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Politically incorrect?


By Jessie

Golly YouPlayers - I feel quite peculiar this afternoon!

Probably a result of the enormous – yet awfully splendid lunch I’ve just had. It was a picnic actually – with potted meat sandwiches, boiled eggs, tins of pineapple, sticky jammy buns and of course, lashings of ginger beer. I went with four friends and a dog, and afterwards we rowed down to Smuggler’s Cove and had a smashing time bathing in the pool, rounding up baddies and searching for lost treasure. What a delightfully gay day.

Question: How do you feel after reading about my lunchtime adventure?
1. Nostalgic
2. Hungry
3. Outraged over my appropriation of the heinously outdated – nay, dangerously offensive and immoral – language of Enid Blyton.

Global media company Chorion, who own the copyright to Blyton’s estate as part of their extensive “brand portfolio”, would probably choose option three. But they wouldn’t just stop at feeling outraged. They would make it their mission to remove such vile content from the trembling hands of innocent children forever.

Since the 1980s Chorion have been stealthily authorizing increasingly comprehensive “re-workings” of the majority of Blyton’s much-loved children’s stories in a bid to bring the books to a “new generation” of readers by removing the dated language. They have defended the editing in the press by citing the need to remove the racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and general political incorrectness from the stories.

I should briefly state that I am frankly underwhelmed by the moral outrage – the books are a product of their time and should be read with that fact in mind just like every other book written before 1990. However, my intention today is not to debate claims of golliwogs representing a subjugated foreign minority repressed by the British class system, or the many ways Noddy and Big Ears have turned kids into rampant homosexuals.

I would probably have an aneurism if I talked about the “sexist gender dynamic” in the Famous Five books or Blyton’s shameless inclusion of ‘role model’ adult characters who were grumpy, clearly inattentive and who often wore curlers in their hair, drank and smoked. Tsk. 

What I DO want to discuss is the changes made to the language of Blyton’s books. If you pick up a recent edition of an old Blyton favourite you’ll find it’s not just the golliwogs who have faced the red pen. The language and dialogue have also ‘evolved’, with many of the words and phrases of the day replaced with modern equivalents. “How queer!” has become “how weird!” and “ooh, it’s such a gay day!” has become “ooh it’s such a bright day!” No longer is the “awful swotter” in the pressed “school tunic” the favourite of the “headmistress”. Instead the bookworm in the neat uniform is the favourite of the teacher. Yawn.

As a timid, good little girl, I clearly remember feeling deliciously scared reading about angry old Dame Slap whose crazed attacks were best avoided by the characters in the Faraway Tree series. Dame Slap is now Dame Snap - with only a sharp tongue to define her character, measured of course so as not to set too bad an example. The characters “Dick” and “Fanny” are now “Rick” and “Frannie”, and the Golliwogs in the Noddy books have long since gone (even though an academic study showed that statistically goblins and monkeys were more consistently portrayed as villains).

Are these changes to the vocabulary really necessary? I don’t believe they are. In fact I would go so far as to say that these updates are a gross infringement of the historical rights of the author and the legacy of the works themselves.  As a child in the early 80s I devoured Blyton’s books like food, a time when the language and colloquialisms Blyton used when writing the books in the 40s and 50s were already far removed from everyday usage. Yet, somehow I managed to not only read and understand the books, but love them. (I also somehow managed to not become an ignorant reprobate with unhealthy prejudices towards minority groups but that’s another story…)

Are today’s junior readers so fragile and uncomprehending that “bathing” must become “swimming” and “mother and father” become “mum and dad”. Will our modern kids really become emotionally scarred and damaged adults after reading Five Go to Demon’s Rocks?

[“I read that book when I was eight. There were five kids and they went on holiday all ALONE - sob. They used words like “frightful” and “governess” and “squabbles”. They always ate weird things and one of the girls kind of thought she was a boy. Oh my god I was so confused. That’s when I became addicted to methamphetamines…”]

Of course not! From my experience it’s the very fact that these books are written in another language, from another time that makes them so appealing. It’s like entering another world, and the fact that Blyton continues to top best seller lists suggests her work still resonates with children.

