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.