The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Famous Five still famous

London, Aug. 22: Indian children will identify with the results of a survey of British reading habits which reveals that Enid Blyton was the author adults loved best when they were growing up.

Her Famous Five stories, about the adventures of Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog, come out top, followed in second place by The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson in third.

Fourth place is occupied again by Blyton, this time for The Secret Seven, which told of the exploits of Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam, Colin and Scamper the dog.

Blyton wrote 21 Famous Famous books between 1942 and 1963 and the Secret Seven series for younger children between 1949 and 1963.

In recent years, there have been attempts to disparage Blyton and even ban her from libraries because she has been considered politically incorrect by some critics. The latter have tried to argue that in the main, the boys got to do the really exciting things while quite often the girls were left with the washing up.

Despite such carping, Blyton remains the most successful children’s author of all time and even today two million copies of her Famous Five novels sell worldwide every year — a respectable number in India. One reason for her enduring popularity could be that that although her children were drawn largely from the middle and upper classes and invariably public school educated, she provided wholesome fun. There were no paedophiles, no drug taking, no underage sex — and definitely no kids doing copycat hangings — to spoil her idyllic world.

Blyton’s daughter, Gillian Baverstock, who lives in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, today gave a family insight into the author’s thinking.

“It is wonderful that my mother’s books are remembered so fondly,” she said. “Moreover, the mystery and adventure books continue to be avidly devoured by each successive generation. The secret of their success is that they centre squarely on children, with adults only ever playing a minor role.”

She added: “The injection of adventure and excitement on to every page stimulates a child’s desire to continue to read not just one book but the whole series. In some respects my mother was also ahead of her time. She was probably the first children’s writer to give girls equal billing to boys.”

In the survey, 1,000 adults, aged between 25 and 54, were asked to name their favourite authors when they were children.

The survey, commissioned by Cartoon Network, showed that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a fantasy tale written in 1950, was the best loved of Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. This has been successfully adapted for television.

Black Beauty, the only book written by Anna Sewell, whose aim was to “induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses” takes fifth place. Just months after the book’s publication in 1877, Sewell died, aged 58, of ill health.

J.R.R. Tolkien makes it to the list with The Lord of the Rings, the trilogy which began life in 1954, in sixth place — the trilogy is now being adapted for the London stage as a musical with A.R. Rahman writing the music. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, written in 1937, ranks eighth.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908) featuring the riverbank lives of Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad comes seventh.

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937), the story of two drifters trying to make a life for themselves, ranks ninth followed by Little Women (1868) — the autobiographical novel by fellow American Louisa May Alcott.

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