So a couple of months ago I wrapped up my Five Findouters Challenge which was all about reading the Findouters books by Enid Blyton (15 in the series) chronologically (my review of that challenge is here), and then decided to pick up next, this series of school stories by Blyton which I don’t know as well as one of her other school series St Clares which I read countless times as a child. Malory Towers is a series of six books by Blyton (there are other ‘continuation’ books by a different author but I am not going to pick up those here) and is one of her three school series (that I am aware of)—St Clares and the Naughtiest Girl being the other two.
Mammoth ed., 2000: Darrell in the Malory Towers Uniform
In this, the first of the series, we see Darrell Rivers (named after Blyton’s husband Darrell Waters—incidentally I also see from wiki that he was a surgeon like Darrell’s father in the book) ) preparing to set off to boarding school, Malory Towers in Cornwall, since she has just turned twelve (the youngest they take pupils), and is ready in her new uniform to head off to the station to take the train for school (The Malory Towers train arrives at platform 7 not 9¾ 🙂 ). She is nervous but also eager to get started, meet her school mates and settle in, and also to make new friends, since none of her old ones are going to Malory Towers. At the school, her friendly nature and sharp brains ensure that she begins to settle-in in no time, something that cannot be said for the other new girls in her form, the pretty but spiteful Gwendoline Lacey, and the withdrawn Sally Hope. Darrell takes to two ‘old’ students, Alicia and Betty who are also intelligent, but the kind who play tricks often in the form and are happy to voice whatever enters their mind, Alicia especially, and hopes to befriend them soon. School goes on as usual—with classes and work of course, but also games (swimming and tennis since it is the summer term), and also a few tricks. But the class is a mix of girls with very different personalities, and clashes are inevitable leading also to a fair bit of trouble. To top it all Darrell must address her own troubles, not being able to make a friend as easily as she thought she would, and more than that, to control her own hot temper which leads to more misery for herself than she ever thought it would.
1946 Methuen ed.
To start off with, a thought that popped into my mind was how this story linked with Blyton’s other mystery/adventure stories (something I’ve never consciously thought before)—while those (like the Findouters books) tell of what the children get upto during the holidays, these deal with term time, so one does get a rounded picture of children’s lives after all.
But anyway, back to the actual book, I though Blyton did a great job in this introductory story of showing us how in school (in books as in real life) we meet all kinds of people—friendly, reserved, brave, cowardly, bright, not so very bright, honest and good-natured, and spiteful (we also have the exaggerated French mistress, Mam’zelle Dupont). One may or may not meet all types in every setting and in that way one might say that these various types have been consciously put in together, but still, I found it made for a believable story. What I liked about the girls were that while many of them have likeable qualities, none is perfect, we see people who can speak their minds but equally those who are unable to and are judged harshly for that. But in this one, while the ‘cowardly’ Mary Lou is looked down upon by her peers, even considered a nuisance at times, unlike in some of her mystery stories (where in an instance or two, it seems as if Blyton herself is judging them harshly), Blyton tries to get Darrell to understand with an incident what being in such a position could be like, could feel to the person, and then she is at least able to understand her better. Darrell also learns an important lesson or two about friendship as well—that first impressions or the ‘glamour’ (not the kind related to appearance) that one associates with people may not always translate to real friendship, that requires people who are able to support you in times of need, quite like the saying goes. The various girls that we see closely have failings in one way or another, and while some are able to address them or at least to begin to address them, others are not. And Gwendoline Lacey—no spoiler that she is the ‘villainess’ of the piece—I ended up wondering about her as well, she is spoilt, spiteful, self-absorbed, and not very likeable at all, but I did end up with the question about why she really was that way—was it only her upbringing (and thus something that could perhaps be resolved unless it was too late) or something more? At the end, finishing the book, while I did read a fun school story, I found on this reading I focused more on the people themselves, on human nature and the various pictures of it that emerged. (And this was a line of thought I think that was partly sparked off by a review by a fellow Blyton fan that I read on facebook—the group Blytonia—just this morning (of different book though): The link to the group is here, sorry I have no idea how to link to the specific review but it is of the Put-Em Rights.