Readers! I’d never yeard of Enid Blyton, but I’m sure a lot of you have. So enjoy this essay by Kate Browne, a journalist based in Sydney, Australia. Kate is the mother of two little girls and hopes to cure them of their Disney Princess obsessions one day. She can also be found blogging, occasionally, at tigersandteapots.blogspot.com! – L
When Dick & Fannie Became Rick & Frannie, by Kate Browne
When I was a kid one of my favourite writers was Enid Blyton, the much loved British children’s author. Her books featured terribly English children having terribly marvelous adventures in the 1940s and ’50s and have sold over 600 million copies worldwide.
As a youngster in Australia I devoured her books, and the ones I loved best were The Faraway Tree series, where three young children (Fannie, Bessie and Jo) move to the country and discover an enchanted wood, including a magical tree. The kids, and sometimes their cousin Dick, regularly headed off to the woods for adventures.
If that wasn’t cool enough, at the top of the tree magical lands came to visit. Some were nice, such as the Land of Take What You Want, and the Land of Treats, while others struck a delicious fear into my 5-year-old heart, particularly the land of fearsome Dame Slap, who wasn’t averse to doling out corporal punishment to anyone naughty.
Another thing I loved about these books was the almost entire absence of adults. While the children’s mother popped up occasionally to demand that they do some household chores, they were often then rewarded entire days in the deep, dark woods, unsupervised.
Now I’m a grown up with a 5-year-old daughter. Keen to share the Enid Blyton love, I took her to the local bookstore to buy a new copy of the Faraway Tree, as my childhood copy had fallen apart. At bedtime we opened the book, so excited, but from the first page I knew something was horribly wrong. In this new version Jo had become Joe, Bessie had become Beth, and worst of all Fanny was now Frannie and cousin Dick had been turned into some kid called Rick.
It seems that an overly politically correct publisher somewhere down the line had decided that the names Dick and Fannie (giggle, giggle) were far too rude for today’s small children. Outraged, I head to the internet for more info.
Thanks to Wikipedia, the picture becomes clearer. Sometime in the ‘90s the names were changed by the publisher because of their “unfortunate connotations.” For good measure Jo became Joe because that’s a more common spelling these days, and Bessie became Beth because it’s more contemporary. What’s even worse is when I read that the fearsome Dame Slap is now the totally lame Dame Snap who instead of smacking children, she just shouts at them.
I take the book and chuck it in the recycling. While I can manage to change the names back to the original ones as I read to my daughter, I don’t think I’m up for revising an entire chapter of Dame Snap back into Dame Slap. And who knows what other overly PC touches I might find further into the book –- would the land of treats now be the “Land of ‘Sometimes Food,’” or even “The Land of Fruits and Vegetables”?
Of course, as I’m ranting and raving, my daughter wonders, “Mummy, what’s wrong being called Dick and Fannie? I think they sound nice.” And that’s why I realize I’m so mad. Apart from messing with a childhood classic thanks to an adult’s perspective on these names, suddenly it’s an “issue.” I’d never thought twice about the names when I was a kid, either. It’s only when I became an adult that they became funny and or rude. So now I have to have a conversation about dicks and fannies. Great.
And that’s just the problem. When we start projecting our adult perspectives onto the world that kids live in things can get more confused than if we’d just left them alone. And where do we draw the line? Should Jane Austen’s “Emma” become “Britney” to make it more “contemporary”? How about Tom, RICK and Harry?
And as for Dame Slap turning into Dame Snap, my daughter sums it up perfectly: “That’s dumb.” So now I’m off to search eBay for some old editions of Enid Blyton tales — Dicks and Fannies and all.