Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor

How Dick and Fanny became Rick and Frannie

I am discovering that I am increasingly grateful for political correctness. Despite my childhood addiction to anything written by Enid Blyton, I find I am unable to read any of my old Noddy collection to my children. It’s not just the absurd and depressingly weak storylines or the whole lot of spanking that goes on that bothers me; it’s the insidious, horrid (horrid!) racism. Even just saying the word “golliwog” in front of my children makes me squirm.

I remember the clicking of tongues years ago when Noddy was heavily edited and updated to reflect modern sensibilities. Personally, I think Noddy and Big Ears were great homosexual role models and I’m sorry that they’re now “just friends”. But I have to admit that I’m relieved I can now read about the “naughty goblins” instead of the “thieving golliwogs”.

Enid Blyton was voted as Britain’s best-loved author last month. I’m not even surprised to read that eight million of her books are still sold worldwide every year. I think I’m just one of many thousands of modern-day parents who remember her books with deep nostalgia and affection. So it was with much delight and anticipation that my six-year-old daughter and I moved on from Noddy to other Enid Blyton stories, such as the Magic Faraway Tree (probably my best-ever childhood read).

This week, I bought a new copy of the Enchanted Wood, the first book in the Faraway Tree series. This edition has been edited to make it more appealing to American audiences, apparently. “Pop biscuits” have become “pop cakes”. “I say!” is now “Hey!” and “queer” is now “odd”. Jo is spelt Joe (like a boy’s name should be spelt); Bessie is updated to Beth; and, ridiculously, Fanny is now Frannie.

As it turns out, these changes were brought about a good few years ago, even before the UK Sun’s 2006 story headlined ‘Five go and do ironing’. It’s here that I learn Dame Slap is now Dame Snap (who scolds, rather than beats children) and, ridiculously, Cousin Dick is now Rick. For God’s sake. Surely they can’t just go and ruin my childhood just to avoid a little giggling and embarrassment? Rick is nothing like Cousin Dick. “Hey!” is not even close to the quaintness of “I say!”

Guy Dammann, writing for the Guardian’s Culture Vulture blog way back in 2006, raises the point that the argument over this kind of heavy updating highlights a difference between adult and children’s literature.

I agree (although not with the rest of his argument). Adults can tell when something is inappropriate; children cannot – even if they do have a parent on hand to provide “context” and “explanation”. Literature for children does carry with it some moral responsibility. I recently squirmed my way through a screening of Jock of the Bushveld. It may be “historically correct”, but do I want my young children hearing the “k-word” bandied about; watch as colonial prejudice is played out? My overwhelming feeling was that it was just not appropriate – no matter what explanation and discussion we had afterwards. I guess we’ll definitely be reading the expurgated version of Fitzpatrick’s book.

So, as it turns out, I have just written myself out of my own irritation. I have been so nostalgic for my own childhood world of “Hurrah!”, “I say!” and “jolly good” that I overlooked my own relief at reading stories that aren’t insidiously racist (and sexist, for that matter). My daughter doesn’t have the emotional ties to these stories that I do. Frankly, she’s such a sucker for the storyline that she doesn’t care if it’s Fanny or Franny. Perhaps I should welcome this “new world” where sexist gaps are closed and outdated racist sensibilities are papered over.

* By the way, the Sun’s story refers to Bessie as a “black character”. Believe me, there are no black characters in Enid Blyton’s neo-Edwardian tales. Bessie is (was?) the dark-haired youngest sister in the Magic Faraway Tree.

  • Elizabeth Jansen van Vuuren

    Well, it happens that two weeks ago I tried to read The Enchanted Wood to my 9-year old son. The older 12 year old, who loved the story years ago, was there too. Granted, perhaps even 9 is a little too old for the adventures of Moonface and Co.

    But we could not get past the first page of reading how Dick came to stay with Fanny. I quickly swapped to Fred and Fran – the main focus of my audience was now waiting for me to slip up and say ‘Dick’, at which point they’d burst into hysterical laughter.

    So maybe an update of the names is not such a bad idea. And yes, ‘queer’ was quickly swapped for ‘odd’ to try and keep somewhere near Enid’s original intention.

    On the other hand there’s no way I’d water down the menace of Dame Slap to Dame Snap. I say!

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos

    […]“Pop biscuits” have become “pop cakes”. […]

    hmmm What if we call them ‘pop kookies’???

  • Kit

    I stupidly picked up all the new! improved! versions of the Faraway Tree books a couple of years ago because my kids had loved the originals (and since I know the stories practically off by heart, didn’t read the blurb at the back). Promptly vanished them upon realising that some nutcase had got hold of them and taken out their insides. Updating Noddy was a bit required; this was just stupid. Reading them is about as much fun as reading the ‘condensed’ version of anything.

    Now I’ve taken to looking out for the old ones at the local secondhand book store.

    The thing that bugs me the most is that people are actually called Dick – I mean, what better way to make them feel like ‘it’s not a name, it’s a male part’ than to start removing it from books as offensive?

    It reminds me of the story I read where a right-wing website, despising the use of the word ‘gay’ to replace ‘homosexual’ for some reason (something to do with making it look nice), ran a nice news story on the sprinter Tyson Gay. You can imagine the joys.

