By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
Perhaps Michelle’s blog post last week has put me in a confessional mood but I feel I ought to admit that I have never read a Nancy Drew book or a Hardy Boys’ mystery. Not one. Not ever. And you know what – I’m not going to either. Sure when I’m on a panel discussion I sometimes I feel a wee bit embarrassed by this perceived lack of education but to be honest, I don’t really care. I’m Australian. My parents are British. We read Enid Blyton. Deal with it.
But then of course I get the blank stares – who the hell is Enid Blyton? So I think it’s about time to celebrate the power of Enid.
Even when I started reading her books in the late 1970’s she was old fashioned – full of bizarre references to Tongue sandwiches, anchovy paste, macaroons and orangeade. I had little idea what these were and I certainly never had midnight feasts at boarding school or discovered German spies on an offshore island – but still I was hooked.
The Famous five were early favorites: Julian, Dick, George (the tomboy), Anne and Timothy the Dog – constantly finding themselves in trouble with gypsies, circus folk, mad scientists and smugglers. I was never very keen on the Secret Seven – they were ‘dags’ (Australian for nerds). My other favorites, however, included the ‘Secret Series’ (such as The Secret of Spiggy Holes and The Secret of Killmooin) and The ‘Mystery series’ (such as The Ring O’Bells Mystery, The Rubadub Mystery). But my all time favorite was the ‘Adventure’ series – The Island of Adventure, the Castle of Adventure, The River of Adventure – you get the picture. Enid was never what you’d call innovative with her titles.
What was the enduring power of these books? I think the Harry Potter phenomenon captures something very similar – the ‘derring-do’ of the British child. I’d even go as far to call it an archetype – and I fell for it hard. How I wanted to go for holidays in a horse drawn caravan and encounter circus folk, or have famous aviator parents who flew you to mythical lands. Why couldn’t I get mumps and recuperate in an English village full of mysteries? Why wasn’t I allowed to sail to my own secret island?!
Believe it or not I think kids are still reading Enid Blyton – despite the fact that they are a product of a bygone era in which racial stereotypes and British imperialism is rampant. Despite all this, however, I’m happy to stand proud by Enid – and I bet that George (really gender confused Georgina) and Timmy the dog would whip Nancy Drew’s butt any day of the week.
The founder of SMB says that he thinks Nancy Drew beats the heck out of the Hardy Boys any day. She did all her own stuff and actually investigated rather than relying on cool cars and machismo.
I personally preferred Ken Holt, which no one has heard of, but the writing was MUCH better and while the stories are seriously dated, the science was excellent.
It sounds like Enid rocks, though!
I’m not sure they were all that good at investigating but I envied them the full on British adventures they had!
Great topic, Clare! I got my start as a mystery writer by writing under a pseudonym for a YA adult mystery series (We had to sign a contract not to name the series, but it’s the one we all loved, and it rhymes with “Fancy Brew”!). They were great books to read as a kid, and they were also great to write in later years as a budding mystery writer–they really taught me how to string together the nuts and bolts of a mystery. And it also taught me how to write under deadline pressure. Once the chapter outline was approved, I was given six weeks to write the book!
p.s. Nancy may lose a fight every once in a while, but she always wins the battle by outthinking her opponent. Perhaps one day she and Enid will team up in a cross-pond investigation (grin).
six weeks – cripes, Kathryn! Well perhaps we can team up and have a transatlantic YA novel battle of the sleuths!
It took your blog to out Kathryn, Clare! Imagine a Dancy Crew writer among us!