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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Charm of The Magic Faraway Tree


by Narelle Atkins

When we first talked about having a Once Upon A Time theme, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton immediately came to mind. It was one of my favorite children’s books and I remember my mother spending hours by my bedside reading it to me at night, in the vain hope I’d go to sleep. Instead I’d ask for just one more chapter, please...

The Magic Faraway Tree was first published in London in 1943 and the Edition I’m currently reading to my children (with yellowed pages and binding that’s starting to fall apart) was published in 1971. Enid Blyton published more than 600 children’s books over her 45 year writing career, and has more than 600 million copies of her books in print. The Magic Faraway Tree is the second book in her ‘Faraway Tree’ children’s fantasy series and she also wrote The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series.


Enid Blyton’s life wasn’t without controversy. Many critics panned her books and a number of librarians refused to stock her books for various reasons. You may remember the fuss many years ago concerning her character Noddy and his friends?

In The Magic Faraway Tree, the three children and their cousin live with their super-cool mother, who occasionally lets them play all day in the Enchanted Wood and visit their other-worldly friends: Moon Face, Silky and Saucepan Man. The Faraway Tree is as tall as the clouds, and a ladder at the top of the tree leads to the different lands that visit the Faraway Tree.

As a child, I loved escaping into the magical world of the Faraway Tree and sharing adventures in the different lands with Jo, Bessie, Fanny and their cousin Dick. (Please note: if you’ve read a recent Edition, the children’s names have been updated to reflect our politically correct society.) In the last few weeks, I’ve reread The Magic Faraway Tree with my children, and I thought I’d share with you a few of their insights into the book.

Quotes about their favorite characters:

"I like Saucepan Man because he listens to stuff wrong and, in the Land of Presents, he gave Dame Washalot a lion instead of an iron."

"I like Moonface because his face is round like the moon and he bakes google buns, pop biscuits and toffee shocks."

"Their cousin, Dick, is greedy and, in the Land of Goodies, he ate a barley sugar door knocker and got himself into trouble."

Quotes about their favorite lands and adventures:

"I like the Land of Toys, but Saucepan Man was put in jail because he was confused about which land he was in and stole some sweets from a lolly shop. The boys pretended to be toy soldiers and rescued Saucepan Man."

"I like the Land of Magic Medicine because the children’s mother was sick and they got a bottle of Get-Well Medicine to make her better."

"I like the Land of Do-As-You-Please because I like trains and the children rode on a train and one of the boys was the driver, but he forgot to stop at the stations."

"The people from the Land of Tempers were horrible and took over Moon-Face and Silky’s homes in the Faraway Tree. Watzisname and the children rescued Moon-Face, Silky and Saucepan Man and helped them send the mean people back to the Land of Tempers."

From an adult perspective, I have an appreciation for Dame Washalot and the constant supply of laundry she washed and hung out to dry in the Faraway Tree. When the children climbed the tree, they had to remember to dodge the dirty washing water she poured down the tree. As a child, I remember wanting to visit the Land of Do-As-You-Please, the Land of Goodies and the Land of Presents. But even in these wonderful lands, the characters still managed to get themselves into trouble and have many adventures. In the Faraway Tree story world, you could definitely have too much of a good thing. Greed and gluttony was often their downfall.

Looking back, I think my childhood vision of heaven was in some way shaped by the Faraway Tree books. As a child, I had a vague idea that heaven was a place far away in the sky, beyond the clouds. A few of the lands that stopped at the top of the Faraway Tree were like a slice of heaven. On the other hand, the Land of Tempers was like a slice of hell, full of bad-tempered people who were constantly fighting with each other.

Are there any children’s books that have influenced your ideas about heaven (or hell)? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

14 comments:

  1. I've never considered this, Narelle. I'm sure there are. I'll have to think on this one a little!

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  2. This series is completely new to me, but it sounds like wonderful childhood reading. As to what books I read that influenced my idea of heaven or hell, I can't say that any of the fiction books did but I had a big collection of bible story books.

    I'm going to look for these books online, Narelle. Thanks for sharing your children's 'reviews'!

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  3. Oh, how fun! These stories are new to me too, but they sound delightful. I am going to have to think on the heaven/hell question, but the huge tree you mentioned reminded me of the Jack and the Beanstalk. Truthfully, the Disney version scared me. I didn't like the giant and I was quite happy when Mickey & Co got home safe and sound.

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  4. I've never heard of this series either! It sounds quite entertaining, though.
    I don't remember any books (besides Revelation, which scared me so much I would lie awake nights) that influenced my thinking about heaven and hell. I don't think there are nearly enough stories for children about heaven and how diverse, and interesting, and FUN it will be!

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  5. What an imagination! All those different lands to explore. I've never heard of the Faraway Tree books but I'm quite familiar with Noddy because it was a daily TV show on CBC. :)

    I don't remember any children's books about heaven and hell.

    Great post, Narelle.

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  6. I love learning about books I missed!

    I don't have a book that shaped my understanding of heaven and hell, but I remember when my daughter was three or so she informed me that Jesus was coming back to take us all to Neverland. (Think she watched a bit of Disney?) I'm not sure how she connected Neverland with Heaven, but I guess kids minds sometimes work that way!

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  7. Lisa, my mother tells me I was the kid that always asked the big questions about life and the universe, and I probably drew all sorts of interesting conclusions :-)

    Deb, I'm surprised so many of you haven't heard of the Faraway Tree books. Although, here in Australia, we've always been influenced by Britain when it comes to literature and the arts. My kids really enjoyed 'reviewing' the book :-)

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  8. Susie, Jack and the Beanstalk is another favorite with my kids. One of my kids learned the words off by heart and used to 'read' the book to me :-)

    Niki, it would be great if there were more kids stories about heaven :-) If anyone has any recommendations please let me know.

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  9. Anita, Enid Blyton had an amazing imagination and a fabulous ability to build complex story worlds using simple language. From a writing craft perspective, her books are fascinating because she breaks many so-called 'writing rules' but her stories work and kids all over the world (and big kids like me) love her books :-)

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  10. D'Ann, it's fascinating listening to the conclusions our kids draw about different things :-)

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  11. Hi Narelle,

    This sounds like a delightful series, and one I would have loved as a kid. I think my son would have really enjoyed it, too.

    Tell your kids thank you for their input. It was really fun to read their thoughts on this series.

    The books that influenced my ideas about heaven were the Chronicles of Narnia books.

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  12. In fact Eva Rice, author of Who's Who in Enid Blyton, contends that Harry Potter is an amalgamation of The Magic Faraway Tree and Malory Towers. I, too, loved Enid Blyton's books very much as a child. I also loved The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, which you mentioned. In fact, I admired The Secret Seven more than The Famous Five, because of their detective-like qualities that I felt I could use in forming a group that would counter some robberies that were then taking place in my neighborhood on an increasingly regular basis. Thus, my affection for Enid Blyton and her books would later impel me in writing a book on her, titled, Ihe Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com, http://thefamousfiveapersonalanecdotage.blogspot.com).
    Stephen Isabirye

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  13. I used to love this series. My Gran visited every week when I was little and I remember being mesmerised by the adventures they had (I just wish I knew where my copy was!) I think the Harry Potter books were another big series for me though, I grew up with them so I think those have been a massive inspiration for me and influenced my want to become a writer.

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  14. My favourite book 30 years ago and my kids favourite book today ... its a classic

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