And if the publishers are correct, why stop with Blyton? If archaic language is suddenly such an impenetrable barrier to children’s comprehension of texts written before the 21st Century then surely Shakespeare is next? Sadly, it’s probably only a matter of time.

Obviously I think it’s outrageous. You might disagree? Discuss!

Jessie x


30 Responses to

Politically incorrect?

relle said:
September 27, 2011 at 12:51 PM

My childhood memories of the Famous Five books gave me my first real interest in reading! Why would they change the didn't damage our generation! As for Golliwogs, nothing will replace their name...a golliwog is a golliwog!

September 27, 2011 at 2:17 PM

I feel I MUST comment. Gollywogs are a 1920's invention. Or perhaps earlier. I have a 20's invention at home (inherited from my mother) a gollywog toothpick holder. It is a very treasured item, and used regularly. I am fully aware that originally it was about the negro slaves in the U.S.A. But that was in the 17th to 19th century. Certainly no longer in the 20th. Especially since they have had access to proper modern education. As for altering children's books to make them 'politically correct', to me that is sacriledge. Actually, it is a pity her work could not be copyrighted. Fortunately we have a huge collection of her (and other authors') books. My children read them, my grandchildren read them, and now probably, in future, my descendants will read them too. We look after our books.

thinkican said:
September 27, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Totally agree with relle. long live Golliwogs! Liesl - how fortunate for your family to possess such a wonderful legacy in your book collection. Hope they are enjoyed for many years to come.

Maiflower said:
September 27, 2011 at 4:11 PM

To be honest, I feel slightly bilious after reading your piece! I'd forgotten the quantity and variety of the fare digested by the Famous Five et al at their picnics! Apart from that, I feel simultaneously nostalgic and outraged! Nostalgic for those long, contented hours (pre-TV) curled up with our collection of Blighton adventures and outraged at the arrogance of anyone believing they have the right to interfere with the language of these children's classics. I agree - look out Shakespeare!

Clifster said:
September 27, 2011 at 4:44 PM

What a lot of kerfuffle - have any of you got a grip on the world as it is today - golliwogs are are a treasured part of the Noddy books - no less than Big Ears (though he apparently slept with Noddy - which was another source of ridiculous comment) What is it that causes people to try and put what was a lovely children's story in a modern context and appraise it by the skewed values that 60 years of social difference makes of it by comparison. My take is that there are a lot of people who have little else to do than to criticise without the real background to do so - Bit like politics really

b0ad1cea said:
September 27, 2011 at 9:04 PM

Money is the reasoning behind all the political correctness gone mad or not?? They want Blyton's books to continue to sell. Media persecution is the cause! Long live toytown!! Punch and Judy is now rarely seen because of the same persecution. All that domestic violence!!

tonianne said:
September 28, 2011 at 12:39 PM

I will continue to read all my old Blyton books with the joy that I always have. If you change the wording then it is not a book by Enid Blyton but an imitation. Please leave them as they are & let people decide for themselves whether or not to read them. I for one love the old books. Who will be next??? Jane Austen, Shakespeare??



Miranda said:
September 28, 2011 at 1:45 PM

The same thing happened to the Billabong series of Australian children's books. In the case of the Billabong books, the negative depiction of Australian aborigines and Australians of Irish descent were edited out to some extent. It seeems quite bizarre to me that we need to shield people from the reality of attitudes which prevailed at the time of authorship - isn't that exactly what people need to know?

mommyscat said:
September 28, 2011 at 1:54 PM

Whatever happened to freedom of speech. Re-writing the books is a form of censorship. Beware we do not turn into a nation like that in Bradbury's Fharenheit 451.

relle said:
September 28, 2011 at 6:06 PM

Well said Miranda! Reciting nursery rhymes to my granddaughter today I thought how sad if the text was changed. I enjoyed explaining to her through the pictures what Jack & Jill's pail & crown meant & just maybe she will pass that down to her children!

relle said:
September 28, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Oh!.... and try replacing the above with 'bucket' & 'head'! Just doesn't sound the same!

beilkenv said:
September 28, 2011 at 8:57 PM

Why change Golliwog,to me it represents love as I adored my Golliwog when I was a child and actually still have several which I love. If they were a disliked item I could understand the need to change the name to something else.

