Jacqueline Wilson has written a new adventure in the world of the magic faraway tree, as originally created by Enid Blyton. A reviewer turns to this book with some apprehension; many readers have treasured memories of Blyton’s text. This reviewer is among their number. Could Wilson create a text that would do justice to its original? There was also a potentially controversial question. Blyton’s text manifests attitudes towards gender that were commonplace in her own era of the 1950s, but which would look outdated and offensive to a contemporary reader. How would Wilson handle this issue?
The new version of the story features three characters, Milo who is aged ten, Mia who is around nine years old and Bethany, known as Birdie, who is aged four or five. The children reach the enchanted wood because their family is staying for a holiday in a nearby cottage. They encounter characters all drawn from the original text, a fairy named Silky, her friend Moonface, the Saucepan Man who now sells his saucepans online instead of travelling round, his friend Mister Whatshisname and Dame Washalot the laundress.
If people climb to the top of the faraway tree, it is capable of transporting them to different lands they might wish to visit. The new lands created by Wilson are the land of unicorns, the land of bouncy castles, the land of princes and princesses where there is nearly a feminist disaster and the fearsome land of dragons. Modern readers will easily relate to the lands Wilson invents.
Wilson has taken a work known to generations of parents and children. She has kept a strong sense of the original world in tone and content while at the same time eliminating the stereotypes particularly of female characters. Overall the accomplishment is what readers expect of this accomplished writer. This reviewer has only one misgiving. The story ends very abruptly, a feature which some readers will find jarring.