I never read Enid Blyton when I was a kid. That is because I grew up in a country called “America.” But apparently she’s a big deal in other parts of the English-speaking universe — last year in a UK poll she was voted the most beloved author of all time.
Now, I’ve eaten marmite, so I know that English people have a sick sense of humor. But I want to start reading my daughter fantasy, and I tried The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on her, but it was a little too complicated — that scene where Mr. Tumnus betrays Lucy is too confusing. (And when you reread it, it’s actually pretty weird.) And I’ve explained about Harry Potter, but I think she’s missing something, since she insists she wants to be in Hufflepuff. An Australian associate of mine suggested I try Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree instead. It doesn’t seem to be in print here, so I Amazoned up a tatty old copy (“good condition” my rump). And wow.
Here’s the setup: Jo, Fanny, Bessie and their cousin Dick (who’s visiting) live near an Enchanted Forest, wherein grows the Magic Faraway Tree. Various magical creatures live in the tree, including a fairy named Silky and a guy named Moonface — he has a big round face — and a dude named the Saucepan Man, who has kettles and saucepans hanging all over him.
But the main event is that at the top of the Magic Faraway there’s a ladder, and every day or so a new magical land rotates into place at the top of the ladder, so every time you go up there it’s different. The Land of Topsy-Turvy, the Land of Spells, the Land of Dreams … Moonface seems to have some kind of schedule, so he tends to know what’s going to be there.
This stuff is perfectly geared for a 4-year-old. It could have been written by a 4-year-old. It’s not like Narnia, where there’s a big story arc. It’s Narnia Lite: a different random thing happens about every 10 seconds. And the whole world is very childlike: inside the tree, for example, there’s a spiral slide that runs from the top to the bottom.
There’s touches of darkness, too, that keep it from just being fluff. You don’t want to overstay your welcome in one of those magic lands or it’ll rotate away from the tree with you in it. There’s a genuinely scary moment when the kids almost get trapped like that, in the Land of Spells. And here’s another thing you don’t want to do: get in a fight with Saucepan Man. That dude will mess you up. And when you punch him? Your fist just hits a saucepan. Who looks stupid now, huh?
So we’re tearing through The Magic Faraway Tree. And more good news: Blyton apparently wrote like 800 books. Literally.
Best of all, Lily is too young to laugh at people named Fanny and Dick. (Apparently later editions actually have him as Rick.) Plenty of time for that later.