Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Faraway Tree

This being National Reading Month, I thought 
I'd do my bit for advocating children's literacy.

Have you read this book?

It's the first of Enid Blyton's original trilogy that is beloved by millions of children all over the world. 

There are three books in the trilogy: The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk Of The Faraway Tree. The originals cost a small fortune on ebay now, although you can buy the revised reprints (and a revised fourth title Up The Faraway Tree) easily and affordably enough.  It's on the BBC's Big Read List (#66) - some versions of this list have the original trilogy, and some versions list just the second title -The Magic Faraway Tree.

In case you have a hard time finding it, let me quickly give you the background. Three children move to the country, into a cottage in whose backyard is the mysterious Enchanted Wood. People don't go into the Wood because they think it's full of magic, so of course the children run off to explore it the first chance they get. They discover in the middle of it, the ancient and enormous Faraway Tree. Lots of little folk live in the tree - fairies, pixies, gnomes, elves, brownies and talking animals. The tree sustains them because it simultaneously grows a veritable cornucopia of fruit and nuts. Its topmost branches reach into distant lands, which come and go, also by magic. Some lands are horrid and some are fabulous. The three children - and eventually their parents - become fast friends with the Tree folk, and go on all sorts of adventures in the various lands on top of the Tree.

I read the trilogy to the girls two years ago and they fell in love with the little folk, particularly Silky, the pretty little fairy who bakes magical, interactive confections. For the longest time, I'd been scheming to make some version of the Faraway Tree and its denizens for the kids. I told my friend Jen (she who did the drafting series with me) and she asked me if it was for the kids, or really for me. Aaahh - Jen knows me inside out.

Anyway, I made it! 
I finally made it! 
I made the Faraway Tree!!!!!!!!!!!!!


All almost-three feet of it - in glorious cardboard!!!!!!

If you've read the books, you'll probably agree that, artistic interpretation notwithstanding, there are certain features that must be included in any model of the Tree that distinguishes it from any old common treehouse:

The first is the Lands on the top of the tree. In the stories, the lands come and go as they please, and I wanted the kids to be able to recreate the different lands as they liked. So I left the roof of the Tree bare, accessible via a hole-and- ladder portal. 

The second is the Slippery Slip - a twisting slide cut into the trunk of the tree itself, which allows visitors a quick and exhilarating descent to the forest floor below. It originates in the topmost room in the Tree and, according to the story, one sits on a cushion and rides down to the very bottom, where a little red squirrel collects the cushions and sends them up to the top again. In our Tree, this was made with little chutes in a zig-zag configuration. Our chutes were made from the cardboard tube inside a roll of wrapping paper.

The third is Dame Washalot's laundry basket, which is rigged up at nights to give the Treefolk rides up the tree and save them the effort of a manual climb. 

Ours was made elevator-style, with a wheel-and-axle system and stabilizing pole for smooth ascent and descent.

The little folk live in small houses/rooms within the Tree itself, so I added alternating walls with doors and windows. The cutaway walls allowed better access for play throughout the entire structure. 

Well, that's the Tree.

Now let's meet the cast:

There's Jo, Bessie and Fanny, the three lucky children:

and the first of the Treefolk they meet,  The Angry Pixie:

who hates, absolutely hates anyone peeking in his window, and will hurl ink or water or anything handy, at them.

There's the gnome Mr Whatzisname, whose real name nobody knows, not even himself. He's usually asleep on a tree branch, tempting people to pop acorns into his open mouth.

There's the laundry-obsessed Dame Washalot

who will wash and iron anything from clothes to the foliage of the tree itself, for the sheer joy of it. Boy, do I wish I had friends like her. Also for the sheer joy of it, she will dump her washing water down the side of the tree like a waterfall. The Treefolk are used to this, and easily duck under a protective bough, but she has caught many visitors unawares.

There is Silky, the gentle elf, who bakes delightful, if sometimes surprising, confections.

Silky is Jenna's favorite character, so I made sure she turned out extra pretty and extra sparkly and extra pink and extra magical. 

And Moonface, perhaps the most iconic of the Tree dwellers: 

Sort of an unofficial leader, he's visually part smileyhead, part candycane and all heart. He lives in the topmost apartment of the Tree, and lets out his Slippery Slip for toffee reimbursement.