September 29, 2011 at 1:26 AM

I could weep at the thought that all our old favourite books would be subjected to the same fate as the Famous Five. What about "Wind in the Willows" the mutilators could have a field day with that too, yet these are what we grew up reading and adored. OK things aren't the same now, but surely kids who love reading should be allowed to know how things were in the "olden days".

September 29, 2011 at 7:13 AM

It just goes to show that Chorion editors have little understanding or respect for literature and histbory. Ignorance is bliss they say

no1llama said:
September 29, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Beilkenv has my view on golliwogs. I loved my golliwog. I wish I knew what happened to it, because it would be with my other treasures if I still had it. How is love bad? Narrow minded people seem to be the ones making the decisions about our lives and language. When I think about the concept of changing the language in a childrens book to allow them to understand it, I am left with a feeling of immense sadness. Has anyone of these censors considerred improving EDUCATION as a means of understanding and acceptance? We may need to be careful of what the history books are going to say in a few years time, someone might be offeneded by the behaviours of humanity accross the centuries too. My children read the faraway tree books and the rocking chair books, the naughtiest girl in school books, along with black beauty, treasure island, moby dick, and also every paul jennings story, all the deltoras quest series, every book by tamora peirce and (please forgive me) little women and it's sequal good wives. As for the works of Banjo Patterson, nino cullotta(?), roald dhal, shakespeare, the bronte sisters, shelley, keats, dh lawerence, etc;I now understand why they are social misfits, they don't do drugs, pick fights, swear at people, carry weapons, generalise or discriminate. They are terribly polite, one has never been out of work, the other continues to study hard, they hug me and tell me they love me. I know now what I did wrong. I should have allowed them to be only exposed to limited resources so they would be less aware and therefore less accepting of differences in culture. I made the mistake of teaching them that people are people, regardless. They have different beleif systems, just as we do, they are as entitled as we are to their choice. The only limit is when their choice harms someone else, then I consider that the choice has been taken from the victim in which case they have done wrong. There is nothing WRONG in any of these books. there are lessons about life, love, friendships, bargaining, problem solving, dispute resolution, resourcefulness, adventure, courage, respect, independence, imagination and interpretation. Another consideration? Try allowing children to be children again. They will only find these perceived inappropriate references if they have been exposed to concepts they don't have the maturity or understanding to cope with. My daughter is 20, she recently watched a disney movie and was shcoked by the "adult" content in the movie; this is something she watched counteless times as a child and missed. Inuendo is only there when you have the capacity to understand it. I'll get off the soap box now....

Lillypop said:
September 29, 2011 at 9:33 PM

Politically correct or not, I still go looking for 'Golliwog Biscuits' in the supermarket. I hope they never decide to 'correct' the language of the Nania books too.

nk786 said:
September 29, 2011 at 11:16 PM

love to read.. n that love begins as a kid only.. enid blyton's works r bible to those who wanna begin reading!! its a big shame if ppl wanna ruin those works n put in thier own ideas into it!! the legacy must b preserved!! at any cost!!

Xrosie said:
September 30, 2011 at 7:53 AM

When do they start on the classics, poetry as written and horrors of horrors, the great Ronnie Burns in his native tongue, even Auld Lang Syne. Books make our fantasies, dreams and imagination work better. DO NOT TOUCH LITERATURE

dj1 said:
September 30, 2011 at 8:43 PM

I remember Snugglepot amd Cuddlepie calling out (after they had beaten the Bad Banksia Men once again) "Oh, good root!" I suppose this will be out nowadays.

dj1 said:
September 30, 2011 at 8:46 PM

Bravo no1llama - well said!

