As a young reader I devoured both the Famous Five and Secret Seven series (and more) by the time I was 6 and then like for many before (and since) realised there were and would be no more books.
I ached for more adventures and whilst yes I found other books to read, and as I grew up I realised the cringeworthy controversies of racism, sexism and elitism that permeate these books I still have a soft spot for Blyton’s characters.
And it seems that I am not alone, publishers and those who look after the rights have realised that modern children can still enjoy the characters and stories of Enid Blyton’s prolific imagination which is why a selection of books are continuously in print.
AND there is some opportunity to continue the stories and possibly even tweak for the 21st century mindset and if it’s ok to continue series such as James Bond (which has been rebooted over and over both in novel and film), Poirot and so forth by modern authors, why not reboot Blyton?
It’s been done before, Pamela Cox was asked to fill the gaps and finish the stories Enid Blyton had begun at St Clare’s and Malory Towers and Cox’s continuations were published by Egmont between 2000-2009.
Pamela Butchart has stepped up with The Secret Seven and created a continuation of sorts and a reboot in others, taking the original characters and the context of their adventures, the way that children get curious and involve themselves in adventures but gently reinterpreting the dynamics and behaviours to suit a much more modern mindset.
In Mystery of the Skull there’s something dodgy going on at the hotel in the village, there’s a MASSIVE hole dug in the grounds, no staff apart from a dodgy American couple and then a Skull turns up in Peters’ bedroom- can the Secret Seven solve the case.
In the Mystery of the Theatre Ghost a theatre troupe has come to town but are constantly sabotaged with cast and crew dropping like flies and a rumpus about a ghost being behind it all. Can the Seven solve the case before someone gets hurt or Jack’s annoying little sister uncovers the culprit?
Butchart retains the cosy legacy of the original with its joyful celebration of children’s friendship; of preoccupation with food (especially pies, sandwiches, biscuits, old fashioned cakes and sweets); the elements of danger or being caught but ultimately being brave or escaping; pondering over clues and collecting of evidence in notebooks; the badges; the passwords; Peter’s bossiness; Jack’s appetite and his annoying little sister Susie; and the plot developments that occur because of Scamper the dog. The essential elements are there and feel comfortingly familiar.
But there is equally certain aspects changed for the better. Butchart’s writing style and language is undoubtably post modern, it’s tight and efficient where Blyton would take a page to describe the scene of Peter and Janet waiting in the shed in a slightly of every item in the shed, pedantic slow manner like a still life. Instead, Butchart gets the scene set and interactions and dialogue going all at once in a much more brisk manner.
The most powerful thing that Butchart does for this rebooted septuplet is how she actually gives the girls personalities and things to do other than basically domesticated subservient ‘shall I play mother?’s round the refreshments, squealing (in fear or delight), or a being a plot device for inspiring a boy’s ingenious thought or simply repeating back a snappy conclusion of what the boys have discovered for the reader who hasn’t twigged yet.
Butchart’s girls have sass and skills, are playful and, in Mystery of the Skull at least, give as good as they get with the boys; whilst they admittedly may not enjoy it they confidently get dirty and stare danger in the face too in order to solve a mystery- even if it’s in pug slippers.
However I do feel Peter and Jack certainly take more of a centre stage in Mystery of The Theatre Ghost and the girls step back apart from a super act of female solidarity towards Peter and Janet’s mum.
Though to be fair it would only be democratic for the Secret Seven to take their turns in who gets to shine book by book!
Whilst it may take some adapting for some nostalgic readers, I love this new Secret Seven, (possibly more than the original) and want to see more of this familiar but fresh attitude applied across the catalogue.
Which is why I’m so excited for the other reboots coming such as Malory Towers and St Clare’s stepping forward after the footsteps of Pamela Cox.
Enid Blyton The Secret Seven: Mystery of the Skull and Enid Blyton The Secret Seven: Mystery of the Theatre Ghost by Pamela Butchart and illustrated by Tony Ross are published by Hodder Childrens.