Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hands Off Mr Twiddle!

I watched the BBC biopic Enid over the weekend (starring the always lovely Helena Bonham Carter). While it didn't always paint a rosy portrait of one of the most beloved children's authors of all time, Enid Blyton, it did make me all wistful and nostalgic for the days when I could curl up with the Famous Five and the Faraway Tree and Malory Towers. I read them again and again and again, much in the same way children have been doing for 70-odd years now.

But of course, the modern world is going to get the better of us, and 'update' the 'old-fashioned' language in her stories to make them more 'accessible' to today's children. What a load of codswollop. Nobody's going to update Austen or Shakespeare or Dickens, because they are pieces of history in their own right. I'm pretty sure kids nowdays will be able to grasp that a "school tunic" is a school uniform, or that a "house mistress" is a teacher. Why must we insit on raising a generation of idle-minded idiots? The amount of young adults out there who think it's ok to communicate exclusively in text-speak, to be lax with basic grammar, and to not even attempt correct spelling, is downright disturbing. Let's not raise the next generation in the same way.

As Children's Book Council President Maj Kirkland told ABC radio yesterday, the language in Blyton's books is "unique and loved by children". It's quaint, it's idealistic - but we're talking about the under-12's here. There's a great line in the BBC film where Blyton, being interviewed on the radio, says she "cares nothing for any critic over the age of 12". (Actually, I hope that's a direct quote from the lady herself!) In other words, grown-ups: butt out and let your kids experience the same innocent, magical worlds we did (and our parents, grandparents...though no doubt the people who came up with the idea of 'modernising' were never allowed to read Blyton's books on account of them being anti-feminist or racist or classist or other such '-ists' that your average 9 year old is going to consider).

I still adore the idea of Blyton's "old-fashioned" worlds where tea-time was drenched in lashings of ginger beer and jelly; where the naughtiest misdemeanour schoolgirls were involved in were delicious midnight feasts in the dormitory; and where honesty and good old-fashioned hard work were always rewarded. They not only encouraged a sense of right and wrong, but also encouraged the use of one's imagination - a giant tree with rotating worlds at the top? A flying chair? Ridiculous - but such fun when you're a child! Characters called Dick and Fanny and Mr Twiddle? Snigger, snigger; but isn't it a good way to consider how different generations use different words, instead of simply erasing them from history?

The stories might be, at a basic level, much the same even with updated language, but keeping those 'old-fashioned' words not only expands one's vocabulary (desperately needed in today's 140-character-limit society) but encourages kids to learn. Yes, learn. Figure out the meanings using their brains. And, fundamentally, to simply enjoy the whole point of a story - to be whisked away to a different time/place/world and have some jolly good old-fashioned fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment