The Enid Blyton Society
The Enchanted Wood
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Book Details...

First edition: 1939
Publisher: George Newnes
Illustrator: Dorothy M. Wheeler
Category: Faraway Tree
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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Review by Terry Gustafson
Further Illustrations

Reprints


1st edition, illustrated by Dorothy M. Wheeler



Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by Dorothy M. Wheeler
"What do I see? Yes — three children, and I know their names — Jo, Bessie and Fanny! And now, having found my characters, I must find my "setting." What do I see? I see a dark, mysterious wood — the Enchanted Wood. There I see a giant of a tree — it is the strange Faraway Tree, a tree that touches the sky...",
The Faraway Tree books could be looked upon as high-flyers in the Enid Blyton collection. Like the Secret Seven series they would belong more in the classification of books for younger readers but there is a factor in these tales that separates them from other fairy/fantasy stories. There is a continual supply of magical lands to explore and there are a host of creative and diverse characters. There is plenty of magic, and because there are several books in the collection they are more memorable than the one-off stories in a volume like The Blue Story Book. The combination of real children and fairy-folk is another factor which would distinguish them from other short series such as Mr. Twiddle, or Mr. Meddle although Mr. Pink-Whistle might be up with the play but I didn't think his adventures and surroundings are as rich in content as those of the Faraway Tree. If the issue was forced and I had to name a comparable collection it would be The Wishing Chair.

The three children who star are possibly more remembered for their association with the Tree itself rather than for their magnetic personalities but that's not being derogatory. Jo with his sisters Bessie and Fanny are the anchors from where all the adventures begin and they are pleasant kids whose make-up could be compared to other Blyton characters such as Molly and Peter in the aforementioned Wishing Chair tales. It's desirable to have at least one naughty child in the group and as Blyton heroes are generally very good and kind to animals and humans one or two other kids with slightly more deviant personalities are introduced at a later stage.
Like the characters in The Family at Red-Roofs, Jo, Bessie and Fanny who reside in the cluttered and dirty town abandon the family home and are taken to new surroundings in the wider-open spaces near a mysterious forest which according to their father is known as The Enchanted Wood. The children visit the wood and are introduced to the strange noise the trees make — "Wisha-wisha-wisha!" A little further on they encounter some Brownies who are holding a meeting and Jo spots a sneaky looking gnome who is about to steal one of the Brownie's bags. He foils the gnome by tripping him up and the children chase after him but he disappears up an enormous tree known locally as "The Faraway Tree." The Brownies appear on the scene and thank the children for their kindness but when Jo wonders what it would be like to climb the tree he is warned against it. The tree is so tall that it reaches to the clouds where strange and often dubious lands pass by after settling for a while above the topmost branches. The children would be well advised to keep clear of the place for their own safety.

No wonder these books are so popular. The plot-line whets the appetite immediately because not only are fairy-folk found to be living in the tree but there is also the added attraction which begs the question: What land is at the top of the tree today? To obtain an answer, some climbing needs to be done and that's exactly what the children do several days later. Up they go and the very first person they encounter is an extremely angry pixie who accuses them of peeping in his window. There is an altercation that will make the children remember this little chap for a long time. They climb further and it's all very exciting wondering who lives behind the little doors which they glimpse as they progress towards the top. Yes, they are going right to the top so obviously none of them suffer from vertigo or in English — a "fear of high places." Another person they meet is called Silky and she would be about the prettiest little character in all of the several hundred Enid Blyton books that exist and I'm speaking of the fairy, elf, or pixie category, rather than the human one. Father Christmas, who each year put the most attractive doll in the world at the top of his own tree, chose Silky for that honour at one stage of her life but unfortunately he had to bypass the idea because Silky is not a doll — she is a real live elf. She might also be looked upon as a fairy because a little confusion has been brought about by the fact that as books are reprinted new artists are called upon and when Rene Cloke took over the reins she changed the Dorothy Wheeler concept of Silky by drawing the character a little smaller and bestowing her with wings. We are at the mercy of the illustrators because Eileen Soper who was yet another Blyton artist, put wings on some of her pixies and not on others so maybe elves could have wings as well but in the long run — it doesn't really matter.

The children learn of other inhabitants. There's one chap who's forgotten his name, and there's a large owl and also a washer-woman who lives near the top. When I first read about this resident laundress I visualized her balancing on a broad branch with a kind of cauldron in which she did all her washing. The woman whose name is appropriately Dame Washalot would have possessed her own house in the tree-trunk and probably washed the clothes inside but how on earth would she get rid of the water? The children receive the answer to this question — particularly Bessie!

Jo, Bessie and Fanny, who should be awarded medals for sheer courage in the face of height, eventually reach the top of the Faraway Tree where there is a ladder. They climb that, pass through a cloud, and enter their very first venue — Roundabout Land which, true to its name, goes round and round and round. It's not pleasant because when you are spun all the time you get quite giddy. They have a problem getting off but they manage to exit with the help of some rabbits and after a few dangerous maneuvers which are taken in their stride, they manage to reach the Faraway tree again.

They're still at the top and the sheer distance from the ground finally makes its mark on poor Fanny but she's still entitled to her medal because it is more tiredness that sets in rather than a fear of heights. If only there was a quick way down. Enid Blyton's vivid imagination is really working overtime with this story and we are introduced to a couple of Faraway Tree icons. A door in the tree-trunk opens and out comes a little man with a large, moon-like face. This chap is rather stuck on toffee and he demands it from anyone who wishes to use his own special way of getting down to the ground in a hurry. The rabbits that helped the kids back onto the tree wish to descend as well but no one has any of the sweet stuff. A promise is made — the kids will bring some toffee with them next time they climb the tree and this is accepted. It is then that they are introduced to the Slippery-Slip which is a hole in the floor of Moon-face's little house. You sit on a cushion (supplied) and as one did at Luna-Park or at the Battersea Fun-Fair in bygone years — down one goes. The slide spirals round and down the tree-trunk and at the base of the tree a little door pops open and the cushion with its passenger ends up on a tuft of green moss.

