Monday, July 26, 2010


Ten of the Enid Blyton Famous Five books are to have their language updated to be easier to read for today's children, according to an article in the Guardian.
"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".
I'm torn. It's true that language changes and those translations make a lot of sense to me, yet how do you signal that the culture of the books is archaic without the language to clue you in? Or are today's kids savvy enough to understand that times were different then without the linguistic clues?

What do you think?


Old Kitty said...

It's why they (whoever they are!!) fall back on old classics for todays reading. Why not spend money looking and supporting good childrens' writers and helping them out so that their books will be the reading of choice??

I mean I'm all for taking iconic literary characters and updating them for tv and film (i.e. Sherlock) but to dabble in what has been already written is just silly. It's like updating poor Charles Dickens (some guy did this earlier) and Shakespeare to fit into modern language. Doesn't work.

Just my humble opinion btw!

Take care

Miriam Drori said...

Interesting question. I'm torn, too. What OK says makes a lot of sense. And yet, I was really lost in Shakespeare as a child and have never gone back to it. And my son was forced to read a book with American dialogue that I found hard to follow and he didn't understand at all. Maybe it depends how unfamiliar the language is.

fairyhedgehog said...

Kitty, it's a valid point that there are a lot of modern children's books that could be read instead. The modern books probably have better role models for the girls too!

Miriam, I certainly couldn't read Chaucer in the original, or Beowulf. Not that I have any great desire to read either, I'm just saying!

Richard N said...

It wasn't broken, and it was a mistake to fix it.

Stories like that are a valuable cultural time-capsule, and should be valued (and preserved) as such.

Unknown said...

Those changes could really take some flavor out of the book (I haven't read it so I don't know for sure) If the book was written for a different generation it is about a different generation an its not going to make sense if you try to "modernize" it. You couldn't take Alice in Wonderland or The Little Princess and change to language to make it more accessable without having to change to story too --and if you did change it that would defeat half the purpose of reading them for children --to experience a piece of another time through the universal things that all kids (or people) can relate to. Reading is good for kids because it helps them expand their understanding of things. The books should be making their minds bigger, not the books being dumbed down to fit inside their minds.
So yes. If any of that made sense. Forgive my ranting. :)

Simon Kewin said...

I'm rather torn too. I enjoy the rather archaic language at the same time as finding some of the attitudes represented pretty objectionable. But, my 10 year old daughter loves to read the original books and I'm happy for her to do so. I say thank heavens for George in the Famous Five!

Richard N said...

Simon: I agree that some of the attitudes are objectionable, but that doesn't justify erasing them from history... having them there to be seen 'as a snapshot of the times' is, I feel, an important way to measure our progress beyond them, and as a warning against backsliding.

Books that were fine by the standards of the day, but appear 'unenlightened' now are all documenting our social history 'as it was' rather than 'as we wish it had been'.

fairyhedgehog said...

Richard, I don't think they're aiming so much to change the culture of the books - that would need a huge reworking (although some of the newer version is more pc I admit). It was more making it comprehensible, like translating Chaucer.

Taryn, I agree. The only thought I have is that Blyton's books used a lot of slang and I think that ages less well than more mainstream language.

Simon, yes at least there was George! I did find the attitudes to women, foreigners, the poor, and a whole host of other people made for uneasy reading when my boys were younger.

Sylvia said...

Add me to the list of people who are torn. On the one hand, it feels condescending to me to believe that children can't cope with the vocabulary as written and as you say, it changes the tone of the story.

On the other hand, I know my son rejected this book and many others from the same era, and as he is an avid reader, the issue may well be the language. Less an issue of understanding it and more a judgement against it before he even started reading. That fits in with the "mother and father" change - any child would understand it but they would also judge it as hopelessly old-fashioned.

But still... *sigh*

fairyhedgehog said...

sylvia, it's not easy, is it? I'll be interested to see how these ten books are received by kids. Maybe then we'll know whether it's been a useful idea or not.

A said...

I read them as a child and I would rather remember them the way they were. I do enjoy my nostalgia. Not sure if todays youth would enjoy them or not, with or without the updated language.

fairyhedgehog said...

Silentvoice, I loved everything Enid Blyton wrote when I was a kid but I didn't find it stood up to re-reading as an adult. Whereas CS Lewis pretty much did.

SillyBoy said...

I'm in favour of leaving well alone, but then I am approaching grumpy-old-man territory. The language was already outdated when I read the books as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, and I didn't have a problem with it. I usually more-or-less figured out what unfamilar words meant from context, and any that remained opaque didn't stop me following the story. Sometimes I'd look them up in the dictionary later or ask my mum.

Besides, wasn't the jolly queer way the characters spoke part of the fun of reading the books? :)

Anyway, this wouldn't be the first time. When my ickle sister got into the FF books in the early 90s, I borrowed one that I hadn't read before, and discovered that someone had updated references to currency, of all things; characters were actually dealing in 50p pieces and pound coins! That seems to me an even worse change - it suggested a modern setting that everything else in the book denied.

fairyhedgehog said...

SillyBoy, you're far too young to be a grumpy old man, otherwise that makes me a geriatric!

The jolly queer language was definitely distinctive and I agree that updating the money and nothing else is a complete anachronism.

I've just watched Sherlock on BBC iplayer and that is an updating that really does work for me.

Amanda C. Davis said...

I got a huge kick out of the Lapine glossary in the back of Watership Down. I wonder if it would be an appropriate compromise to include something like that in slightly older kids' books: Just a few pages that say "People talked a little bit differently back then! Here's how we'd say it now" and then list out the most outdated terms with their modern counterparts.

fairyhedgehog said...

Amanda, that's a good idea. I wonder if one of the publishers would try it.

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