  • Julie Posetti

    Nobody messes with Moonface’s posse! Nobody! Not in the name of Political Correctness and certainly not in the name of American acculturation!

    The Enchanted Wood was the first ‘real book’ I read independently (@ age 6 – I felt so grown up lugging it around the playground:)and Enid Blyton represents the innocence and fantastical escapism of my childhood. Enid taught me to love reading and reading taught me to love learning.

    And, what is a ‘pop cake’? Last time I checked, the Amercians called them ‘pop tarts’…guess that’s problematic, now, too?

    I’m all for linguistic sensitivity – racial, gender, cultural etc – but revisionist history never ends well…not even when it’s limited to the literary realm.

    What’s next? The Wishing Chair becomes the Prayer Chair because it implies magic which offends Christian sensibilities? Lizzie Bennett refuses Darcy’s hand to persue a literary career in line with modern women’s career expectations? What will they do to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? What about The Lord of the Rings?

    Surely the point is for current children’s literature to reflect our life, times and contemporary social mores – not for us to mess with the past. If we alter time, how will the kids from Narnia ever find their way back to the wardrobe door?

  • Po

    I really disagree with editing these books in any way. I managed to see Jock of the Bushveld as a kid, read Noddy and the Faraway tree, without becoming racist, warped or confused. You can explain to your kids whatever they may have trouble understanding. You should never underestimate the ability of kids to take in and understand. Why narrow their exposure to the world?

  • Tim

    Times change. Four kids and a dog take a boat to strange island where they while away the day exploring newly-discovered secret passages? Mmyeah. okay. Is the island Ibiza?

  • jaycee

    Ann, you are entitled to your opinion and I fully agree that books for young children should not expose them to all kinds of smut and rubbish because they are not mature enough to absorb a broader context. However, while a butterfly is evolving inside the cocoon it is getting ready to be a fully fledged thing of beauty the moment it gets out. It does not enter the world deformed. In the same sense children should not be evolving in line with their parents’ concocted minds and when they enter adulthood they have to deal with unnecessary restrictions in their abilities to face the world with all its harshness. The heading of your blog mentions the word “obsessions” and I therefore assume you realize you have some kind of “blockage” when it comes to racism. Of course racism is a despicable thing but don’t get yourself into overdrive about it. Like you have decided, don’t read something if it upsets you, but maybe, just maybe, there are people who can view racism within a certain context (THAT word again) and the world can become a better place when this kind of behaviour is not ignored but something constructive is done to prevent it. You are obviously a very caring mother and your child is very fortunate for that.

  • Anne Taylor

    @Siphiwo — Ha! Perhaps we should “South Africanise” Blyton. I think “Pop Koekies” would be an excellent local alternative.

  • Gerry

    What gets me with regards to Political correctness, as applied to Golliwogs, Dicks, Faniies, et al, is the fact that any term, per se, means nothing, but the attributed meaning of the word has become seen as politically incorrect.

    Take for example the evolution to the word “challenged”. In years gone by, people were called idiots. That became politically incorrect, so instead of calling them “idiots”, they were called “retarded”. Soon that became politically unsuitable, we adopted the term “Handicapped”. Oops, we don’t like that anymore either, so lets call it “(insert term here) challenged”. How long before we will have these terms also politically correct. My mother just calls herself “gefok”. Apt, accurate, and just about sums it up!

    In America, the term for blacks have also gone this way, from Martin Luther King who proudly called himself a “Negro”, to today that they are “African Americans”. How soon will “African American” be seen as derogatory? Even our famous k-word had a totally different meaning when it was first used, but we attributed a racist connotation to it, and completely lost the original meaning. The same could probably said for the word “gay”. (I’m feel pretty, oh so pretty, pretty and witty and… happy?). We need to reclaim our vocabulary before we descend into Orwellian newspeak.

    To hell with political correctness, call a spade a fricking shovel if you have to, but let’s stop complaining and worrying about what we call things. Hooray to the deaf community who proudly claimed back the term “deaf” and turned the euphemism “hearing impaired” on its ear (pun definitely intended ‘coz my deaf friends will appreciate it!).

    If you are worried about insulting or hurting feelings – ban Shakespeare: The Bard managed to insult the blue blazed to anyone he wanted to without once using a naughty word. Ditto Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, et al.

    Long live the golliwog, Dick, Fannie, and old ladies who spank all too geleefully!

  • Andrew

    I think the issue here is “who owns the story?” Literature evolves and this is a necessary thing to keep it linked to current contexts. Look at how modern interpretations of Shakespeare have made those classics accessible to modern youth. By reading (and loving) the story we feel we own it, words and all when, in fact, even the author must relinquish ownership in publishing.

    I too lament the change in language from the books I read as a child to the books I read too my child but the meaning remains, and my child doesn’t know the difference.

    Long live classics children’s stories.

  • Brian

    An author writes within a specific historical and social context. As such, I believe that to expurgate Enid Blyton’s work is an insult to her. The sanitation of ‘Noddy’ was ridiculous and I refused to buy the ‘new’ editions, which thrilled ‘concerned’, politically correct pseudo-liberals. If her work can be changed, then why shouldn’t anyone else’s, should readers feel the need to do so.