Farewell to the awful swotters, dirty tinkers and jolly japes: Enid Blyton’s language is being dragged out of the 1940s by her publisher in an attempt to give her books greater appeal for today’s children.
Starting next month with 10 Famous Five novels, Hodder is “sensitively and carefully” revising Blyton’s text after research with children and parents showed that the author’s old-fashioned language and dated expressions were preventing young readers from enjoying the stories. The narrative of the novels will remain the same, but expressions such as “mercy me!” have been changed to “oh no!”, “fellow” to “old man” and “it’s all very peculiar” to “it’s all very strange”.
The intention, said Hodder, is to make the text “timeless” rather than 21st century, with no modern slang — or references to mobile phones — introduced.
“The actual stories remain the same — there’s no change to the plot whatsoever,” said Anne McNeil, publishing director of Hodder Children’s Books. “Children who read (the Famous Five books) need to be able to easily understand the haracterisations and easily to get into the plots. If the text is revised (they’re) more likely to be able to engage with them.” Other changes include “housemistress” becoming “teacher”, “awful swotter” becoming “bookworm”, “mother and father” becoming “mum and dad”, “school tunic” becoming “uniform” and Dick’s comment that “she must be jolly lonely all by herself” being changed to “she must get lonely all by herself”.
McNeil said references to a “tinker” have also been changed to “traveller”. “Enid Blyton wouldn’t have meant that (‘tinker’) pejoratively. It’s a description of a person, in order to place the character. So ‘dirty tinker’ has become traveller.” Blyton, said Hodder, was a “passionate” advocate of child literacy and would stress the importance of children relating to her characters, especially through their dialogue. The author criticised the books that she used to read as a child herself, saying: “There was no lively conversation, telling exactly what the speakers were like, just as a conversation does in real life”.
Hodder will publish 10 contemporary Famous Five books in August, starting with Five on a Treasure Island, originally published in 1942, in which siblings Julian, Dick and Anne first spend the summer with their tomboy cousin George (Georgina, by rights) and her dog Timmy, and hunt for treasure on Kirrin island. It will bring out the rest of the titles over the next seven months, and McNeil said that if research pointed towards the need to update further Blyton titles “we would respond (to that)”.