Tuesday, 15 March 2016

King Arthur

In this blog post, former school teacher and long-time supporter of Seven Stories, Nick Brown, talks about his love of Arthurian legends and many of his favourite Camelot-based children’s books.

There are few books from my childhood that I treasure but, of these, the one that means the most to me is the Puffin edition of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. This edition will be well known to older reader. It was “newly re-told out of the old romances” by Roger Lancelyn Green and wonderfully illustrated by Lottie Reiniger with a beautiful stained glass window of a cover.

Not only was it the beauty of the book and the captivating tales, it was the wonderful names of the protagonists that were so different from any other stories I’d come across. Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere and Launcelot seemed so mysterious. Also, Green’s introduction invited the young reader to become part of a heritage of storytelling that began with Thomas Malory and continued through to the present day.

Since then, I have ‘progressed’ through reading Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur;  I have read various medieval romances such as Simon Armitage’s wonderful translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and I have watched numerous TV programmes and films, including John Boorman’s 1981 film, Excaliburthat have either investigated the ‘historical’ Arthur, retold the tales or used the characters for new adventures.

Arthurian romances have long proved to be popular both for adult and child readers. Children’s editions began to appear from the 1860s and continue to appear up to the present day. Seven Stories’ book collection contains a wonderful range of these stories and I want to mention just a few of them.

The first book I came across on my recent research visit to Seven Stories Collections Department was Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Lantern Bearers. Set in the time when the Roman legions began to leave Britain, Sutcliffe introduces us to the ‘historic’ Arthur through the characters of Ambrosius and Artos who lead the resistance to the invading Saxons.

Sutcliffe was to continue her interest in all things Arthur with her Arthurian cycle, which deals with the quest for the Holy Grail. In this series of books, as in many retellings, Merlin is both powerful and mysterious. Sometimes, one feels that he is the more important character who uses the other protagonists as his pawns. I’m sure that I’m not the first to think that!

Conversely, in T H White’s The Sword in the Stone, Merlin is not seen as manipulative, but more as a king trainer. The young Arthur, or should we say ‘Wart’, learns, not only about the world of men but also of nature when he is transformed into various animals or fish. Only then is he ready to pull the sword from the stone and set in motion the tumultuous events of his reign.

But it’s not all deadly seriousness in the world of Arthur. Ladybird produced many Arthurian stories, many unrelated to the world of Malory and full of fanciful illustrations not particularly historically accurate, either to the sixth century or the high Middle Ages. Rosemary Manning goes further with the more light hearted exploration of the world of Camelot with her Dragon Quest sequence. These books feature an ancient dragon who knew Arthur and who tells wonderful tales to a girl from modern times.

 For those looking for very much grittier Arthur, Philip Reeve’s 2008 Carnegie Medal winning Here Lies Arthur is the one to read. As with Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novels, Reeves’ book is set in the fifth or sixth century. However, Reeves didn’t set out to write an historical novel. Rather, Reeves himself explains that: “in writing it I did not set out to portray ‘the real King Arthur,’ only to add my own little thimbleful to the sea of stories which surrounds him.” And what a thimble! We have a bard called Myrddin who creates an image of Arthur that will help unite the Britons in their resistance to the Saxons. The story is full of violence: Arthur is no pious hero. Reeves’ also explains that his interest in Arthur began when he watched Boorman’s “brilliant, beautiful and barking mad” film, Excalibur, on 5 July 1981.

 Susan Cooper’s, The Dark is Rising, sequence is a classic piece of British children’s fantasy. Although not strictly Arthurian, Cooper blends in British myths and legends in the protagonist Will’s quest to find a number of magical objects, one much like the grail. At the centre of these novels is Merriman the wizard who is, of course, our old friend Merlin. If you haven't read these books do give them a go (in this blogger’s opinion, the books are far superior to the film of recent times that does Cooper few favours).

 Finally, if you’re a fan of the Arthurian legends and of illustration then Seven Stories Michael Foreman exhibition, Painting with Rainbows, contains two of Foreman’s wonderful original illustrations for Michael Morpurgo’s Arthur, High King of Britain. In Morpurgo’s version, set in modern times, a Cornish boy is rescued from drowning by Arthur Pendragon, who now lives in a cave waiting to be summoned to save Britain in its direst need. Arthur appears to suffer from insomnia and is only too glad to tell the boy of his adventures, although his dog, Bercelet has heard the stories many times before! As many readers will know, Michael Morpurgo has donated his archive to Seven Stories and I’m looking forward to exploring Morpurgo’s original notes and drafts of this particular story.

The appeal of Arthurian legends will long continue to endure in popular culture; no doubt, numerous books, films and TV programmes are yet to be made about him. Who knows when the next Arthurian children’s book comes along but I don’t think we’ll have too long to wait.

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

All About: Cars

With this month's post on transport, we are celebrating one of the most popular and recognisable cars in children's books, that belonging to Noddy! 

