The Famous Fifty

Children’s author Enid Blyton has been named the best-loved writer in new Costa Book Awards poll to discover the UK’s “most cherished” writers.
Blyton, who wrote more than 700 stories over a 40-year career (The Famous Five, Secret Seven, Malory Towers, Noddy), and has sold over 600 million books in total around the world, came out top and continues to be a phenomenally popular author. Despite her death in 1968, around eight million books are still sold worldwide every year, including more than a million Famous Five tales.
Fellow children’s author Roald Dahl came second in the poll, thanks to gems such as James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and Matilda.

So, the top 50 best-loved authors in the UK are:
1. Enid Blyton
2. Roald Dahl
3. J.K. Rowling
4. Jane Austen
5. William Shakespeare
6. Charles Dickens
7. J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Agatha Christie
9. Stephen King
10. Beatrix Potter

(Read the full list of 50 here.)

C.S. Lewis came in at number 11.

If we draw a kindly veil over the fact that Dan Brown came in between Maeve Binchy and Emily Bronte, there are a few lessons here:
1. The books we love as children – the books that introduce us to reading as a mania – stay with us forever.
2. That remains true even when those books don’t appeal to our adult reader eyes (and indeed may not bear too much close scrutiny on re-reading).
3. Some recent polls about books seem to have been influenced by recent movie releases or big-splash book launches – I’d suggest this list is not, perhaps because it’s focused on authors.
4. The list of works here can be divided into those driven by plot or character (I’d suggest only Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens balance both). 20th century plot-lovers seem to have the numbers.

Lucy Mangan in The Guardian explores the allure of Blyton:

I myself can barely bring myself to talk about my Enid Blyton years. Who wants to let daylight in upon magic?
…For hundreds of thousands of us, Blyton was the wedge that cracked open the pleasure-filled world of reading and allowed us in. Our rational adult sides reject and mock Kirrin Island and all the adventures played out there; our inner children remember it rightly, and gratefully, as the promontory from which we caught our first glimpse of the promised land.

As George would say, ripping!

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