Enid Blyton books hidden ‘under the counter’ as libraries fret about offensive language
Enid Blyton’s books are beloved by millions, but borrowing original versions of her works from the local library might now be a job better suited to the Famous Five.
The author’s works are being treated like “contraband” by librarians, with uncensored original versions stashed in an off-limits storage space to prevent the public “stumbling upon” language that is “outdated”.
Only recently edited versions of the author’s works, which have had potentially offensive terminology removed, are publicly displayed across Devon’s public libraries.
Readers who specifically request original versions of titles like the Famous Five are cautioned about their content with a verbal trigger warning.
Should readers request Blyton’s original editions - which are catalogued online - there is “an informal warning system to remind customers of the language contained within the old edition.
The library policy has raised concern among free speech advocates that classic texts are being treated like “contraband” and “under-the-counter” merchandise.
The treatment of Blyton’s books has been revealed in Devon County Council documents, which explain that Libraries Unlimited - which runs its library service - habitually refreshes stock with altered versions of classic texts.
Documents state that “where popular books have language that is increasingly outdated”, citing the example of Blyton, libraries “continue to purchase new editions where publishers have updated the language within”.
Other titles to be included in the off-limits area include the autobiography of Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League, and other texts removed from public view “following customer and/or staff complaints”.
Books edited to be 'timeless'
Blyton was a prolific writer who composed more than 700 books, including the Famous Five series and Noddy, from the late 1930s until her death in 1968.
In 2010, publishing house Hodder decided to refresh the works and make them “timeless”.
Words including “queer” and “gay” were replaced, as was “brown” in reference to the appearance of a fisherman's sun-tanned skin.
Phrases such as “shut up” and “don’t be an idiot” were also reported to have been altered, along with mid-century slang terms.
Dr Byrn Harris, legal counsel for the Free Speech Union, said: “The Free Speech Union deals with a lot of curious decisions regarding free speech – however even we are bemused by the decision to treat the author of Noddy as dangerous and subversive samizdat.
“Public libraries obviously cannot stock everything, but by law they must provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service.
“Deliberately holding back certain works and making them less accessible might fall short of that standard, especially if the reasons for doing so are of dubious relevance – for instance, because the librarian finds those works subjectively offensive.
“If public libraries insist on having a censorship policy then users, especially children and their parents or guardians, must be clearly informed that the library’s holdings may not be comprehensive as a result of the policy.”
Devon County Council and Libraries Unlimited have been contacted for comment.