Sunday, August 8

Leave 'Em Kids Alone!

An article, tucked away in the inside pages of the newspaper two Sundays ago, rekindled some of my fondest childhood memories. It bespoke an impending rewrite of ten bestsellers from the 'Famous Five' series originally authored by the iconic Enid Blyton. Yet, news of the tweak, planned to better their appeal to contemporary pre-teen palate, left me somewhat disquieted.

To talk joys first, my acquaintance with the four kids and their canine retainer (hence the Five) arose in rather happy circumstances. An infrequent happenstance of academic achievement had my father gift me one of their novels as reward (likely expecting an encore!) from the neighborhood bookstore. The Five were thick with me in barely a few pages. For the uninitiated, three of them were siblings: the eldest, Julian, a cocky early introduction to 'first among equals'; the spirited and fun-loving Dick; and archetypal kid sister Anne. Accompanied by their feisty cousin George (never Georgina), their ageless tales of adventure made them much more than adolescent characters on elegant typeface. And Timothy or Tim, but mostly Timmy, their mongrel pet of supernatural gifts and yet higher loyalty, was the dog's dog. If more were needed, he was added motivation for many a young boy to yearn for Man's Best Friend about the house. (No doubt an almost equal number of mothers held the ruthless opposite view, and we know how most such debates conclude!)

In any event, Ms Blyton’s words and (albeit in smaller fashion) my animated imagination conspired to lend myriad hues to the sketched images. Convenient neighbourhood landmarks and sights from memory were cheekily appended, Rushdiesque, to suffuse them with vividly pulsating life. The Five were my friends next-door, yet magically faraway, in a subliminal construct that only childhood innocence and suitably stimulatory literature can produce. My love affair with the written word commenced with them (and a flock of the prolific Enid’s finest); kept alive thereafter by assorted characters from Fiction and more.

Imagine then, to have editorial scissors run amok this merry company! With the singularly insipid beacon of market research to light the way, a team is attempting to "sensitively and carefully" reconstruct the original. Primary onus, one is given to understand, is to correct an ostensibly antediluvian slang. Unfortunately, such a stance sits well with spin-doctors, not purveyors of young adult literature – but it is perhaps symbolic of our analysis-paralysis times.

To begin with, the charge that today’s young are shying from Five's idiom, while not incredible, sounds frankly tenuous. For it to stick, one must believe that the set of 21 penned over a like number of years ending 1963; amazingly alive and kicking for many of us through the mid-80’s; has managed to age significantly over the succeeding two decades. Equally, it surprises me enormously that a generation at least a thousand times brighter than ours at their equivalent age, needs editorial crutches to understand Blyton’s oeuvre. One can dismiss mine as a jaundiced eye, but such misconceived research may be better illustration of testing biased hypotheses than allegedly passé language or deficiency of acumen.

Of course, true to spin-doctor form, the author's name has been invoked in justification of the exercise. We are reminded how a "passionate" advocate of child literacy as Blyton would appreciate the need for her immortal characters to mouth appropriate "conversation" style dialogue. She was, in any case, famously disinterested in the views of critics over 12!

One wonders where such surgery would end, however. Would one, for instance, make George try less hard to be a boy in case not setting the politically correct example to today's youth? Or perhaps have in Anne not the occasionally tear-prone timid young lady that she was, for fear of hurting Women's Lib? One ought to cleanse the precocious Ju of his 'girls will be girls; boys, boys' elder brother complex. The inappropriately named Dick must need drastic repositioning, surely. Persisting, we could turn our attention to plots and paraphernalia: highlight dangers of presenting camping out as fun; review gypsies’ portrayal lest they take umbrage; check for animal rights violations in Timmy's caricature; evaluate Uncle Quentin’s absent-mindedness as endangering the scientific community; and more!

Incidentally, there would remain a profusion of Blyton waiting to be tackled. Secret Seven, Barney, Mallory Towers, St Clare's - we could be at this for some time (thus keeping certain unnamed cash registers ringing)! Perhaps the indefatigable Blyton preordained the dangers she was flirting with - she had not one but two sets of Five adolescents solving mysteries around England. Now if only she had not let the other group be led by the redoubtable Fatty...

PS: The last named, Frederick Algernon Trotteville, has already been blessed with a trim noveau visage last year... Who blames Kareena Kapoor for Size Zero fixation?


Anonymous said...

This is sure going to help me sleep with smile! It reminds me of School and all those days bartering books :)

You forgot though, Ten Little Niggers that got renamed twice!

Keep them coming...

Anonymous said...

My friend! after very many days a brilliant break from the Rajah and its (su or ku- utterly the writer’s choice) Neeti.
If, what you read, is about to become of Blyton’s ticklish mysteries then we better conserve the lasting stock for our respective little parties. You talked about the desire to own Tim, whoa!!! get outta here, as if had a chance was ready to become Tim; anything to join the gang. Now when thinking, one of the after birth day party gifts, which I got some few months short of 3 decades ago, was a green Short (sissy- though realized quite late) Stories by her, with some of the titles as- Red Umbrella, Blue Shoes, some Goblins / Pixies / Elf, all of the above seemed so real then. Hence, from big dreams to be a hero as great as Tim to have accidently fallen for a little girly slumber tales, was all so thoroughly enjoyed. Many thanks! to you, for F5ing the lost memories.

Anonymous said...

I think this was the other one to round off a Friday evening even though most of the India stuff online right now is just crazy with the Masjid thing!

BTW I will also await your blog for some of the other pursuits a lot of us would associate with you in College - on 'public demand' :-)

Talk to you later and good night!


Akriti said...

When one analyzes the myriad characters confabulated by Blyton, one realizes that they did indeed transport us to “The Land of Far Beyond” teeming with fairies, goblins and elves. And for those of us who spent our formative years in metropolitans, they supplanted “The Enchanted Wood” with their proximity to the animal kingdom, flora and fauna, and boarding school adventures. Most of us were probably better acquainted with Blyton’s Famous Five, than with our own famous five Pandava brothers. Enid Blyton is synonymous with Childhood.

While Neil Postman poignantly states that “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”, the unfortunate truth is that Childhood has been lost and sold in the 21st century -- as written most eloquently by Postman himself in The Disappearance of Childhood.

I mention Postman because I fear that with the usurpation of Childhood by computers, phones and televisions, images may replace ideas for children, confounding issues with entertainment.

In his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, he explains the “soma” that television propounds by distinguishing between 1984 and Brave New World… “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

J.K. Rowling notwithstanding, one hopes children do not relegate reading – whether the antediluvian way via books or on their Kindles. I shudder imagining a world where “reading” is marginalized to something one does with a text message.