The Saucepan Man, an auditorily-challenged creature hung about with pots, pans and other kitchen essentials:

Not one of the original tenants of the Tree, he wandered down the old Hole-and-Ladder (sounds like a British pub!) portal from his own land 

and failed to return till it was too late and his land had moved away. Since then, he has moved in with Whatzisname.

So there you are - The Tenants (and friends) of the horticultural high-rise apartment complex that is the Faraway Tree.

There are a few other secondary characters that I might add someday if I feel like it. Among these: The Owl, Cousin Dick, Curious Connie and The Saucepan Man's Mother, who was rescued from the employ of the volatile Dame Slap, and now lives with Dame Washalot and operates a cake stall in the Tree - a classic WAHM scenario, if ever I saw one.

Here are shots of the girls playing with the Tree, to give you an idea of its size.

They corralled all their fairy houses (see here and here) and made Fairyland arrive on the top of the Tree. Then they got their McDonald's happy meal fairies  to come down the ladder to visit Moonface. Hahaha - Barbie meets Blyton: I never would've thought it possible if I hadn't seen it in my own living room.

I took photos of the construction process so if you want to see how the Tree was made, go to the earlier post here.

Also, painting the peg dolls for the Tree was so much fun that I kept going at it and made a very different set for a birthday gift. Check back tomorrow to see it!


  1. OMG! What a fabulous thing to see! I loved The Faraway Tree when I was a kid and my 8 year old read them recently and loved them (she's since moved on to all the Adventure books and ploughing through Malory Towers with the Mystery series awaiting her!). EB had a bad rap in the PC 90s but I think parents are now accepting her books for what they are, fantastic fantasy stories, easily accessible for young children, stimulating adventures and a wonderfully innocent world that appeals for young children even in todays fast moving over stimulated world. I will defend EB and suggest her to young kids time and time again and to have such a wonderful plaything makes me wish I was 8 again and my mum had made it! I have also wanted to eat a pop biscuit!! Can you sort that out please?

  2. I had completely forgotten about The Faraway I read your post more and more came back to me and now I'm completely curious as to what I'm still forgetting. I think I have this book upstairs!

  3. I have never heard of these books, but can't wait to read them! I LOVE this tree and the little people you made. How wonderful!

  4. Love, Love, Love this...the Magic Faraway Tree was my favourite book as a kid (I am now 44) but I still love it...I actually re-read all of them a few years ago, perhaps to rekindle a sense of home and a time when the world was much nicer...well done on the tree itself, I bet your little girl loves to play with it.
    it is much bigger than I originally thought.
    great job...

  5. That tree is Awesome! I love those books, it is great to see them brought to life!

  6. Oh!!!! It's knock your socks off fantastic! Truly inspired.

  7. I've said it many times before and I'll say it again - you truly are AMAZING! These were my favourite childhood books and it is so lovely to see the tree and its inhabitants come to life like this! I wish my children had a mummy like you! Lucy xx

  8. Even Johnny wants THESE peg dolls!

    Thank you for introducing me to the faraway tree stories - my kids love them! And your rendition of both the trees and the characters is perfect!

  9. oh biscuits!
    this is all my childhood dreams come true all at once!! i must've read and re-read the trilogy at least ten times over all throughout my childhood and early teenhood. and to actually see the tree now constructed like this ... it's exactly like i thought it would be ... excuse me while i take a moment ... *sob, sob*
    please, lier, pretty please could you post the template on your blog? i would like to make this for my birthday this year. i'm not much of a painter, so i'll get my husband's grandma to paint the peg people for me (very fitting as she is known as Grandma Peg to all of us :)

    ps: you so totally rock, you know!

  10. I read that book too and a whole lot of Enid Blyton works, some of my best memories of childhood. It's a pity she's not that well known in America. I cant wait to introduce her to my daughter when she's old enough to read herself.

  11. Beautiful! I was a major Faraway Tree fan and am looking forward to reading them to my kiddies. By the way, in the third book Mr Whatsisname goes to the Land of Secrets and finds out his name is Koolamoolytoomorallypawkyrollo. (I might be a bit off on the spelling!) Of course everyone forgets it and he goes straight back to being Mr Whatsisname :-)

  12. Yes, Kate L: I always thought that part of the story was very funny. Fanny felt sorry for him and tried to learn it, but he couldn't even remember it to tell it to her! Poor Mr W.

  13. This is a great creation, beautiful job! Have you thought about give it a couple of layers with kitchen paper towels and pva glue? It would become more sturdier and durable. The cardboard color would be gone, but you would have a white surface to paint on. It's just an idea. Papier maché helps me a lot when it cames to make paper toys last longer.

