Enid Blyton and Mary Pollock: What really happened?

Children’s author Enid Blyton was legendarily prolific, writing more than 700 titles during her life. Yet she still found time to write under a pen name, Mary Pollock. Mary was her middle name; Pollock was the surname of her first husband.

Barbara Stoney’s Enid Blyton: The Biography, which remains the definitive work on Blyton’s life, offers up this summary:

[In 1940] two others – Three Boys and a Circus and Children of Kidillin – appeared under the pseudonym of Mary Pollock. This subterfuge, however, was to have unexpected and amusing consequences. So popular did these books become that one reviewer was prompted to remark that ‘Enid Blyton had better look to her laurels’ – but the children who read these stories were not deceived. They very quickly realised that the two authors were, in fact, the same and wrote letters of complaint to Enid and the publishers. The whole matter led to such confusion that it was eventually decided to reissue these and two other subsequent ‘Mary Pollock’ books under her own name.

This is a charming story, but there are a few niggling details. For starters, there were actually six Mary Pollock titles in total.

These are the Pollock books, when they were first produced, when they were first reprinted (still under the Pollock name), and when they were reissued under Blyton’s own name, per the bibliographic detectives at the Enid Blyton Society:

TitleOriginalReprintAs Enid Blyton
The Children Of Kidillin194019461951
Three Boys And A Circus194019461949
The Secret Of Cliff Castle194319471951
The Adventures Of Scamp194319471951
Smuggler Ben194319451950
Mischief At St. Rollo’s194319471952

Given these dates, I’m not entirely convinced that the main motivation for the reissue was to avoid confusion. It seems just as likely that, with Blyton’s popularity soaring in the 1950s, her publisher George Newnes realised that it had an easy way to get more titles into circulation.

More crucially, Stoney’s account tells us nothing about why Blyton decided to adopt a pen name in the first place.

One common motivation for this is to write an entirely different type of book. This is why Agatha Christie wrote non-crime novels under the name of Mary Westmacott, and why J.K. Rowling writes crime thrillers using the pen name Robert Galbraith. But the Mary Pollock books were all typical children’s fare, and readily reprinted under Blyton’s own name.

In 1956 Blyton wrote a play, The Summer Storm, under a pen name, Justin Geste. That was aimed at an adult audience, not children, so the name change gambit makes sense. However, the play was never produced. In 1932 she also tried her hand a novel for adults, The Caravan Goes On. That was never published either, so the question of which name to use never arose.

Another reason for a pen name is to work with a different publisher. That was part of the reason Ruth Rendell wrote as Barbara Vine (her Vine titles are published by Viking/Penguin, Rendell titles came out through Hutchison/Arrow).

But Blyton was already working with multiple publishers. As well, the Pollock titles came out through George Newnes, which was publishing the majority of her work in the 1940s. So as a motive that seems unlikely.

Some fans have speculated that Blyton was curious to see if her books would succeed without her name on the cover. That’s certainly possible, and the fact that all six were reprinted suggests that such an approach was validated. However, it would be good to have some clearer documentary evidence on that point.

And that success is tricky to measure at this distance. In her 1982 book The Blyton Phenomenon, Sheila Ray recounts the experience of one librarian from the era, a period when libraries were often reluctant to stock Blyton titles:

[She] described how her ‘moment of truth’ came after an unpopular book published under the name of ‘Mary Pollock’ in 1947 was reissued under Enid Blyton’s own name in 1950 and suddenly became popular. She then decided it was the name and a good publicity campaign which induced children to read Enid Blyton’s books and from then on she bought very few of them.

It is telling that the last Pollock titles appeared in 1943. That was the year that Blyton and her first husband Hugh Pollock divorced. She married her second husband Kenneth Waters the same year, and her two daughters subsequently took his surname.

Under those circumstances, it’s not surprising that no further fresh titles were written under the Mary Pollock name.

Ultimately, even her own family didn’t seem to think the distinction mattered. In 2000 Blyton’s daughter Gillian Baverstock wrote a memoir of her mother for the ‘Telling Tales’ series of biographies aimed at children. In that book, she lists Smuggler Ben, originally a Pollock title, as an example of a stand-alone Blyton novel.

Images: Enid Blyton Society

Leave a Reply