Rereading Enid Blyton During The Lockdown
August 07, 2020
Enid Blyton’s books provided a window into a life that my friends and I aspired towards as children who were growing up in India in the 1980s. We’d read and reread entire series of mystery and adventure stories by Blyton, and then try to act out scenes from the books. We loved the twists that Blyton unfailingly provided in the stories, how she transported us to hitherto unknown spaces, and how they became deeply embedded in our imagination. And we rejoiced at how things always worked out for the best in the end with the children wriggling out of awkward, complex or dangerous situations, secure in their ability to overcome all odds.
After years, I found my beloved old Blytons calling out to me during the lockdown. The comforting aura of childhood favourites was necessary to tide me over this strange time, and I recalled the rapt hours I had spent with the books in the past. As I riffled through a few pages, I was entranced by the familiar worlds of exploration they opened up. So, I sat and read through the evergreen novels again.
And though they led me back to the landscapes that I had marvelled over as a child, I was now able to view them differently since I had visited those landscapes myself. Given that any form of travel, including stepping out of the house for non-essential reasons, has been forbidden over the past few months, these stories, tinged in nostalgia, have allowed me to seamlessly access entire geographies of moors, caves, castles and cottages. At the same time, they’ve given me hope that this situation is not never-ending, and that I will, once again, roam freely in the world.
Getting Lost In Imaginary Worlds
The lockdown has pretty much been all about the sameness of existence, taking me back to the interminable time of looked-forward-to but relieved-when-they-were-over school vacations. Picking up my beloved Blytons helped break this monotonous existence as her literary landscapes gave me the mental and emotional sustenance necessary to make it through each day. I was, once again, transported to far-away lands, even though the reality of that open space remained inaccessible to me.
As a young reader, my favourite novels involved secret passageways, majestic palaces, rolling mountains, rushing water, cosy cottages and daring children. Unfortunately, my reality, then and now, remains quite different.
Today, I dream of heather, bramble, lakes in the middle of hidden mountains, creepy houses and stark moors, the isolated settings in nature, and kind friends to travel with (just like the children in Blyton’s novels), while I’m caught in a reality that is defined by its isolation and lack of exploration. And I wonder if I’ll still crave the isolation once we return to a state of normality or if I’ll be more grateful for the bustling streets I had previously scorned, and appreciative of more people, and yes, even the sun that I cannot even see from the confines of my home on many days.
As I walked through the empty gardens of my neighbourhood in the middle of the lockdown, wearing the ubiquitous mask, I recalled the golden days of my childhood. And then I returned home, washed my hands, and took out the first book on the shelf dedicated to Blyton. I thought I’d simply skim through the pages, but as I progressed into the adventure-mystery hybrid that is Five On A Treasure Island, I was drawn into contemplating the metaphor of the island within the current global pandemic, particularly as I had just returned from an island myself — Singapore.
In the past, reading the book would help me travel with valiant Julian, sensible Dick, scaredy-cat Anne and admirable George and Timmy the dog in their boat to Kirrin Island (oh, to own an entire island like George’s family did!), thrilling over the hidden well and the clanking dungeon chains. This time, however, I considered how our current existence is similar to life on an isolated island (locked away at home, with little to no contact with outsiders).
As we wage our battle against this invisible robber, the virus, my sometimes failing courage was soothed by reading about 12-year-old George sitting paralysed in one spot, hearing the ominous footsteps of the smugglers echo on the cold stone flags. Her determination to dodge or confront her would-be attackers, despite her fear, is something I remind myself of today.
Incarcerated in a luxuriously fitted cave, with tinned food aplenty but no way of knowing when they will be let out, the Famous Five explore the possibilities of escape and but are foiled at every turn. As I pondered on their misery in their gilded cage, I couldn’t help but correspond it with us staying confined within our homes. The irony of being literally stranded and reading tales of active exploration was not lost on me.
Overcoming All Odds
Persistence and pluck in the face of undeniably distressing circumstances is necessary during these times. And emulating the qualities that the protagonists in Blyton’s mystery and adventure series possess can pay off. Making the best of an unexpected situation has been the hallmark of Blyton’s mysteries and adventures, and they have taught me how to overcome them with what is at hand, to keep persevering despite all odds, to leap into uncertainty and trust that one will be delivered. So, while I cannot follow suspects, jangle rusty locks on doors or tap against crumbling brick in real life, I can certainly tap into my intuition and chase leads on topics of interest to ensure that I am better equipped to deal with any new twists life (and the world) might throw my way.
Rereading these tales of ordinary valour have not only helped me value who I have in my life, the ones I am, so to say, imprisoned with—as Blyton’s little heroes are—but also to respect my own resilience. Inspired by the favourite characters of a younger me, I am getting more comfortable with leaping gamely into uncertainty today, just like I did as a child.
As we slowly inch towards a strange new normal, being bereft of strolling the world does not mean being starved of exploration, and connections. Virtual conferences, Instagram meets, online classes are helping me keep it together. Ably buoyed on by Blyton and sitting against the window bars with a small pile of yellowing novels with their creased covers, I am seeking fresh places to make my own. After all, the biggest adventure is right here, in our own hearts, holding on as we careen through this tempest alone and yet together.