The Faraway Tree Stories and My Nuclear Birthday Cake

The Faraway Tree Stories (1939, 1943, 1946) by Enid Blyton have potential.  Upon receiving my copy of the book, which contains three books in one, I felt excited to begin reading these children’s stories which seemed to be about exciting adventures in the forest.  That’s exactly what they are about; however, the stories are meant for somebody a sixth of my age.  I did not enjoy them much.  Yet, I was forewarned.  Childtastic Books recently ran a post on Enid Blyton, to which I commented that I had wanted to read her work and that I had a hard time getting a hold of it in the United States.  She warned me not to start with The Faraway Tree Stories, but because they are number 90 on the BBC book list, I did not listen.  I should have.

The stories are made up of three books: The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree, and The Folk of the Faraway Tree.  While all of these titles sound exciting and imaginative, the actual execution of the stories was anything but.  The stories are formulaic, dry, predictable, plagiaristic, and accompanied by rudimentary illustrations.

As you can tell, I did not enjoy the 583 pages I spent with children Joe, Beth, and Frannie as they constantly got into trouble with Moon Face, Silky, the Saucepan man, and others.  The general gist of each few chapters (or story) is that the three children go to visit their friends (Silky the fairy and Moon Face, the strange man with a moon face) in the Faraway Tree.  At the top of the tree is a large cloud, and if the children go through that cloud, they enter another world.  Such worlds include: The Land of Take-What-You-Want, The Land of Topsy-Turvy, Birthday Land, The Land of Toys, The Land of Tempers, The Land of Enchantment, and The Land of Secrets.  As you can see, there is a lot of room for the children to meet interesting people and also to get into a lot of trouble.

Of course, they get into trouble.  A story isn’t any good without conflict and resolution, so the children are constantly getting stuck in these lands, making the residents of the lands angry or breaking the rules.  The most common conflicts they face have something to do with gluttony or an inability to control themselves.  They are constantly warned against going certain places and doing certain things, but they do them anyway.  And with how much food they all eat in these lands where wishes come true, everybody in the book should weigh about 300 pounds by the end.

Although I did not enjoy the books, I don’t think that makes them bad.  I think it makes me old.  These books are written at a young child’s level and are written like fairy tales, in which detail and description do not abound, but in which problem solving is the major part of the story.  Fairy tales are good for children because of this, and as Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”   Blyton’s books definitely fall into this fairy tale category.

The other great part of these stories is that the three children tend to be escaping a somewhat difficult home life.  Their parents are kind, but the family is poor and the children often work hard and go without.  In the Faraway Tree, they have the opportunity to escape, to bring home items they would normally not be able to have, and to make friends.  Children’s stories that promote this sort of escapism are endearing to me.  This seems especially appropriate for Blyton’s books because they were published during World War II.  However, by the second book, the children are sneaking out at night without their parents’ knowledge.  I’m not sure if I like that.

As I read about Birthday Land, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my least favorite birthdays.  It made me long to be with the children, eating the cake that really granted wishes and having all of the food in the world to choose from.  This particular least favorite birthday (there are many) occurred when I was seventeen.  My mother told me to make my own cake.  (If this sounds odd to you, read my Tiger Mother post).  I did make the cake, and because my favorite color is purple, I tried to make purple frosting.  (This was before you could buy purple food coloring.  I had to mix the red and blue droplets together.)  The frosting came out an ugly grey color, so I sprinkled some colorful nonpareils on top to make it more festive.  Well, my family saw my handiwork and began calling it nuclear cake.  (This event also evokes memories of the time I made brownies that were rock hard.)  They all laughed at me, and even told my boyfriend about it.  I hated that birthday.

Well, I don’t feel inspired to read any other Enid Blyton books, ever.  However, I know that these stories are not her best work, nor are they the most representative.  If you are familiar with her, what should I read instead?  I’d like to give her another chance.