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Archive for June 3rd, 2009

Seducing an Angel

The recently widowed Cassandra Belmont, Lady Paget, has arrived in London during the social Season. But she receives neither welcome nor sympathy from society. Quite the opposite. There are questions surrounding the death of her husband, and rumor has it that Cassandra murdered him. Her son-in-law has used threats rather than law to cut her off without a penny. But she had dependents as well as herself to support. Her situation is desperate indeed when she decides there is only one way to save them all from destitution. She goes in search of a wealthy, well-connected protector-and she settles upon the Earl of Merton.

Stephen Huxtable, Earl of Merton, is now twenty-five years old, handsome, popular, and carefree. He is one of England’s most eligible and desirable bachelors. He has no interest in marrying just yet, but he is quite open to the idea of taking a mistress. When the beautiful Lady Paget appears very willing indeed, Stephen sees no reason to resist his attraction to her, despite her scandalous reputation. Until conscience sets in, that is, at the same time as he understands how Cassandra has deceived him.

The affair would seem to be over almost before it has begun.

Stephen’s conscience, however, moves him in more than one way, and he has a proposition of his own to make to the conniving, near-destitute widow. Suddenly the tables have been turned.

LITERATURE AS A VEHICLE TO TRANSPORT US INTO AN ENCHANTED WORLD

When I was growing up in Wales, I, along with almost every other child in the British Isles, absolutely adored the books of Enid Blyton. She was, fortunately enough, a prolific writer and wrote for all ages of children and for both genders. Even so, there never seemed to be enough of her books to go around. We used to haunt the library in the (usually vain) hope that someone would be returning one of her books when we were there. And if ever we were given money as a birthday or Christmas gift, chances were that we would rush out to spend it on an Enid Blyton book.

I idly googled her name a while ago and was astonished and delighted to discover that she has had something of a renaissance and that many of her books are in print once more. I felt like a child again as I picked out what I remembered to be my favorite of all those wonderful adventure books—THE MAGIC FARAWAY TREE—and ordered it. I wanted to see if it still held something of the old magic for me all these years later. And I wanted to analyze what it was about her books that had so enthralled a few generations of pre-television, pre-DVD children.

I found my answers. Yes, the story was still fun to read, though I was somewhat taken aback to find how very simple it is. All the human characters are very stereotypical—the perfect two-parent family with working dad and housewife mom and children who are good and obedient with just enough mischief thrown in to keep them interesting. There is little or no attempt to show any depth of character or any realism. And non-human characters and fantasy situations abound without any attempt to make them believable. The premise of the book is that three children living on the edge of a dense wood find, at its heart, a tree so tall that its top is always among the clouds. When the children climb it, they meet all sorts of characters who live permanently in the tree. And they discover that above the cloud there is always an exciting land but that it does not stay for longer than a few days. The trick is to see and experience that land and get back down onto the tree before it moves on to give place to another. There is always the danger of being taken away with the land and being unable to return. And some of the lands are good while others are evil.

Can I see what the appeal was to a child? You bet! Enid Blyton’s were the type of stories that went straight for a child’s imagination. We were transported by these adventure stories, which did not have to be realistic, which did not have to teach a lesson, which could scare us and make us laugh and enchant us and never ever bore us. And there was always the secure knowledge that everything would be all right in the end, that the world and the family were unassailably secure, and that there was unconditional love awaiting all of us in the real world as well as in the fictional one.

Why have I reminisced about these books here? My own books are very different from Enid Blyton’s. I write for adults. I set my stories in Regency England and try to bring that world alive as it really was. I dig deep into my characters in an attempt to make them real. I deal with real-life problems and force my characters to fight for love and happiness.

But oh, goodness me, I learned a lot from Enid Blyton even if I did not realize it at the time. I learned that for me as a reader the primary indicator of a good novel is that I lose myself in it, that I am enchanted by it even if it puts me through some agony before it leaves me thoroughly happy and satisfied, that until I turn the last page I almost forget that I am a reader holding a book, so deeply have I been drawn into the story. I become the characters and live the story with them. I don’t want to put the book down. My imagination has been fully engaged. And this is my primary aim as a writer too. If I can offer my readers this sort of total involvement and enchantment, then I can be satisfied that I have written the best book I am capable of writing.

Thank you, Enid Blyton, who was much maligned by educators in my time (just as romance often is in our time) and was correspondingly much beloved by droves of children.

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Leave a comment to enter a drawing for a signed copy of Seducing an Angel–just out in hardcover from Delacorte. Seducing an Angel is the much awaited fourth title in Ms Balogh’s Hustable’s quintet. Visit Ms Balogh’s website for excerpts, upcoming titles and information on her extensive backlist.

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