Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Updating Blyton a blight on the next gen?

Seventy years on, six feet well and truly under, Enid Blyton can still stir up a frothy conversation. Bravo! 
Outrage and dismay, it's fair to say, were the order of the day after making mention of publishers in England updating ten of Enid Blyton's fabulous Famous Five adventures. In an effort to make them more palatable to the fickle appetite of Gen-whatever-we're-up-to-now, it's goodbye to 'fancy that!' and 'splendid idea George, what a brainwave!' and hello to the dumbed-down 'wow' and 'ok George'.
Comments on Saturday's post sprang to mind today when I came across this observation from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, on the decline of Latin as the language of scholars in the early 1800s.
He said that turning to writing in one's mother tongue, instead of Latin: "excommunicated modern scholars from the benefits of belonging to a universal community of scholars that was not restricted by the contingencies of time and place of birth. 
"By reading Latin, not only was it possible to enjoy the thoughts and insights of Roman antiquity, but one could become acquainted with Scotus Erigena of the ninth century, John of Salisbury of the 12th, and Raymond Lull of the 13th, and hundreds of others, something that could not have been the case had they written in their native languages.
"Without preserving Latin, moreover, and by not writing in Latin, one's own works could not speak to future scholars.
"...There was also the loss of the humanising effects of Latin authors, which followed from the decline in the knowledge of Latin. The humane and honest ways in which classical writers considered the individual, the community, and nature were natural tonics for the pernicious and stupefying effects of the Middle Ages, with its...half brutal, half idiotic chivalry from which modern society still suffered."
Ouch. He goes on to say that the use of national languages - which disseminated the work of scholars across a broader audience - also served to dilute the population of serious readers.
Therein lies the double-edged sword. 
Translating, updating, modernising etc serves to increase the reach and, therefore, influence of a classic body of work, but in doing so runs the risk of diminishing its value because it's received by an audience that possibly isn't well enough equipped to understand or appreciate its true worth.
A case in point.  Tony Summerfield, who runs the Enid Blyton Society, commenting in  The Guardian said that he is "thoroughly against unnecessary changes just for the sake of it, from adults who underestimate the intelligence of children."
On hearing that publishers intended to change the name of the circus boy, Nobby, in Five Go Off in a Caravan to Ned, Summerfield was dumbfounded. 
"How can you change Nobby to Ned and yet leave Dick and Fanny? It doesn't make sense."
So, what the next Gen makes of Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the dog remains to be seen. Anyone have an age appropriate crash test dummy to experiment on? 
And, can anyone you know speak Latin these days?

No comments: