words and phrases relaunched in new politically correct versions. Outrage! I hear you cry and I'm right behind you!
Have we learnt nothing from communism I thought at first when I heard that such words as 'wizard!' 'jolly' 'guffaw' and 'pooh-hah' have been axed from the 'revised' texts.
Hodder says the classic editions with Blyton's original words will still be available alongside the new versions, and it is thought likely that the famous 'lashings and lashings of ginger beer' will stay in the new version. Thank God for small mercies!
I can't say I wasn't troubled by all this but in the end after sitting down to a picnic of bread, butter, cake, cheese, eggs, gingerbread, jam and lashings and lashings of ginger beer I had a long chat with the spirits of the Famous Five (Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy the dog) who told me in no uncertain terms that while they were upset about the changes they realized it was the only way for their spiffing adventures to find new readers. And once I'd put away my ouija boad I realized they were absolutely correct.
Because I actually tried reading another Enid Blyton series to my kids called Hanni und Nanni which is the German version of the St. Clare's series. It features too supercute twins who go to boarding school. I bought about twenty of these books on eBay because my kids loved the first one I read about a couple of toffs at boarding school but after a while my kids were like 'Mum why are these girls at boarding school. I mean their mum doesn't even work.' Difficult one. 'Well in those days I believe in the fifties mums sort of felt like after they'd birthed the blighters they were on their own and they would have gotten underfoot at their bridge evenings and cocktail parties.' Then my kids started getting bored after Hanni and Nanni kept putting various spiders, toads and mice into the teachers' desks which often asphixiated or got squashed. 'I mean come on mum,' they said. 'Isn't this getting a bitrepetitive? Can't they think of anything else to do?' To which I replied 'I know it might be hard to understand but this was in the days before iPods and kids had to get their kicks from torturing woodland animals.'
But the most confusing thing for my daughters was when Hanni and Nanni kept having midnight feasts with their pals. 'Mum why would you want to eat tinned sardines and condensed milk with tinned liver sausage and chocolate cake until you vomited? I mean I'm thinking they were ill or something. In fact isn't it called bubilima and we learnt about it school.' To which I replied, 'Actually darlings it's bulimia and they didn't have it back in ye olden days. It was more about the fact that usually they had cabbage soup and bread and butter so believe it or not tinned sardines were a treat even when smothered in condensed milk.'
'Mum this doesn't make any sense' was the general consensus, so the books were put aside for a rainy day. I can see now that the Hanni und Nanni series might also need to be revamped just a tad so that the younger generation would have the foggiest idea of what the books are on about. So finally I gave Hodder my blessing to change the Famous Five outdated words from 'housemistress' to 'teacher', 'awful swotter' to 'bookworm', 'mother and father' to 'mum and dad', 'school tunic' to 'uniform' and 'tinker' to 'traveller.'
In the end I decided I had to let go of the past and look to the future on this topic even though on some level this is political correctness gone mad since The Famous Five books and the rest of Blighton's genre simply reflect a lost period in history that makes me feel all tearful and fuzzy inside. And what about you, have you come a cropper trying to read a beloved kids' story to your progeny only to have them yawn and say 'this is crap.' I'd love to know your views on this.
In other news our parenting humour book Cocktails at Natpime which will be published in Australia in October now has a website. It's a revolutionary parenting book in that it doesn't dole out any advice. To join the revolution go here or to join us on twitter pop over here.