Long before Harry Potter was even a twinkle in J. K. Rowling's eye, another British author staked her claim as queen of children's literature.
Enid Blyton was a lean, keen, writing machine who churned out over 700 books in a career spanning forty years. Devoted readers from Portsmouth to Port Elizabeth devoured her stories in their hundreds of thousands. Even today, translations of her work outnumber those of Shakespeare and Dickens.
Barbara Stoney's biography of this gifted, single-minded woman was first published in 1974. The current edition brings the story up to date and uses recently discovered material from Enid's early life.
Born into a comfortable London home, Enid's carefree childhood came to an abrupt end when her beloved father left his wife for another woman. Unable to share her feelings about this trauma, young Enid retreated to her bedroom to write fairy stories. It was a coping mechanism that would often carry her through the harsh realities of life.
Turning her back on a promising career as a musician, Enid followed a vocation in teaching. Pupils adored the cheerful young woman who turned their lessons into games, and it was through teaching that she began to enjoy success as a contributor to children's magazines. Young readers responded warmly to Enid's tales of fairies and goblins, while older children enjoyed her weekly observations on nature. By her mid-twenties, Enid was able to forsake the classroom for a new career as a full-time writer.
Stoney's treatment of her subject is largely sympathetic, but she doesn't airbrush out the less appealing aspects of Enid's life. A broken marriage, the sometimes harsh treatment of her staff, a stubborn streak and quick temper are frankly acknowledged. But Enid also learned she was a brand that could be a force for good. The mere mention of a children's charity in her magazine was enough to ensure a tidal wave of donations.
The biography highlights other contradictions in Enid's character. Her young readers seemed to sense there was a part of Enid that had never grown up. This empathy was to prove invaluable during World War II. As many British children found themselves evacuated to the countryside, they took comfort from Enid, who gently encouraged them to identify the plants and wildlife she'd so often mentioned in her writing. Yet, Enid was also a formidable businesswoman. A card index memory and a confident manner served her well in negotiating publishing contracts. But her publishers knew they were on to a good thing, ensuring that even wartime paper shortages wouldn't stop Enid's books rolling off the presses.