Monday, March 30, 2015

I've Been Reading A Book With A Transgender MC And I Never Knew It: Or The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

Five on a Treasure Island (Famous Five, #1)

I can't even tell you how many times I read these books growing up. They were a huge part of my reading material - right up there with Redwall.  It's like Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys...but WAY BETTER. And it's interesting how my reading of the characters has changed as an adult.

When I was growing up, I was very much like George. In fact, in 3rd grade I made everyone call me George. I thought she was the coolest character I'd ever met, and we agreed on a lot of things (mostly on how being a girl sucked). Reading this as an adult is interesting. In some ways George being adamant about being a boy comes off as that boys seem more interesting/have more control/independence (certainly where my wish to be a boy came from). But it seems pretty clear to me upon reading this  that George is transgender, and I can't even tell you how incredible that is in a novel written in 1942. It just seems so clear when you get lines like this:

"So it is,' said her aunt. "But George hates being a girl, and we have to call her George, as if she were a boy."

"I'm George,' said the girl. 'I shall only answer if you call me George. I hate being a girl. I won't be."

George is the strongest character by far, and I don't think I was close to being alone in having her as a favourite. Apparently Enid Blyton based the character on herself, which might have a lot to do with it. I also think it brings up some interesting thoughts on Enid Blyton herself. I'm not certain how much was none about transgenders in the 40s, but I'd love to know if maybe Enid herself felt like George, because while other characters (particularly adults) don't approve of George's adamance that she is a boy, it doesn't reflect a disapproval of the character herself. Instead, she's by far the most interesting character of the lot.  Or perhaps she had someone in her life who was.  It just surprises me that something that even today is such a controversial subject that it would be approached with so much positivity in a book from the 1940's.  Or perhaps that's just me coming from a modern point of view and that's not at all what Enid intended (the general consensus around the interwebs after some searching when I first was struck by this thought). But I'm of the opinion that whether Enid Blyton intended it or not - George is clearly transgender.

On the flip side of things, Anne is painted in a bad light. As both a girl who likes girly things AND the youngest child, Anne is the most easily frightened and is the only one who likes things that are looked down upon by the others as being childish or girly. I remember growing up that I always thought Anne was a bit of a wet blanket and that she was terribly dull. I hated that her name was my middle name. And I think that's a shame, because the book paints only boyish things as interesting and worthwhile. (This may change in the later books, it's been so long I can't remember.) I almost wish that Dick had been the youngest instead of Anne because I think that Anne's characterization is actually pretty spot on when it comes to being the youngest child and a girl who likes girly things - it's just how she's framed by the other children that makes her interests and temperament dull. Or if she got to have a bit more of the discoveries (she does discover the entrance to the dungeons, but she discovers it by being tired and sitting down, so it takes away from her being the one who discovers it).

All of that being said, I loved the adventure just as much as I did when I read the books as a child. It made me just as excited, even though I knew how it ended, and I'm so excited to be rereading the series. I can't wait to introduce the kids to it, I'm hoping it's going to be a big hit!


  1. Wow, that's super interesting! But your comments about how the girly-girl was the "wet blanket" got me thinking that some things actually haven't changed that much. I love a strong heroine as much as the next person, but I don't always like it when they eschew anything deemed "girly" as bad. I see this a lot in contemporary YA where a character looks down on other girls who like makeup and clothes, etc. I think it rubs me the wrong way because of my mom. So my mom grew up in the 50s with two younger brothers and was a total tomboy. She wanted to do everything the boys did and she HATED that she was expected to play with dolls, not baseballs. It's interesting to hear her talk about my daughter because she almost gets scared when Kaylee likes pink and purple and Disney Princesses...that liking those things means she won't like other things like sports. In my mom's mind, you are one or the other. But I see so many teenage girls who wear girly things and then rock it on the court. I feel like you don't have to choose between one or the other. They aren't mutually exclusive anymore. So it annoys me when authors still fall into this trap. Thats why I like Calaena...she's about as bad ass as they come...but she still loves pretty dresses. I think we need a wider range of female characters. Not everything has to be done in extremes, you know? Anyways, that's my rant for the day. :D

  2. I won't repeat what Shannon said about the dissing of "girly" interests, because she's pretty well nailed it. But I'm fascinated by your insights on George in the Enid Blyton book (which I haven't read; my only real acquaintance with Blyton is the Noddy books, which I loved as a child and completely missed the inherent racism in.) I think in some ways there was an unspoken acceptance of LGBTQ among some levels of British society - or at least of lesbianism and biologically female transgender people. Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced includes a lesbian couple as secondary characters, never openly identified but clear if you read the books, and no one in their small village circle bats an eye. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane have lesbian friends, one of whom dresses like a man, and again, Peter seems perfectly comfortable with them when he first meets them. I think there was less tolerance for men who didn't conform to the hetersexual mold, but at least in fiction, women were given more latitude as long as they weren't too open about it.

  3. Yeah I feel like it's kind of like what La La and I were talking about on a different post - like being a girly girl is seen as bad just like in a lot of ways having boys who act like very stereotypical boys is seen as bad (and kind of a problem of your parenting). I'm of the belief that kids just gravitate towards certain things. I mean yes, obviously things can affect this, so it's good to keep things open and introduce kids to a lot of things...but in the end if your girl prefers princesses or trucks or both - all of those things are equally awesome.

    That's pretty much exactly why Celeana is one of my favourite characters! And feels like there's a lot of dissing other girls when it comes to female characters. And that's it's either that they're girly girls, or more often these days that they're really not. And I really, really wish we got more heroines who embraced things that are seen traditionally female and male. I feel like our future is...maybe a long, long, long time from now, but that we're headed towards everything being more gender neutral (this may be exceedingly optimistic of me), so it would be awesome to see things approached that way more often in YA.

  4. I know right?? I had no IDEA it was racist as a kid!

    This is so interesting - I had no idea about any of this! I know that homosexual men (or those who as you said, didn't fit the mold) definitely didn't fare well in 20th century UK, but now that I'm thinking on it...I really never hear/read about lesbians. There were a lot of strides forward in feminism in the 20th century, so unsurprisingly you find a lot of stories about women breaking the traditional domestic mold, but I don't think I've encountered a single lesbian in any of the 20th century literature I've read. Which admittedly, isn't an exhaustive list, but still. But I also haven't heard anything about how it was addressed, whereas I've heard plenty on how gay men were treated. So all this is super interesting to me now that you've brought it up!

  5. Yes! Exactly! I see so many moms get excited when their girls are into trucks and whatnot, like they and their daughter are more evolved than other girly girls. And I think they are missing point because I think you are total right - kids gravitate towards what they like. The point is to accept that they like what they like.


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