26 July 2010

Don't say peculiar, that's just strange

People can be so stupid!

This is a link to the ABC's report of Hodder's latest brainwave.

They are going to re-edit Blyton.


This time, rather than get rid of the offensive racism (gone) or the offensive names (also gone) or even the outdated technology (gone in places), they're going for the REAL problem.

The vocabulary.

OK, I get why 'dirty tinker' needs to go, but 'swotter'? Altering 'mother and father' to 'mum and dad' seems pointless, and changing 'peculiar' to 'strange' is just stupid (in fact, I'd say that's counter-productive in the struggle to expand children's vocabulary). Hodder claim that it is being "sensitively and carefully" revised and that Blyton would approve as she wrote because there were no 'modern' books around when she was a girl. They say the aim is to make Enid's work 'timeless', so as to appeal to future generations.

Many people (as you will see in the discussion below the story) are annoyed, nay - outraged, at the stupidity of this action. They put forth the observation that it is only Enid who undergoes this constant revision; they argue that reading these old words will help children expand their knowledge and vocabulary; they claim that Blyton's vocab was indicative of the time and should stay as a testament to the period (and that generations continue to find our E appealing despite the old slang).

All of this I agree with. My problem with this action is, in addition the above, that despite the insidious nature of Blyton, she has a distinctive narrative voice, and her characters also speak in a particular way, that will be lost somewhat in the de-identification. Besides, the first thing that sprang to mind when I read this was Orwell's 'newspeak' in 1984.

And say what you will, saying George was 'jolly lonely' sounds a great deal more interesting than saying she was 'very lonely'. Those two phrases don't even mean the same thing! The latter adjective lends the phrase an element of self pity that the former does not; 'jolly' has quite a stiff upper lip feel to it. Lose the slang and you lose more than you bargained for ...

I hate to admit I was watching this (in my defense, it was after Masterchef and I couldn't be bothered getting up), but Jamie Oliver's US school show contained an element very similar to the idea behind this re-edit. When talking to the cooks about the lunch menu, he finds out that the children are never given a knife and fork to eat with because it is 'beyond their abilities', so between the ages of 4-11, they were not taught basic table manners and ate with a spoon and their fingers.

This re-edit is like that. This is a publisher deciding not to push children to grow and learn, but to drop back and make it easy for them. The loss of peculiar really irks me - I mean ... really? If a child doesn't know the word, they can LOOK IT UP! I remember writing word lists when I was young - I'd write down words I didn't know and find them in the dictionary. And I learned things that way.

GAH! You know what the result will be? Bland, dateless, over-edited books, devoid of narrative voice, lacking in decent dialogue, without the one major virtue of the distinct vocabulary. Seriously, if you want a modern children's book, there are so many writers out there you could keep your spawn reading until middle-age.

Just Leave Enid Alone!!


  1. I think my biggest problem with this is that they're trying to fit something from the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first century... and that's not going to work. The concepts and the attitudes won't suddenly make sense because "mother" is now "mum". And changing "strange" to "peculiar"? Well, that's jolly peculiar, if you ask me.

    This actually reminds me of reading an article about Emily Rodda and her approach to the Deltora books. She apparently had a specific vocabulary for the books, because she didn't want children to get confused when confronted with new or unfamiliar words. This made no sense to me, because isn't reading about expanding your horizons? How do you improve if you're not challenged to learn new things? It's crazy.

  2. I agree with you, and with what Katie said. I think that, to a certain extent, as Australians we've grown up being accustomed to unfamiliar vocabulary in books, because we would've read so many US or British books as children.

    As I child, I tended to work out the meanings of unfamiliar words by context, or I would ask my mother. I don't see why other children should be incapable of the same.

  3. Hi
    do you have an off- blog email address i can write you at?

    Have you consulted http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/ or http://www.enidblyton.net/ ?

  4. I haven't consulted them (but I have been throught both sites) - this blog is really just me ranting as I read, unaffiliated with anyone.

    As to your question, I do, but I'm wary of posting it, particularly as you yourself have not provided any personal info. Just being cautious.

  5. I'm working my way through these MT posts a little late, but loving them! I do love Malory Towers, but it is because of their total lack of reality! A boarding school full of teenage girls and no mention of boys, periods, alcohol, eating disorders - pure escapism! Anyway, just figured now would be as good a time as ever to make some observations. 1) if they edit out peculiar, they will have to edit out that whole scene in the 6th book with Suzanne the random french chick going 'piggy-hoo-learrrrrrr' !! Of course, since all she seemed to do was wander around saying 'piggy-hoo-learrrrrr' and 'police' (a desperate cry for help, grossly misinterpreted by her fellow inmates, I like to think) I guess it wouldn't be that big of a deal.
    2) I was Gwen. I think every girl who re-reads these books when they are no longer a teenage girl or an eight-year old idealist has to identify with her, because she is the only realistic character in the series! Great post about her! (Also, have you actually read Lermontov's 'A Hero of Our Time?' Great work, one of my all time favorites.)

    Just had a striking thought. Perhaps MT is a satire?! Actually a comment on the British post-war attitude? (I kid, but I'm sure someone could quite easily write some sort of dissertation proving something like that.)

    3)Ms. Peters. Lesbian. Fine. But isn't it odd that EB chooses to include such a gender-bending mannish character? Also, each time I re-read these books, I become increasingly concerned about all the time she and Bill spend together after the Thunder-colic incident.

    4)Zerelda would most certainly have a sex tape. And what is so wrong with saying sharp instead of shop? Talk about intolerant, Darrell.

    Sorry for the length of this! Just realized I have rambled a bit, but I am really enjoying reading these posts. Great work!