My childhood memories date from my nursery and kindergarten years and as far back as I remember, my reading habits began with Blyton and her Noddy books, graduating from there to the Famous Five, The Find Outers, the Adventure stories, St. Claire and Mallory Towers (the last two were girl school stories but were devoured equally by boys and girls) to fairy stories involving wizards, fairies and goblins. Not only did the kids in them have a whale of a time, they ate what to me seemed like scrumptious food - scones, toasted muffins, potted meat sandwiches, ham and eggs. It helped of course that I didn't really know about any of these but those kids had so much fun eating. By the time of my senior years in high school I had moved to another fictitious British world -- that of Wodehouse and also of Dickens and many others. But my years of Blyton have always seemed special -- perhaps because it is where I picked up a love of books and a love for reading.
Enid Blyton's reputation, has, in the recent more complicated politically correct world, fallen on hard times. She has been accused of racism (think gollywogs), class consciousness (an unfair charge since most of the kids in her stories belonged squarely in the middle class and often reflected the difficult post war years in Britain), a bias against foreigners (Frank Richards shared this trait with her, a fact for which Orwell once chided him in one of his columns only to have the wind taken out of his sails by being told by Richards that foreigners are funny -- as in weird! ). The present generation has no use for her and her books, while still available, don't sell anywhere like they used to a couple of decades ago. Her books have been psychoanalyzed to death, mostly to their detriment and overall, she no longer has the same fan following.
But for a child growing up in Delhi in the 60s, with the British having left barely 20 years earlier, the terrific adventures of a bunch of spunky kids from the mother country, with no adults to supervise them, were just plain fun and I couldn't get enough of them. And I think this was true of many children of my generation, growing up in a similar milieu.
I can see many of my colleagues, and, I dare say, friends curling their upper lip, sneering at such juvenile reading habits. For them, Reading is for Improving the Mind and Expanding ones' Horizons. Thus they Read Socio-Political History of the Indian Ocean Islands or Contemporary Relevance of Aurobindo Ghosh, or Human Development and the Structure of Language. But while we have all moved on from Blyton to Dickens and thereafter to Marquez and Rushdie all the way to the Ishiguros and Murakamis, the habit of reading and the love of books I owe to a bunch of five plucky kids and a dog who set out with their picnic hamper to solve yet another mystery or get involved in yet another adventure in a far off island.