  14. Oh My! I Loved the Faraway Tree series (and a LOT of other EBs) as a child, but sadly my children don't like them, though they do like other authors of the time - I wish I had someone I could play this with though - this is amazing!


  15. Hi! It's Horse With No Name from that other blog. :) I'm de-lurking for a bit to comment in Faraway Solidarity! This totally made me die with delight. It's become so difficult to find the Faraway Tree/Enchanted Wood/Wishing Chair books in Singapore (not to mention here in the States). I hunted high and low til I found a collection of the books that weighs almost as much as my head. And this tree! Oh, my, this tree. Can I just say, I'm in love with the angry pixie in your tree. He probably won't want to be my secret pixie boyfriend, but that's ok. I'll just gaze longingly from afar...

  16. Woman. Are you kidding me? Get out! This is the coolest dang thing I have ever seen!!!

    I don't even know the book and now I'm off to Amazon it because you know I need more fairies in my life. Then again, don't we all :)

    Well done!


  18. Thank you so much for this! We made Family Fun's version of your faraway tree for our vintage FP little people and finally found a chapter book that my 6yr old and 3yr old enjoy listening too.

  19. I just made the Family Fun version, but yours is even better! My kids are thrilled, but I think I will now have to add the elevator/pulley. And I just saw the market you made and going to try that next with some extra IKEA boxes. LOVE!!

  20. Please will you adopt me. Ok I'm 39, but that does mean I know how to do my own washing and sometimes keep my room clean.

    Too too marvellous :-)

  21. This looks AMAZING!! I remember when I was young we made a live-action version of the Faraway Tree by climbing a tree that grew up onto a bank down our back paddock. We used our toys as characters and a piece of corrogated iron for the slippery slip.

    The most fun parts were the land at the top of the trees (e.g. Land of Dame Slap - I played Dame Slap - and Land of Goodies) and being the person who got to throw Dame Washalot's dirty water on the others! Good memories :)

  22. How amazing! I had read this many many years ago, ofcourse I was a child then:). I had forgotten much of the story and the characters and reading through, brought back memories of both. I wouldn't mind revisiting it! Thanks ever so much!

  23. OMG that was amazing to see. the details made it sooooo precious. lotsa love in it. thank you

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  25. FANTASTIC! I've been reading the far away tree to my children and we love it but YOU'VE BROUGHT THE BOOK TO LIFE FOR YOUR CHILDREN just amazing.I'm giddy with the thought of making one (know i won't) Your fantastic.

  26. You have inspired me to find and read the books. I found them through Amazon and now have them. I am in the middle of reading the 2nd of 3 and had to revisit your post to connect your tree with the story. So wonderful! I love it! Great job. When I was a kid I made Barbie's dream house (actually better than the 'store version.' Then when my boys were young I created He-Man's Castle Grayskull (not sure on the spelling). What fun watching them play with it.

  27. You inspired me to read these books! I found them on Amazon and am in the middle of reading the 2nd of the 3. I had to revisit this post to associate the story and characters to your Faraway Tree creation. Thanks to a 'pin' of your post I discovered these wonderful stories! As a kid I made Barbie's Dreamhouse (better than the store bought version!). When my boys were young I made them He-Man's Castle Grayskull. The coffee can elevator was fun to engineer. I remember what fun it was to see the boys play with it. Seeing your girls play with your creation reminded me of good times. Thank you!

  28. This is fantastic! I am going to be "hunting" for those books :) What a lovely way to help your children keep developing their imaginations!!!
    Great job!!!

  29. You are incredible! Love your imagination and creative spirit! New to your site and can't wait to see more. Kudos to you and ALL that you do!

  30. I love this. We also made one to go with the Magic Tree house books we are reading.

  31. Wow, this is totally gorgeous. I'm going to share in my FB page (with link back) and pin too, hope that's OK - it's just so beautiful I want to share.

  32. This is fantastic. What lucky children you have! They were some of my favourite books as a child, I would've loved this :)

  33. I’ve just stumbled on this page, and this has blown me away! It was one of my favorite books when I was growing up, I loved silky too! So fantastic! Bookmarked so I can make it in A few years for my boys to play with!!!

  34. OMG , what an awesome creation with just a cardboard which most of the people normally throw it away after use. Really fantastic. Really great job

  35. I loved the books and love your tree! Thanks for the inspiration.


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