17 April 2018

Well, Look who Finally Decided to Grace the Internet with Her Presence

... Far too many of my posts start with an apology of this nature.

Anyway. Good Intentions time! As a sign of good faith - AN ACTUAL POST

Book recaps coming back soon. Promise. Cross my heart and hope to die. 

So here it is:

I have been pondering lately the wisdom of reading the latest line of Famous five books, those new novels revisiting our favourite celebrity quartet and dog as adults as they battle grown up issues – like gluten intolerance and alcohol dependence. On the face of it, this is something that would be right up my alley: it’s a mix of Enid and snark that I certainly appreciate, and it harks back to the comic strip production “Five Go Mad in Dorset”, which my sisters and I still quote at one another.

Huzzah! I thought when I saw them. More reading material for me!

Then I thought about it some more.

Part of the joy of rereading Enid as an adult comes from the fact that Enid is the straight man in the joke. One laughs and rages at Enid BECAUSE what she says and the opinions she espouses are honestly held and earnestly stated. She’s not in on the joke with the snarky reader. You can like or dislike the characters because Enid’s Earnestness separates the characters from the author. The joy of Enid is that you can enter into her sympathies to whatever extent you want. The power is in your hands. Enid writes children’s books for children, so adults can take away different things than was intended.

So when it comes to a snarky modernisation, I run into the issue of a change of perspective. Writing a children’s book for adults, you have to walk a fine line. Anne of Green Gables does it – the perspective of the narrator is clearly an adult voice, and the view taken of the child characters is fondly derisive.

Having not read any of them (I should point this out), the idea of the books that comes to me is that I’m being expected to enter into the views of the writer. I am expected to be complicit with the mocking of characters who have been re-rendered to be universally unpleasant. The characters and the opinion of the author are so intertwined that the reader cannot separate the story or the characters from the snark.

But I’ll admit that I might be a bit biased.

I’ve been burned by such literary retellings before – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was (to me) a crushing disappointment (both the book and the film). Other than the seminal “Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, vlog classics retellings have rarely lived up to their initial promise. Stephenie Meyer tied sparkly vampires to romantic and gothic classics because … well, you gotta borrow storylines from somewhere.

Yeah, I may have had some bad experiences with non-canon material.

Even within the realm of Enid has this modern take on a classic burned me. Being a young na├»ve reader in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was overjoyed to learn that Enid had written 10 Naughtiest Girl books. Now, that number in and of itself was not a matter of suspicion to me at the time – the prolific typewriter basher Enid went more for bulk than nuance in her work. However, once I moved beyond “Here’s the Naughtiest Girl”, there was a change. The writing … improved. It was still mawkish and sentimental, and it carried something of the same cadence and vocabulary, but it was better. I felt betrayed.

THEN, I noticed:

  •         that the stories had become more toothless, while the dramatic  stakes apparently became apparently higher.
  •        Conventional and cohesive storytelling arcs were used.
  •        “Modern” issues like bullying, the environment, and dealing with underlying psychological issues sensitively became more apparent.
  •         Teachers became figures of overt authority in Whyteleafe school, which had previously flaunted its Lord of the Flies ambience as being the main selling point of the school’s non-traditional system.

I’d been “Sweet Valley’d” (you know, where one name is used to sell the work of a ghost writer – VC Andrews is another example).

Having realised the error in my understanding of the authorship, I was left feeling betrayed. How Dared they replace Enid with a competent alternative? How DARED they replace school fetish drivel with actual stories?

NO. I won’t have it. And although the grown up famous five might be funny and clever and much better than I expect, I’m not having anything to do with them either.

I’ve got enough to get through with the original …


  1. Goodness, I had no idea such a thing existed! I don't think I could read it, either. Actually, I don't even think I could re-read the originals, even though I have the whole set in the original hardbacks.

    Thank goodness for someone else who didn't like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The book was vastly disappointing, mostly because I had all sorts of ideas of how to work zombies into P&P and the author did none of them. Ugh. And the movie was worse: proper ladies DO NOT SHOUT IN THE STREET. Stop it.

  2. I will say that Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters was better, as they really got into world building and altering the text. P&P&Z felt like an abridged version of the book with paragraphs tacked on.

  3. I thought this blog had been abandoned. So glad to see it back. I don't know if I ever gave a 'modern addition' of old work a try outside of fanfiction but I've always felt icky on them. Modern writers tend not to have the guts to be Enid's level of terrible.

    1. I sometimes thought so too ... but I kept the book around and it just stayed in my mind. I am currently re-reading the naughtiest girl, and am appalled all over again at what is happening.

      And you're right, modern writers can't bring themselves to wallow in the bog of Enid's opinions, or to appear as anything other than competent. Is this the point where we sigh and mourn the good old days?

  4. Are you going to review the St. Clare's books, Fen? =)

    1. Oh yes, I shall. But I'm going to move away from a school book after this one. Give us all something of a holiday (well ... it could be argued I've given myself a 3 year holiday from this, so no rest for me!)