The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage: How has Blyton’s original text fared in a modern edition?


On Monday I said that I would be comparing The Twins at St Clare’s. Only I discovered, at the last minute, that I had in fact already completed that back in May. I spent about five minutes going what am I going to do instead? as well as saying you idiot to myself. After that, I searched the spare room and found a very modern copy of The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, kindly donated to the cause by Stef. So that is what I am going to look at instead!

My own copy is a Methuen from 1957, and is the 12th reprint/impression of the original edition. The new copy is the most modern of any paperbacks I have used so far, and is an Egmont copy from 2014.



CHAPTER ONE: THE BURNING COTTAGE

Unusually there is no chapter list in the Methuen edition so I will just have to wait and see if any of the chapter headings are altered as I go along.

As with all previous books I have compared, hyphens have disappeared from a large number of phrases including half-past. Other separate words are joined – some one to someone. I’ve rarely see some one as two words.

Hallo is changed to hello each time, which makes their greetings sound awkwardly formal at times. Hallo sounds jolly and friendly, while hello can sound quite stiff. Lighted becomes lit (again this is usually the case, though both are correct).

Efforts seem to have been made to make the parents look less negligent. Larry and Daisy sneak out to see the cottage on fire, saying Mummy and Daddy are out, so they won’t notice their absence. It doesn’t say, however, that the children are home alone. Presumably the house-parlourmaid or cook would be there, given what we know about the Daykins from other books. Modern children would probably assume that there is a babysitter there.The Egmont edition reads Mummy and Daddy are busy, with the same line about them not noticing the children have gone out. To me, that sounds even worse! If your parents are home and yet don’t know that their two children have wandered off into the night…

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After that, they wonder if Mummy and Daddy are back yet. This has become if Mummy and Daddy are looking for us yet. Again, what’s wrong with two adults going out for a meal or a trip to the theatre? It never states the children were alone in the house.

Likewise, Fatty’s words about his parents have been ‘updated’ too. He said I’m all alone at that hotel originally, meaning that during the day he didn’t have any company. That’s become just I’ll be in the hotel. He also tells the others that his mother and father are out golfing all day. To ‘improve’ that, they have changed it to my mother and father will be out playing golf. So they are still leaving him; but only for some of the day. That’s better, isn’t it?

A couple of references to being fat have been removed (I suspect this will be a common theme). Mr Hick’s cook is originally described as  poor, fat, trembling, and the fat has been removed for the paperback. Fatty is also just a conceited creature, not a conceited fat creature now.

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Lastly, the inn that Fatty’s staying in has been changed to hotel – though it is called a hotel by Fatty in both editions.


CHAPTER TWO: THE FIVE FIND-OUTERS – AND DOG

I was right about the fat issue. The children thought it was a shame that Buster had such a silly fat sausage for a master, now they think it’s a shame he had such a silly master.

 A couple of other lines are cut entirely :

  • the dog’s young master did look rather sausagey and fat.
  •  “I am rather fat, aren’t I?” he said. “I’ve an awful appetite , and I expect I eat too much.”
  •  He had already been Tubby and Sausage at school – now he would be Fatty in the holidays. 

Also, Daisy remarks that F-A-T describes you [Fatty] rather well. This is now it could be a nickname. When Fatty is called plump, conceited and stupid, it is changed to conceited and the rest.

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I’m somewhat torn over all this. On one hand, I hate the amount of ‘body shaming’ that goes on in the media and amongst everyday people. It may not be healthy to be overweight, but that doesn’t mean we should go around shouting fatty at people. Saying that, children can be unkind and will find something horrible to say about other children no matter what. It is also clear that the first unkind references are more because they just don’t like Fatty’s conceited attitude, and are therefore acting as children will and calling him names.

On the whole I would have to come down on the side of leaving the books as they are, as I don’t feel the fat references amount to bullying. Nor at any point is it suggested by the children or the narrative that his weight makes him bad or worth less as a person. He’s simply fat, the same way someone is tall or red-headed.

Incidentally, one reference to the plump boy and one to the fat boy have been left alone. If you’re going to go on a mission to eradicate fat-talk, at least be consistent! From the ones that have been left in it’s clear enough that Fatty as a nickname isn’t just about his initials.

Moving on, the annoying habit of removing italicised emphases is back. The children are shocked that someone would set a fire on purpose. Something is lost when the italics are removed. Consider (not a quote) He did it on purpose? and He did it on purpose? The second conveys much more surprise and disbelief. Likewise, Bets insists that Pip gets Buster a bone and a biscuit. Without the italics, you lose her emphasis on him having to bring both.

In a similar move, some text has been made lower-case. Daisy says that they should set ourselves to find out “WHO BURNT THE COTTAGE”. The capitalised text becomes almost a book-title, it’s certainly an important question. The Egmont edition simply reads
to find out who burnt the cottage. No emphasis whatsoever, and it becomes bland and flat.

Lastly, there are a few minor changes and one correction. Fatty calls Buster sir from time to time, and the one instance in this chapter is removed. I do find it odd that anyone would say come here, sir to a dog, but it clearly did happen at some point in the past. Continuing that line of thought – Fatty is still Busters master in the Egmont edition. I’m surprised that isn’t owner now, and Mr Hicks is still the cook’s master, and not employer or somesuch.

Fired, in the sense of some one having fired that work-room on purpose is updated to having set fire. I can’t say I have seen or heard anyone using fired in that context in recent years but it’s clear enough what it means.

The small correction is made to why should be do it? which should of course be why should he do it? It would be interesting to know if that mistake appears in other Methuen editions also.


 

There was certainly plenty to write about in those two opening chapters. I make that twenty-two changes. As with previous series, I won’t count every time a hyphen or other small change is made, but I will try to only count ‘new’ and ‘unique’ alterations. The only exception to that rule is I will count every time fat/plump etc are removed or replaced, out of interest to see how often they are actually used. I did the same with references to J0-Jo being black.

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3 Responses to The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage: How has Blyton’s original text fared in a modern edition?

  1. drake says:

    PC teachers and librarians loathed Blyton I am surprised the revisionist offence seekers leave anything

    Like

  2. chrissie777 says:

    Great review as usual, Fiona :)! Thank you. I remember reading “hullo” in older British children’s books, too.

    Like

  3. Francis says:

    Fascinating comparison, Fiona. Many thanks.
    Francis

    Like

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