A tea party from The Magic Faraway Tree (and taking fiction back into real life)

My youngest child and I have been reading The Magic Faraway Tree Collection — a trilogy of The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. The book’s the size of a house brick and contains a total of 85 chapters, all about The Faraway Tree.

Think “Baby Narnia”.

The story: Joe, Beth and Frannie move to the country where their mother works (high five, Faraway Mum) while they explore the local forest. They discover the magical Faraway Tree, so named because at the top, a ladder goes up through the clouds to a series of different and changing lands. They make friends with the various people of the Faraway Tree — Moonface (man with big face), Silky (fairy with silky hair), and Saucepan (man with lots of saucepans). Sometimes they’re joined by a friend or cousin, who are invariably badly-behaved, get the children into trouble (stuck up infinite ladders or imprisoned in schools), before learning the relevant lessons and scurrying home again.

It’s a sweet book — think Narnia for younger kids, with the parenting vibe of Swallows and Amazons, and the food from the Famous Five. It’s all very 1930s; ginger beer and lemonade, and the children must complete their household chores before being allowed out unsupervised to travel beyond the edges of the world without a safety net or helmet in sight. Which makes sense as the first book was published in 1939.

My youngest is seven and he loves the Faraway Tree. I love it too: the chapters make ideal night-time short stories (basically, short and easy) and we can take turns reading them.

The retro charm of the book also brought back a nostalgic longing for old-fashioned elements of childhood. I started imagining not just the characters spending ten hours a day running through forests, climbing trees, and swigging ginger beer, but also the real life children of the 1930s (or in my case, 1970s) – the people who inspired the author to write of these things. I wondered, were the Faraway adventures reminiscent of things that the author did, or wanted to do? Either way, her words were likely inspired by some form of real experience or desire.

As we read, I started to wonder why we don’t have a tree-house in the garden? Why don’t we go on more picnics? Why do I not let my kids go adventuring on their own all day? OK, that last one is a reflection on road traffic, but still, there is SO much out there to see and do, so much we aren’t doing, and it seems crazy to hide inside reading while the fictional characters have all the fun.

So The Magic Faraway Tree has inspired us to do some of the things we read in books — and from now on, we’re going to read stories and try to get out there and experience them for real. Obviously, not all of the activities in all the books — we don’t need to talk about Kevin that much. But how better to bring a children’s story to life?

So, all excited, and since two of my kids were unwell and  unable to climb through clouds this week, we opted for Chapter 15 of The Folk of the Faraway Tree instead: The Land of Tea Parties.

There were pink cakes, yellow cakes, chocolate cakes, ginger cakes, cakes with fruit and silver balls all over them, cakes with frosting, cakes with flowers made from sugar, cakes as big as could be, and tiny ones only enough for two people.

I strongly recommend Chapter 15.

So thank you, Enid Blyton and the folk of the Faraway Tree: you have inspired us to try a whole new level of reading. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to do something out of every book we read.

If reading’s an adventure, let’s make it a real one.

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