I’ve been searching for this book for years. Ever since I decided to start collecting books, I’ve wanted to add the books responsible for making me a fan of the fantastic and peculiar. They are three: the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, and a series of books I couldn’t recall the title or author of…until now.
My interest in fantastical stories was piqued by fairytales, but these three books cemented my interest in it. I borrowed them constantly from the library as a kid and read them over and over again, never getting enough and wanting more. But my library in Jamaica was limited on such stories.
Over the years since childhood, I’d forgotten about Enid Blyton and her books. I started collecting books in college starting first with the books I love: the Harry Potter series, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Neverending Story. I knew there was another book I should get, one that I cherished as a kid, but try as I might to remember it, I couldn’t. For years I wracked my brain about it and mentioned it often on this blog hoping someone would be able to tell what I was talking about from the few clues I could remember: It’s an old children’s fantasy book with pixies and elves and there’s sometimes a mention of a garden.
No one could help, and I don’t think anyone mentioned Enid Blyton’s books. Well, I can’t recall. In my searches, her books would often pop up, but always I would dismiss them. I was searching for the covers of the editions I recalled from childhood not considering that they may have been out of print for so many years that they wouldn’t pop up in a quick Google search.
One night, I gave in to impulse. The Enid Blyton Faraway Tree books kept popping up in these searches so I thought why not just read one of the books to see if it jogs my memory. That’s how I ended up buying a copy — it wasn’t available at my library — and jog my memory it did! The more I read, the more I recall reading the book as a child, though the memory is shrouded in thick mind fog and only shadows of the memories now come to the fore. I more clearly recall how I felt as I read the stories: content, elated, transported. I felt as if I’d found something I didn’t know I wanted, something that fits me.
I am glad to have rediscovered this beloved childhood book, though frustrated that the book was right under my nose all these years because it popped up in all my searches. After a little more search and the help of the Enid Blyton Society website, I realized that the edition I read had a cover illustrated by Rene Cloke. Actually, most of the children’s books I read when I was young had illustrations by her. Realizing that helped me to find the edition I read (though none available for purchase at a reputable retailer).
Though I’m happy about this discovery, I didn’t love The Enchanted Wood upon rereading it, and here’s why:
Faraway Tree, book 1
The Enchanted Wood is a fantasy novel for children. The story follows three children — Jo, Bessie, and Fanny, — who move to the country with their parents. While exploring the woods behind their new home, they find a great tree in which various fantastical creatures live and learn that atop the tree is a portal to different places. The children have many interesting adventures visiting the lands atop the Faraway Tree with the inhabitants of the tree whom they befriend. (Goodreads)
Though this book is presented as a novel, I see it as a book of short stories. The chapters do not connect as closely as ones in a novel would. There’s something missing in the progression from chapter to chapter that makes me think of each chapter as its own separate story though they are connected by containing the same characters and even referring to an incident or character from a previous chapter.
The stories are sweet and quick and obviously written for children. I can understand why I was so enthralled by them as a child. They are stories a kid can relate to — some refer to fairytales, such as Goldilocks; the adventures are ones a child would love to go on — such as visiting the land of birthdays on your birthday; and the stories are short and written simply to enable a child to easily consume them. But as an adult, I didn’t like them.
Sure, it was fun to read and there was some entertainment in the adventures and the silly antics of the characters, but I was a little frustrated because there is no character development or much world building — things that I look for and want in the stories I read these days. I was a little disappointed that these stories didn’t hold me in thrall now as it did when I was child, but eventually I got over it.
The illustrations also left much to be desired. I recall that I loved looking at the illustrations in the edition I read as a child and I can see why when I do a Google search for Rene Cloke’s illustrations. Her work is beautiful. But those included in the edition I read (illustrated by Jan McCafferty) were not; well, they weren’t to me. I guess some readers might think McCafferty’s illustrations match the spirit of the story — silly, fun, carefree — but I didn’t like the illustration style.
Despite these setbacks, I appreciate these stories for drawing me to a genre I adore. I may not like them much now, but I accept them as what they are intended to be — fantasy stories for children. I may not reread this book (well, I have no intention to do so any time soon), but I’m glad to have found it — the book I loved as a child — and to be able to add it to my collection.
Overall: ★★☆☆☆ ½
My star ratings are based on my enjoyment of the work and this rating reflects that. I’m happy to have found one of my favorite books as a kid, but I didn’t enjoy reading it as an adult.