An autobiographical sketch can be seen in About the Author in my website:

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Teaching of Morals in Children's Literature is as Old as the Hills!

This article takes a look at Enid Blyton’s art of weaving morals into children’s stories and shows that she was not the only one to do so.

If we have the chance to go through the bulk of stories Enid Blyton wrote for children we shall find that there are moral lessons running through many of them. This is especially the case in The Adventure of Binkle and Flip (George Newnes, 1950) and Shadow the Sheep Dog (Collins, 1950). 
This form of teaching was to reach its peak in The Naughtiest Girl in the School that first appeared in the Sunny Stories Magazine before it was eventually published in book form (pictured). Before going on to consider the teaching of morals in general, let us first of all find out what this fascinating story is all about and take a quick look at some of the morals Enid wove into it.
Elizabeth Allen, a mischievous, spoilt girl from a rich middle class background did not want to go to school. Being unable to persuade her mother that if she kept her at home she would behave herself, she resolved that she would behave so badly at the boarding school that the teacher would send her back home – for good.
At first she was succeeding, but as time went by she discovered that her bad behaviour was depriving her of enjoying all the school activities she loved. After struggling with her conscience, she changed her behaviour and went on to become a monitor or head girl, with powers to discipline other bad-behaved children in the class.

Let us now take a quick look at just two of the moral lessons Enid wove into this story:

1. Stubborn children bring more trouble upon themselves than they could ever imagine.

Among the troubles Elizabeth brought upon herself are:

Having to swallow biting insults: When she did not want to share her cakes the monitor blurted out, ‘If your cakes are as horrid as you are, no one would want to eat them’.

Made to look ridiculous: When she did decide to share her cakes no one wanted to take them.

Called names: She was called the Bold Bad Girl.

Isolated: No one wanted to be her friend.

2. A bad reputation remains with you even if you have become a good person.
 This is how Enid made this point in the story:

 ‘Don’t you remember? You were the naughtiest girl in the school – and you meant to be, too! The things you did,’ said Julian, a classmate, soon after she had become a monitor. Elizabeth went bright pink.

‘You needn’t remind me of that first term. I was awful. I just can’t think how I could have behaved like that’.

‘Well I wasn’t there then, but I’ve heard plenty about it. I guess you will always be known as the naughtiest girl in the school even if you go on being a monitor for the rest of your school days!’

 The morals woven into these two extracts are, in the first, there is no penalty or punishment for doing good, and in the second, do good and good will follow you.

 Now while some of us are of the opinion that weaving morals into stories for children has a beneficial effect in that it helps to check bad behaviour of mischievous or unruly children by opening their eyes to the consequences of their actions, or that it can serve as a deterrent, others are of the opinion that this form of teaching should better be left to the Church where it rightfully belongs. Writers of stories for children should aim to entertain, not to moralise.

Little do people of this persuasion know that the weaving of morals into children’s stories has always been a part of children’s literature. For example, if we examine the fables of Aesop, a Greek who lived in the 6th century BC and of Jean de la Fontaine (1621 – 1695), a Frenchman who helped to popularise them and added many more from other sources, we find that there is a moral woven into every one of them, as the following examples demonstrate:

 In the fable of The Dog and The Bone, the moral is: Be Contented. (As the bone reflected in a pool of water appears bigger that the one in a dog’s mouth, the dog jumps into the pool to grab the bigger bone and ends up with no bone at all.)

In The Goose that laid the Golden Egg: Be Patient. (A farmer killed the goose to get all the golden eggs at once, instead of one golden egg a day, and ended up with no egg at all.)

Even when we turn our attention to the eternal myths of Cupid, Apollo, Cassandra, Pan, Narcissus, Metis and so on, myths that predate those of the fables of Aesop by centuries, we find that there is invariably a moral woven into each of them. Take for example the myth about Atalanta and Hippomenes.

Atalanta known for her swiftness was outmatched by the slow Hippomenes who resorted to a trick of throwing down golden apples on the racecourse before the race. As Atalanta slowed down to pick up the golden apples, he slipped pass her and won the race (see illustration, right). What is the moral in this myth? There are many, but the one that springs to mind is: Never bow to temptation. Had Atalanta refused the temptation to pick up the golden apples en route she would have preserved her reputation as the fastest runner and won the race.

The beauty of these examples is that children and adults reading them can grasp instantly the moral lesson in the fable or myths – a grasp that is sharper than if it had been given directly by a parent, schoolteacher or priest. For lessons imparted directly by adults are often in the form of admonitions. Don’t do this or that because so and so will be the result. Whereas in a harmless, enjoyable stories the moral is unconsciously absorbed without resentment towards the person making the moral judgement.

So that when a situation arises that calls for a course of action, both the story and the moral lesson immediately come to mind through the process of the association of ideas. In this way we are guided towards the correct course of action to take to save ourselves from embarrassment.

    Therefore, let no one criticise Enid Blyton for weaving morals into her stories for children. For weaving morals into children’s stories is as old as the hills!
Brian Carter

 (Brian Carter is the author of Enid Blyton – The Untold Story now going through the publication process. Pleases visit his website for more information:
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