"The sun is shining
And so is my car,
It's a beautiful morning, 
How happy we are,

Extract from the typescript for Cheer Up, Little Noddy, 1960

Although Noddy's little car didn't make its appearance until the second Noddy book, Hurrah for Little Noddy, published in 1950, it became inextricably linked with the character from then on. 

Noddy receives his car in dramatic fashion - foiling a car theft by some naughty goblins. He is gifted a car as a reward by the very generous mechanic Mr Golly, who only claimed a penny each from the thieves! He is the maker of Noddy's new career; throughout the rest of the Blyton's Noddy books, of which there are many, many incarnations, Noddy is the Toyland taxi driver. His car becomes crucial to his adventures; it is how he gets around to see all the other toys, brownies and fairyland creatures and it introduces many car mishap plot lines.

Noddy's car has also been central to some of the biggest debates around Blyton's work. In the fourth book, Here Comes Noddy Again, one of the most controversial scenes is played out;  Noddy is driving through a dark wood when his car stolen by Golliwogs. The artwork and text were amended in later editions (c. 1990), to replace these characters with white skinned goblins, which caused even more debate.

What does Seven Stories hold?

A photo taken the day the archive arrived here at Seven Stories © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
Seven Stories holds the most substantial archive of Blyton's work in any public institution. We have a wide variety of material from much of her career, and plenty on the Noddy books themselves.

Typescripts - We have original typescript drafts for Noddy in his many formats from books, plays and recordings. Included are a draft for Cheer Up, Little Noddy (the twentieth book in the original series), 'Noddy and Naughty Amelia Jane' from the 1958 Enid Blyton Story Book, and Enid Blyton's Noddy Happy Families Game. None of our Blyton typescripts show much development work, she seems to have been a very focused writer with her typescripts being almost identical to her final books. 

We also have drafts for short stories and a Noddy in Toyland play.  

You can see some pages from Noddy transcripts on our Collection Highlights page.

Illustration - We are home to the first ever colour drawing of Noddy. For obvious reasons, his car isn't featured! We also hold other illustrations by Noddy's first illustrator, Harmsen van der Beek, two of which feature the car - in one only the nose is visible as it sinks in to a pond. You can explore our online exhibition Mystery, Magic and Midnight Feasts - The Many Adventures of Enid Blyton to find some of the images. 

The cover artwork by Peter Wienk for Noddy Goes to Sea (1959) also shows the car playfully splashing through water

In 2012 Robert Tyndall, who took over illustrating Noddy from van der Beek, donated a sketchbook for Noddy and the Farmyard Muddle. This was a new classic style Noddy picture book, written by Blyton's grand daughter, Sophie Smallwood.

'Noddy and Naughty Amelia Jane' (1958), for which we hold a full suite of artwork features the car heavily as Noddy picks up Amelia Jane from the train station in his taxi.  The artist for these images is unknown. 

Plays - As Seven Stories is also home of the well known playwright David Wood, we hold material relating to his mid 1990s stage play Noddy. Manuscript and typescript drafts form part of the collection, as well as a large series of correspondence about the play. The letters include some discussion about the portrayal of the more controversial characters in Toyland.

Articles - In 2011 the author of The Blyton Phenomenon Sheila Ray donated her research and correspondence around Blyton to Seven Stories. Part of this was a hugely helpful treasure trove of newspaper cuttings, which shows how British attitudes have shifted and changed towards the author, and Noddy, over a number of decades.

Noddy on Tour

This post also brings news that you can see Noddy's car on display in our Mystery, Magic and Midnight Feasts, the Many Adventures of Enid Blyton exhibition, on display at Scarborough Art Gallery from March 25th - June 26th 2016. This is the very last outing for this exhibition after an exhaustive tour around the country. The exhibition was originally displayed in Newcastle for a year, and then travelled to The Beaney in Canterbury, and then to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery during 2015.

Toyland - Mystery, Magic and Midnight Feasts, the Many Adventures of Enid Blyton. This photo was taken in 2013, when the exhibition first opened to the public at the Seven Stories visitor centre in Newcastle. Photo © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
Finding out more

Enid Blyton's Collection is one of our most significant holdings, and we have plenty more material  to explore. When the archive was first purchased, our archivist at the time, Hannah Izod, wrote about the cataloguing process on a special one off blog. To find it, click here

When the exhibition opened at Seven Stories, we also launched a special digital exhibition, which provides access to images of all the exhibition content, so you can see it in plenty of detail online if you can't make it to the exhibition in person. To find it, click here.

And of course, we have written about it on this blog too, to find previous posts, click here.

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

The purchase in November 2014 of Noddy artwork and typescripts for the Seven Stories Collection was made possible thanks to our Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ grant. This has been awarded to Seven Stories in recognition of the museum’s national role in telling a comprehensive story of modern British children’s literature. For more information on our HLF Collecting Cultures project see: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/news/latestnews/hlf.