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Toytown triumphs as Oxford Union backs Blyton's work

Whatever were Noddy and Big Ears doing in the Oxford Union? Running for president, perhaps? It turned out that Enid Blyton - arguably the most argued-about British children's writer - was the subject of debate, sandwiched between a motion on the exchange rate mechanism and "This House believes that blondes have more fun". The giant Toytown figures presided with Enid Blyton's daughter, Gillian Baverstock.

Less than three months into her centenary year, Blyton is dominating critical debate about children's literature, with a conference planned at Roehampton Institute next month to reappraise her literary and cultural role.

Discussion about her books - more than 700, not counting short stories - tends to evoke predictable responses. Balanced against the misty-eyed nostalgia and hard-headed commercial interests in her favour (children continue to become addicted to her and she has been translated into 35 languages including medieval Latin) is her critics' irritation at the frequently cliche-ridden prose, characters which many consider stereotypical and a world view which whiffs of back-to-basics to modern readers.

This week's debate, "This House believes that Enid Blyton is still a writer appropriate for today's child", injected some new material into the well-worn debate. Oxford folklore expert Luke Wright claimed parallels with William Shakespeare in the "moral fables" of Noddy and Amelia Jane.

Other guest speakers included TES children's books editor Geraldine Brennan and TES contributor Ann Treneman.

Blyton's place in the children's canon was eventually confirmed - voting was three to one in her favour.

(Noddy counted the ayes, Big Ears counted the noes).

Geraldine Brennan

* Speakers at the Roehampton conference on April 12 will include children's novelists Helen Cresswell, who has adapted Blyton for television, and Anne Fine. Also, Professor Fred Inglis of Warwick University will discuss Enid Blyton's place in Britain's cultural history. For further details write to: National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (Blyton Conference), Roehampton Institute, Downshire House, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 4HT.

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