'Racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit': what English Heritage said about author Enid Blyton

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 12:39 pm
Children's writer Enid Blyton sitting in her garden in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire (Photo: George Konig/Getty Images)

New attention has been drawn to the works of children’s author Enid Blyton, after an updated author’s biography on site English Heritage highlighted the issues of “racism” and “xenophobia” in her stories.

This is everything you need to know.

Why is she being called racist and xenophobic?

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English Heritage has updated its section on Blyton on its website, drawing new attention to the problematic areas of the writer’s work.

The site states: “Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit. A 1966 Guardian article noted the racism of The Little Black Doll (1966), in which the doll of the title, Sambo, is only accepted by his owner one his “ugly black face” is washed “clean” by rain.

“In 1960 the publisher Macmillan refused to publish her story The Mystery That Never Was for what it called its “faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia”. The book, however, was later published by William Collins.

English Heritage adds that, in 2016, Blyton was rejected by the Royal Mint for commemoration on a 50p coin, because, the committee said, she was “a racist, sexist homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”.

A spokesperson for the Royal Mint said at the time: “The point of the advisory committee is to ensure that themes commemorated on UK coins are varied, inclusive and represent the most significant events in our history.

“For these reasons not every event will progress to a UK coin.”

English Heritage also adds that some have argued that “while these charges can’t be dismissed, her work still played a vital role in encouraging a generation of children to read”.

What was wrong with her stories?

Accusations of racism in Blyton’s work first tracks back to 1966, in the previously mentioned Guardian article in regards to her story The Little Black Doll.

Blyton’s Noddy novels are also considered to be racist due to the fact they contained Golliwogs. Golliwogs are offensive rag dolls used to depict black people, and the Golliwogs in the Noddy stories were often villains.

Modern reprints of Blyton’s work has seen the Golliwogs in the Noddy series be replaced by the likes of teddy bears and goblins.

In her 1944 novel, The Island of Adventure, there is a black servant character called Jo-Jo who is extremely cruel to the children of the house.

Her Famous Five novels as well have often been criticised as being sexist as well - for example, one of the young girls is told that she should “[give] up thinking [she’s] as good as a boy”.

Who was Enid Blyton?

Enid Blyton, born 11 August 1879 and died 28 November 1986, was an English children’s author, whose books are among some of the best sellers in the world with more than 600 million copies sold.

She is best known for her stories such as Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Faraway Tree and Malory Towers.

Originally, Blyton trained as a teacher and in 1920 was employed as governess by Horace and Gertrude Thompson, where their four sons - David, Brian, Peter and John - where left in her charge until April 1924.

It was during her time with the family, where she was given her own small room at the back of the house, that Blyton started working on her children’s stories.

Blyton would describe her time with the Thompson family as “the foundation of all [her] success”.