Before there was J.K Rowling, indeed, before even Roald Dahl, there was Enid Blyton, the most successful children’s author of the 20th century.
Few writers have been as popular or as prolific. Emerging from a childhood marred by her beloved father’s decision to leave her mother for another woman, Enid, born in 1897, wrote an astonishing number of books between the early 1920s until she developed dementia in the 1960s, The Famous Five, Secret Seven and Noddy series amongst them. Not everything went smoothly for her. Her first marriage failed and she has been accused of treating her own children coldly and her books have been accused of being variously racist, sexist and formulaic. This fine book tells the whole story, Big Ears, naked tennis matches, lashings of ginger beer and all.
The Real Enid Blyton, by Nadia Cohen. Published by: Pen & Sword History. Available: now.
Ten years have passed since the BBC launched its “Big Read” with the aim of finding the nation’s best loved novel.
The results, drawn from three quarter of million votes, are repeated below. Voters could initially vote for any novel they wanted although the top 21 were then voted for again, on condition that one book per author was permitted for the top 21.
It’s hardly for me to pass judgement on the biggest survey of public reading thus held (although I am about to, anyway!). However, I do feel the list holds up pretty well in the age of the e-reader. The top 21 seems pretty solid. Some might question the presence of so many children’s books but these are often the “best-loved” books after all. I would be more inclined to question the decision to include the Narnia and His Dark Materials books as one book apiece while each of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are included as separate entities.
Would the likes of The Thorn Birds and Goodnight Mr Tom have made the list today? It is not clear.
However, had the Big Read been conducted in 2013, I’m sure the following novels would have found a place somewhere:
1, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.
2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon
5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (and possibly the sequel, Bringing Up The Bodies)
6. One Day by David Nicholls
7. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (and sequels?)
8. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (and sequels?)
9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (and sequels?)
10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (and sequels?)
11. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
It isn’t just The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. No science fiction or fantasy saga is complete without a wise old bearded God-like figure often played by a theatrical knight who occasionally fights, usually dies but like E.T himself (or the MP John Stonehouse) comes back later.
Spoiler alert: John Stonehouse came back ages ago (look it up)…
First appeared: 1937 (in print in The Hobbit), 2001 (on screen).
Does he die? Yes. Gandalf the Grey falls down the crack thanks to the big fiery Balrog thing in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Does he come back? Yes. As Gandalf the White in The Two Towers.
Who played him? SIR Ian McKellen
Fun to play? McKellen seems to have enjoyed it and apart from the “insane laughter” scene in Frodo’s bedroom in the third film has done a great job of it.
Is he Jesus/God?: No. JRR Tolkien was keen to emphasise the books were not supposed to be allegorical.
Obi Wan Kenobi/Old Ben Kenobi
First appeared: 1977 Star Wars, later rechristened Episode IV: A New Hope.
Does he die? Yes. Darth Vader turns him into a dressing gown towards the end of the first (or fourth) film.
Does he come back? Only as a badly animated and well paid ghost. Bet Marlon Brando wished he’d thought of that for the Superman sequels? Although he’d have been too fat anyway.
Who played him? SIR Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor as the younger sometimes un-bearded Obi Wan in the inferior prequels.
Fun to play? Not at all. “…new rubbish dialogue reaches me every day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable,” Guinness complained. He also resented being nicknamed “Mother Superior” by a young Harrison Ford. Understandably. Sir Alec made a small fortune, however, having claimed a 2 ½ % share of the profits on the three films although thanks to the exorbitant tax rates in the 1970s, not as much as is commonly thought. MacGregor’s complaints about filming against blue screen, meanwhile, were amongst the first bits of negative publicity to break around The Phantom Menace in 1999.
Is he Jesus/God?: Perhaps. But then, a similar case could be made for Han Solo. And Harrison Ford was a carpenter, just like Jesus was. See? It all makes sense.
First appeared: (in print) 1997 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and on screen in the 2001 film.
In the US this was called: Harry Potter Can’t Believe Americans Don’t Know What A Philosopher Is and Apparently Think A Sorcerer is Basically the Same Thing.
Does he die? Yes. Snape (Alan Rickman) chucks him off Hogwarts at the end of the penultimate volume The Half Blood Prince. In the film, his death is reminiscent of Alan Rickman’s own character’s death in Die Hard. Except Bruce Willis wasn’t involved.
Does he come back? Only in a dream sequence.
Who played him? Richard Harris until his death after the second film. Succeeded by SIR Michael Gambon thereafter.
Fun to play? Ignoring the fact the Irish Harris didn’t actually have an Irish accent when playing Dumbledore (who isn’t, as far as we know, supposed to be Irish), the usually excellent Gambon for some reason initially put on a somewhat half-arsed Irish accent when he took on the role. Happily, this soon went and he was great from then on.
Is he God/Jesus?: Probably not, although like Jesus he is gay. JOKE. No, in reality, Dumbledore was not really gay.
Nearly there but not quite:
Aslan in the Narnia books
He does die, come back, is wise, bigoted, bearded and is very clearly supposed to be God. He is not a man though. HE IS A LION.
Jaga (from Thundercats)
Wise counsel to feline Skywalker-type Lion-o, Jaga dispenses important nuggets of wisdom such as encouraging him to enter his litter tray regularly but dies en route from the Thundercats’ home planet of Thundera to Third Earth. He does come back as a ghost though and fits the bill very well. However, he is rather transparently (literally) “heavily influenced” by the character of Obi Wan Kenobi. Also, unlike everyone else Jaga isn’t feline at all. This isn’t explained.
No one in His Dark Materials
A big fantasy saga, yes but with NO bearded wise God-like grandfather figure. Perhaps reflecting the atheistic nature of the plot.
Optimus Prime in The Transformers
A robot, yes. But he was wise and dies (in 1986’s Transformers The Movie) and later comes back. He may die in the new films too. Who knows? I was asleep.