#EnidBlytonControversy: Can criticise, but can’t disregard her, say Indian writers
One of the world’s most cherished children’s author, Enid Blyton’s works introduced many generations to the joy of reading, right in their childhood. But now, a UK-based charity’s linking of Blyton’s work to “racism” and “xenophobia” has fuelled a debate on social media, with loyal fans claiming it’s incorrect to criticise works written in a completely different time period.
Actor Pooja Bhatt expressed her displeasure at the brouhaha online via a tweet, that read: “Now Enid Blyton’s work is being termed as ‘xenophobic’ & is said to ‘lack literary merit’. Like millions of readers whose imagination was fuelled by her books, there goes my childhood I guess.The world is a cruel place but the faraway tree & Malory towers had nothing to do with it.” And some others on social media begged to differ, saying how the works of the author in question were indeed debatable. “Obviously Enid Blyton’s attitudes were racist, and I would only want my children reading things like ‘The Little Black Doll’ as an educational reminder. However, we cannot hold past figures to today’s societal standards. We should instead provide objective context,” wrote a Twitter user.
Writer Aseem Chhabra says he ”can’t imagine a childhood without Enid Blyton” and believes that we can critique her work but can’t disregard her immense contribution to literature. “I’ve extremely vivid memories of reading her books — the extremely engaging adventures and mysteries — at a time when I didn’t understand what racism or xenophobia was. Though I haven’t read them in over four decades, I know Blyton’s input to the literary world was vital for generations altogether. The Famous Five, The Enchanted Woods – were all books written by her, that we consumed, and we were inspired by her. We can’t just write her off! It would mean cancelling my entire childhood,” explains Chhabra, adding, “If I had young kids, I’d sit down with them and explain the context of the problematic bits in her books. The issues can’t be dismissed, but the memory of her is very valuable to me.”
It would be interesting to note that the darts of criticism have been aimed at Blyton, previously as well. The Royal Mint, in 2016, had rejected commemoration of Blyton on a 50p coin because the advisory committee found her ‘racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well regarded writer’. But author Anand Neelakantan believes that we shouldn’t judge older writers and books based on modern definitions of racism and xenophobia. He adds, “If you accuse her (Blyton) of racism, there is no end to it. Rudyard Kipling was far more racist! Winston Churchill was also racist, but he is considered as a great leader by the British, and his words are not considered racist, which is an irony. I think Blyton’s success as a woman also has a part to play in this accusation of her being racist. For her time, she was far more inclusive. Blyton has been unfairly targeted because she is far more successful than many other authors!”
Novelist Manju Kapur echoes similar sentiments, and says, “Every writer writes in their own time. We can see racism in her work, but then racism exists in India too, even today. You simply reflect your age. I’m against censorship; while you can revaluate any through the lens of modern sensibilities, it’s not fair to throw the baby out with the bathwater, baby being the books (laughs). What I believe this controversy is doing is creating more awareness on the subject, and it’s important to have these conversations too. It lets you know your position on the matter, but eventually, it must be left to the reader to decide what they make of it.”