It's fantasy all the way as the children make use of the wonderful Faraway Tree. Moon-face gets his toffee and another land is visited which has the potential for negative consequences. During this adventure the children re-live the immortal story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and there is a battle with some Magic Snowmen. They all live to climb the tree another day and enter a land where they meet up with a character whose fame would probably equal that of Moon-Face's. This new friend is a little man who is partially deaf — perhaps more than partially. The reason for that is his subjection to continuous clanking, clattering, and crashing sounds which come from the saucepans and kettles he wears! Yes, he wears saucepans and kettles because he sells them for a living and instead of owning a little barrow or stall he has chosen to live a very uncomfortable life indeed with all his wares strung round his body but presumably he takes them off when he goes to bed. The Saucepan Man as he is known eventually moves to the Faraway Tree and becomes very established in the Faraway Tree tales.. He's particularly adept at making up little rhymes and here is a sample — the idea being that that the first three lines begin with the word "Two." :
Two beans for a pudding,
Two cherries for a Pie,
Two legs for a table,
With a hi-tiddle-hi!
Any kind of land can arrive at the top of the tree and some are really wonderful. Imagine visiting the Land of Take what you Want or the Land of Goodies or the Land of Tea-Parties although, despite their names, things don't necessarily run 100% perfect even in those lands. Other places are scary and the three children and their new friends sometimes have to battle the odds. In one situation they meet up with a strict school teacher named Dame Slap. Now this is not the same Slap that had her own book (Dame Slap and her School) because the teacher in that particular case was a rabbit. No, the Faraway Tree Slap is an elderly lady who won't stand any nonsense and our heroes have a tough time when they are in her charge.

A battle with Red Goblins is on the menu and there is also a wonderful land which arrives in time for Bessie's birthday although at one stage the Saucepan Man messes things up considerably and they find themselves on a Little Lost Island for a spell but this is what can happen when you are in a place where magic is the norm. Bessie even gets to fly with her own wings during her birthday party because the children are in an environment where wishes can come true.

Toffee Shocks and Pop-Biscuits are some of the delicious fare that is provided for afternoon tea in these books and the latter leaves a particularly indelible memory because when you bite into one of these biscuits they go "Pop!" and your mouth is filled with honey. Now that would be a welcome addition to anyone's diet in this non-fairy world. Later on in the series we learn of Hot-Cold Goodies which I'm sure are delicious and even Google Buns. Now if Enid Blyton had patented that "Google" word, we might never have Googled for information about her!

The Enchanted Wood was written just prior to the years when the author began producing her landmark series such as the Bill Smugs and Kirrin books not to mention the Holmesian Find-Outers tales. The other Faraway Tree books extended through that period during which the author was enjoying the high part of her career and potential readers can begin with The Enchanted Wood and follow on with the others. It doesn't really matter if they are read out of order because the theme is centred mainly on the children's trips to the various lands at the top of the tree.
The conceptual idea of a Faraway Tree was expressed in the mid 1930's when Enid Blyton produced a book that featured two children who also climb a Faraway Tree in an Enchanted Wood. Their father has a cousin who lives in the tree and would you believe it — the cousin's name is Moonface (without a hyphen). Now if we want to pursue this it can all get a bit strange because in Enid Blyton's New Noddy Colour Strip Book Noddy visits The Man in the Moon and accompanies him on a trip to the Faraway Tree where Moon-Face lives. It turns out that Moon-Face is The Man in the Moon's cousin so one could question the genetic make-up of the extended family — but I think it's best that we leave it there.

There are references to the Faraway Tree characters in several of the Enid Blyton books and it is nice to come across them because it keeps the characters alive and it is a little like coming across old friends when one reads about Chinky who starred in the Wishing Chair stories, visiting the Land of Goodies at the top of the Faraway Tree or the Saucepan Man visiting Big Ears' house for hot scones in Cheer Up, Little Noddy.

In later editions of the Faraway Tree books, the children are deprived of their birth names and given new ones (Joe, Beth and Frannie) which supposedly eliminate a few of the old-fashioned angles. There are schools of thought about the desecration of the author's original works. Many people are quite angry at this action but total war has been averted (so far) by recycling old copies of which there are plenty and it's only a matter of time as to whether the changes will be totally accepted. A positive swing is to ask ourselves how many other authors' works are so popular that they are being updated continuously. Reprints are often produced due to the urge for nostalgia or for the pursuit of serious study so David Copperfield, Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom Brown's Schooldays and other classics are generally left unaltered despite the old-fashioned and unpleasant rituals which abound in these books. Enid Blyton is therefore very special because her stories are regarded as so influential that it is necessary to change them for the new generation. That's praise indeed. Although the contents of Blyton books are also studied and analyzed to the last word their number one purpose is to supply reading entertainment to the present crop of kiddies who are the future of the planet. Learning to live in a thriving new world the children want to relate to that environment so the changing of words and the elimination of certain practices in the stories caters to their identification with current life and times. Young people have years ahead of them and as time rolls by a considerable number will become hooked on the Blyton books and may want to read them in their original form — and we know that they do ... and can ... and will. The choice is there of course — we can pick either Modern or Classic. My option is Classic! The reason is that if thousands of slightly altered copies of the Mona Lisa were produced, or if new stories were written of an author's works I would always find myself craving for the original and genuine item — I want to see Jo, Bessie and Fanny and not Joe, Beth and Frannie because it's not normal for our friends to change their names when they're around the ages of eight or nine. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.