What could the stable of sea-horses look like? Mark, the eponymous hero of “The boy who was afraid” in Enid Blyton’s The Green Story Book discovers that it is a big white building at the bottom of the sea with “wide double doors made entirely of sea-shells”, planted all around with “waving seaweed trees”. Magically satisfying — as if sea-horses could live anywhere else. There is something almost inevitable in the image, a fulfilling perfection that resists being broken down into its parts, as though it had shot fully formed out of the most longing dreams and imaginings of children, and which all children can immediately recognize.
Enid Blyton is full of places. In a world where every moment is an adventure, an unforgettable holiday with marvellous food — it may just be sandwiches, apples, a chocolate cake and ginger ale, but nothing could be more delicious somehow — the place is always crucial. It is where you must go, it is what you must pass through. It can be the top of the Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood, where the wind blows in different lands in turn, such as the Rocking Land or Topsy-Turvy Land, it can be the fairy-land at the bottom of the garden or pixie-land in the sea-water pool, the busy worlds of bunnies, brownies or birds, or even Toyland, whether in the nursery or out there with Noddy and Big-Ears, it can be the warm and troublesome mobile world of the circus, or it can be, as the child’s imagination begins to discover excitement in more realistic dangers, the abandoned lighthouse that shelters smugglers or the secret room that nobody has noticed in the village.
It is Enid Blyton’s uncanny inwardness with the child’s imagination in its different stages of growth that seems part of the secret of her enchantment. Children recognize in her worlds alternative universes with which they are, somehow, deeply familiar. Magical places are a part of the fantasy tradition, from the Flying Island of Laputa to the worlds down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass. Like Alice, Enid Blyton’s characters often have to change size to fit the new places they must enter or pass through. Place and size are intimately related in her stories, exactly as they are in a child’s imagination. Her writing draws unceasingly on the literature of places, to be discovered anywhere from old nursery rhymes to the tales of the Grimm Brothers or Hans Andersen. But these locations, whether the threshold of the candy cottage in Hansel and Gretel’s enchanted wood, or the huge shoe populated with the old woman’s numerous children, or even the immemorial Land of Nod with its nightmares pawing the ground, right up to mysterious passages in old houses or hidden tunnels in caves that are of a different origin, are transformed by Enid Blyton into hitherto undiscovered spaces, awaiting the next incurably curious adventurer.