Monday, December 6, 2010

Mark Twain and Enid Blyton: A Tale of Two Writers

2010 marks the centennial death anniversary as well as the one hundredth and seventy-fifth birthday of Mark Twain. Thus, accordingly, commemorations of these mammoth remembrances of Mark Twain have been taking place all over the world in the form of "new" autobiographies of the writer.

A writer who compares favorably with Mark Twain is none other than British children's writer, Enid Blyton, whose one hundredth birth anniversary was commemorated in 1997.

One of the cardinal similarities between Mark Twain and Enid Blyton is their usage of water as a metaphor in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Secret Island, respectively. This congruence could be due to the fact that the two writers had drastically been affected by their experiences of having lived by and on the rivers at critical as well as crucial times in their lives. For instance, in 1857, Mark Twain became a "cub" steamboat pilot on the River Mississippi, and was continually to come back to the river several times as an inspiration for his writing throughout the reminder of his life. It is obvious that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was in large part, a product of this experience. Enid Blyton's first home, Old Thatch, which is literally situated on the banks of The River Thames, also inspired some of her most noted works such as The Mystery Of The Vanished Prince. Incidentally, the two rivers have played crucial political, historical, and economic roles in The United States and Britain, respectively.

Another Blytonian book in which Mark Twain's influence was a little bit felt was in Five On Finniston Farm, for instance, whereby Junior the American boy utters the word, "Shucks" as he throws a cake at Tim the dog's feet. Although, the Americans may not have had the monopoly of having used the word, "Shucks" in its original form or normal usage, it is apparent that in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the word was used in instances such as, "Shucks, it ain't no use to talk to you, Huck Finn..." or, "Shucks, it ain't calling you anything..." Ergo, Enid Blyton's attribution of the word to Junior, who is American and having seen the influence of Mark Twain on Enid Blyton, simply suggests Mark Twain, or rather for that matter, American influence on some Blytonian writings.

Both writers wrote "very controversial" books, notably, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) and The Three Golliwogs (Enid Blyton). Despite being an American novel, through and through, per se, ironically, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in England in 1884, (then in the USA, the following year in 1885). The Three Golliwogs was published 60 years later (that is two full generations [a full generation is officially 30 years] later) in 1944 in England. Both books are most noted for their racial overtones. For instance, the word, "nigger" was used 212 in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, while the "n" word never escaped The Three Golliwogs. Thus, an endless debate has ensured as to whether both books are racist by their usage of the "n" word in several instances. Maybe, the eclectic conclusion could either be that if Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is deemed racist by its continual usage of the "n" word, then The Three Golliwogs should also be considered a racist book since the "n" word never escapes it as well. If Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is deemed not racist, so should The Three Golliwogs, and certainly, one of the books should not be deemed racist while the other is not.

All in all, the two books may have tried to explain actual racial conditions that existed in the past (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and to some extent, still exist in the present (The Three Golliwogs).

It is worth noting that incidentally, Enid Blyton's really first novel, The Secret island, was in part inspired by Adventures of Huckleberry finn. For instance, in The Secret island, Mike, Peggy, and Nora, with the assistance of their friend, Jack, escape in a boat to "the secret island" in order to escape the slave-like conditions imposed upon them by their uncle and aunt such as doing hard labor in their garden without little or no remuneration for their input, just as Jim the slave, along with his friend, Huck, had escaped to an island (at least for sometime) in the middle of the River Mississippi to escape Slavery (that in part required working in plantation gardens), and domestic woes, respectively. As in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the escapees in The Secret Island have to play hide-and-seek with their former overseers who are bent on recapturing them.

All in all, despite being non-black or non-"persons of color," Mark Twain and Enid Blyton should be commended for having courageously pointed out the vestiges of racism in the past and present, respectively.

Stephen Isabirye is the author of The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (,