My son and I went to WH Smith yesterday and saw this:
They are now called Max, Dylan, Jo and Allie. The dog is still called Timmy.
Worst of all, they are a Disney franchise.
At first I thought that the publisher had dared to change the names (and ethnicity) of the original characters in an attempt to make them more appealing to today's young readers, but I later realised that this Famous Five are, apparently, the children of the original members.
This is a remarkable achievement, given that Julian, Dick, Anne and George were born in the 1930s. Perhaps they followed the example of one of my fellow Lewesians and had fertility treatment in their 60s.
My son, who is eight, seemed more upset than I was. He loves Enid Blyton and although he is amused by the dated expressions, he accepts the stories on their own terms. He clearly felt patronised by the new, 'cool' Famous Five and I doubt that he would be impressed by the argument put forward by the books' creators that:
The new Five is a fresh, modern concept which relates to audiences in a multimedia age. They are smart, cool and hip kids but like their parents they use their resourcefulness and survival skills to bring down the bad guys.
How did this travesty come to pass?
The answer is quite depressing. Apparently, the rights to many popular children's titles including the Mr Men and the complete Enid Blyton backlist are owned by a company called Chorion, who last year took over another company called The Copyrights Group. Here's a brief quote from a Chorion press release:
The acquisition of Copyrights provides a significant expansion to Chorion’s already-robust brand portfolio, which includes properties such as Noddy, Mr. Men and the works of Agatha Christie and comes as Chorion prepares the major international launch of two new television series featuring Mr. Men and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
'Already-robust brand portfolio'? How can anyone seriously write nonsense like that?
It is rather sad that the rights to some of our best-loved children's books, including The Snowman, Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter are in the possession of people who, in addition to making dull, self-important statements like the one above, are able to allow a much-loved series of adventure stories to be transformed into a commodity.
How long will it be before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has product placement by Nestle?
I know that some would argue that Enid Blyton's novels aren't great literature, but that isn't the point. What I find offensive is the idea that children are unable to enjoy a work of fiction unless it is 'rebranded' in a contemporary setting. Chorion's cynical attempt to turn the Famous Five into a global franchise is particularly nauseating.
Also, nothing dates faster than youth culture. Authors who try to pander to the latest fashions are effectively giving their books a sell-by date. Does anyone remember Richmal Crompton's William and the Pop Singers?
Perhaps I'm just being a curmudgeon. However, if an eight-year old (who loves Pokemon and the Simpsons) also feels offended by this attempt to repackage a much-loved series of children's novels, then perhaps there is hope.