Sometimes my readers surprise me, and one of them did so a few years ago when she told me she read Agatha Christie and got echoes (reverse echoes?) of my voice.
Which is interesting of course, because you know, I first read Agatha Christie and probably memorized her books in Portuguese. But voice is a persistent thing, and I suppose it does come through.
So I thought to myself, I thought — what if I did a series of posts on the things I think formed me? Well, since I grew up in books, mostly the books that formed me. and the people who wrote them.
Now, if you go back far enough, where I think I first put together reading (which I was doing before entering school but didn’t tell my family, since that would mean no one would read to me) it was by remembering the words that went in the squares in comic books, and then kind of guessing the letter shapes to the word. (And sometimes making funny mistakes.)
I don’t know how long I was reading comics, before I picked up “real” books, but I was reading “real” — defined by no pictures. (well, some line drawings, black and white, but like 10 per book) — by six when we moved away from grandma’s house and to my parents “new” house.
I think I read a lot of beginning of stories, plus mom bought me tiny little books (no pictures, other than the cover, and I mean tiny. They were like the size of a matchbook, and maybe ten pages) with fairytales and traditional stories in the grocery store, as a prize for being good. (Kind of like you’d buy a candy bar. They were cheap. The equivalent of ten cents or so.) I remember my cousin bought me a picture book for my seventh birthday, about a young lady who had a dog and went for drives in her convertible, but by then I was more interested in the book for the drawings, which I tried to copy.
By then I’d found… Enid Blyton.
And before a bunch of you wise *sses go “Oh, yeah, Noddy.” I didn’t even know Noddy existed until I read a reference in an assigned book in my first year of college.
The story I started with was Valley of Adventure. Followed by Sea of Adventure, Circus of Adventure, Castle of Adventure. Then I fell headlong into the Famous Five, all 21 of them.
These were the real books before some *sshat (I suspect her older daughter — rolls eyes –) thought they needed to be updated and made accessible and relevant.
The setting was mostly WWII or just after England, and groups of kids who got to have freedom even we didn’t have in the sixties in Portugal.
I will confess right here that not only did I read and re-read Enid Blyton well into my pre-teens, I also — amid other things, like (strangely) a spate of biographies of western heroes, or far more grown up historical novels, and towards the end of that period Agatha Christie and Heinlein and Simak — when in despair read the Seven series. Which was, and I even knew it then, weak. But I had a voracious appetite for stories, books were expensive and hard to come by and not always particularly readable.
Later, between 12 and 13, because a friend got them as a gift, I read the boarding school books. Malory Towers, and the other one. It was fascinating, and probably one of the most girly things I’ve ever read. I’m 100% sure I’d have hated the experience of boarding school with my entire being, but it was fun to read about. It was also easier for me — odd duck that I was — to see girl-power-play on paper. It was easier to understand that way, as I was eternally bewildered by it in real life.
As I said I read a ton of other things in between and around, but Enid Blyton is the first writer I remember remembering the name of.
Also the one I wrote very bad imitations of by the time I was 7 or 8.
Before writing this I looked Enid Blyton up online. Blah Blah blah prescriptive morality. Blah, blah blah racist, sexist, etc. etc.
I want to point out I re-read her books in English yester– okay 20 years ago. (I am keeping them too, in case of grandkids.) and no racism, sexism or —
Well, you got me there. There was prescriptive morality of an early 20th century, stiff upper lip, fair play, deal kindly with inferiors and be open an honest type. If this is greatly objectionable, I really don’t want to have anything to do with the critics.
Was she immoral, or a British version of Mommy Dearest. Don’t know. The immoral I doubt, because the sources given credit range between stupid and hilarious. (Seriously. Her first husband’s second wife? REALLY?) and as for the second… well, that’s the opinion of one of her daughters, not the second.
The important thing here is that I couldn’t care less about her private opinions or life, I loved her work as a writer and that’s all that matters.
The part that amused me most is that of all the writers I’ve read, she seems to have had the process most similar to mine (currently mine, at least.) Sit down, tune in to the book. Let it flow out.
Also, in her last productive years (she died of Alzheimers) she wrote 50 novels a year. Okay. I doubt I can do that, but it’s aspirational, you know?
I am glad she lived and she wrote. And I’m very glad I got to read her and be touched by the wonder — particularly in Adventure — of her settings and situations.
You find echoes of her work in mine in the weirdest places. Like, say, people imprisoned in holes in the ground….
But mostly, Mrs. Blyton, I thank you for the hours of wonder, and for taking a sickly and often very unhappy little girl out of herself and into an entirely immersive world.
I’m not sure I should thank you for teaching me to play fair, not be a braggart, not be envious and treat others kindly. It probably negatively affected my career.
OTOH it means I can look myself in the eye in the morning, and that makes washing my face and combing my hair so much easier.
Wherever you are, know that you are still read and your work still loved, and that echoes of it will probably go on ad infinitum, in the weirdest places.