dj1 said:
September 30, 2011 at 8:52 PM

I agree with relle. My first love affair with reading books began with "William" by Richmal Crompton. (I think I got his name right.) Dated language, non-acceptable British class system, non-PC concepts - but I couldn't get enough of it, and they set me out on a lifetime of reading for pleasure.

derekn said:
October 01, 2011 at 10:31 AM

This is a good blog. I recommend we take the "you know what" out of these people who are updating the books. Perhaps we can do a bit of updating ourselves. Book titles would become "Celsius 232.7", "Moby Naughty Bits", etc. The catchcry in 1984 would, of course be "Big Sibling is watching you". Any other titles you can think of updating?

apollanen said:
October 01, 2011 at 10:56 AM

As I pack ready for my tree change I have just boxed up all my Enid Blyton books and really just wanted to open them and read them there and then. This topic has certainly brought back a lot of memories and I will enjoy sitting on the deck of our new property re-reading them.

ausme said:
October 01, 2011 at 1:18 PM

Take out Shakespeare? Surely not but then again, I might have passed some English exams at High School! So what is next to go? The Big Bang Theory? Not even the scientists could stop that nonsense! And the world began with invention of computers? I think not! You should try and get your teeth into the King James Bible with all its thees and thous.But then I did learn to love God with a capital "G". I also learned to research things that I did not understand. Life is not laid out on a plate for us - it is to be discovered. it also beginning to teach me patience but was that before they took out most of the seeds in mandarins?

whippet said:
October 01, 2011 at 8:49 PM

I was surprised when I read this blog that children's literature was sanitized in the 80's ( oh no the children had been naughty and sent to bed without supper and possibly their favorite golliwog ). Thought children's playgrounds were sanitized before that ( climbed up too do I get down? risk taking , resilience experience ).Hmmm stunting intellectual and physical growth. Well done to the powers that be. Lol to derekn with moby naughty bits. Have come up with...The prince and the economically unprepared ( sorry pauper ). The cosmetically challenged duck.Vertically challenged women.And pass on Alex Haley's book :-)

davidhtom said:
October 02, 2011 at 8:16 PM

As a female to male transsexual guy in his 40s, I grew up reading The Famous Five. George was inspiration for many of us and clearly Enid Blyton was before her time. To take that away from books so kids like me couldnt read about people like us would just be wrong. It didnt turn me the way I was- it showed me that I was not alone. George was truly a trans child and if you read every book they were in, you can see that they knew who they wanted to be (a boy) and was very unhappy at being treated like a girl. I dont think this does children any real harm, on the contrary I believe it teaches them about diversity. And as for Noddy and Big Ears, I think everyone just thought they were friends. The story of Babes in Toyland about the soldier doll and the fairy is a hell of a lot more adult and romantic with sexual overtones than Noddy could ever hope to be.

October 03, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Goodness gracious me what a whole lot of poppycock. I also read a lot whilst a child and never thought anything wrongwith any of the characters! Even now while reading this I'm thinking" No way was she a girl wanting to be a boy" It is an opinion of the adult world that sets these ideas. We as adults are to blame. The latest new wording is Baa Baa Black Sheep. There is talk we need to change it to Baa baa white sheep!!!I wonder if an adult has actually asked a child after they have read any of these books what their interpretation of it was?

October 05, 2011 at 12:55 PM

A few more snippets to flame the fire! Did you know that Disney recently turned Christopher Robin (Winnie the Pooh) into a girl, and that Sesame Street's Cookie Monster is not allowed to scoff cookies anymore (they've become a "sometimes treat"). Sheesh!

relle said:
October 05, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Good Heavens! My grandaughter & I just made a batch of gingerbread men out of choc chip cookie dough! Does that mean I'm a bad influence in her 3rd year of she loved playing out the story & song with her choc chip man! lol

kragzy said:
October 06, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Just catching up with this blog (I've been away). Three cheers for no1llama - she says it all. More power to your arm and thank you for raising such great children. I have a similar philosophy and I like to think that my four children (now adults) are worthwhile, balanced, socially contributing people. And, that they are now doing the same with my six grandchildren. Well said no1llama!!