Malory Towers Challenge: In the Fifth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

It’s been a few months since I last read a book in this series though I’ve been thinking about it for sometime now. I read and reviewed book 4 last November (here), where Darrell’s sister Felicity, attends Malory Towers for the very first time.

In book 5, Darrell and Felicity return to Malory Towers, where Darrell is now in the fifth form. As the girls have passed their school certificates in the previous term, the term before them is to be a light one work-wise as their form mistress, Miss James informs them. But there’s still plenty in store as Darrell finds herself appointed games captain for the form, sharing duties with Sally, and the fifth form are put in charge of the Christmas entertainment to be written and produced by them entirely. Darrell takes charge of writing the play, Irene the music, Belinda the sets, and Janet the costumes. There is one new girl Maureen, very like Gwendolen-Mary, and three others who weren’t sent up to the sixth form because of age or illness or because they weren’t prepared enough, among them Moira who is a little too hard and domineering, and Catherine, far too saintly. Maureen like Gwendolen Mary is too full of herself, but has only the latter for company as no one else wants her. Once again the different personalities clash or at least don’t get along as games are played and the pantomime is written and rehearsed. Meanwhile Alicia’s cousin, June is also being a handful, just as malicious with her tongue but not as straight as Alicia herself. There are quite a few in the fifth form and below who need to be set right, and the girls are up to the task. Looking at themselves as they are, is hard for them all, and some find it hard to face up to it until things go very wrong. But of course, amidst these more serious moments, there are many lighter ones too in the matches and scrumptious teas that follow and also the tricks which the first form now plays on poor unsuspecting Mam’zelle Dupont, the jolly French teacher. But Mam’zelle isn’t taking it all quietly this time around!

This was a much lighter instalment in the series in some senses with the fun and games taking the centre stage rather than study and exams. But as in the rest of this series, this book too acknowledges that it takes all kinds of people to make the world, which often means unpleasantness, but if one has to get things to work, and to get along with those we are meant to live our lives amidst, one has to face up to oneself, recognise our ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and try to make things run smoothly even if we can’t always change magically. Gwendolen begins to understand this a little when faced with her almost doppelgänger, Maureen and certainly makes an attempt to do so even if doesn’t bring her the reactions she hoped. Catherine too seems to understand this but is a little hurt in the process. June in the first form and Moira in the fifth find this a lot harder to do, one refusing to give in and the other interpreting it in a rather unfortunate way. But sooner or later the girls do begin to see sense, as we too must in our lives.

But aside from this unpleasantness and spite, it was fun watching the girls write and stage their pantomime. They are lucky of course to have all the talent they need—a great writer in Darrell, a musician in Irene, a singer in Mavis, artists in Belinda and Janet, and indeed also acting talents like Alicia—but I enjoyed looking at the whole process unfold which involves a great deal of work but also fun. Staging theatre productions (amateur or professional) and the work that goes into them has been something that’s been part of a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately (the Blue Doors books by Pamela Brown (reviews here, here, here, and here), and then Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild review here), and I had fun reading Blyton’s version.

This book also had its humorous moments in the trick that the first formers decide to play on Mam’zelle Dupont (here June takes after Alicia), and more so when Mam’zelle decides to play on them a trick of her own. Though it is a success of sorts, I’m not quite sure who the joke ended up being on!

This was another enjoyable volume in the series, and now I have only the final book left (I am only reading the six books that Blyton herself wrote) to see how things turn out for the characters as they prepare to finish school and make their way into the real world.

Have you read this book or others in the series? How did you find it/them? Only as a child or as an adult as well? If both, how did the two experiences compare?

My reviews of the first three books in this series are here, here and here.

Advertisements

Malory Towers Challenge: Upper Fourth at Malory Towers

Upper Fourth.jpg

Book #4 for my Malory Towers challenge. I would like to clarify that for this ‘challenge’ I’m only reading the original six books written by Enid Blyton herself. There are six further books by Pamela Cox which explore more of Felicity’s adventures. Read a little about them on the World of Blyton Blog here.

 

Upper Fourth at Malory Towers picks up a couple of terms after the previous book when Darrell and her friends were in their third form. Now they have spent some time in the Upper Forth taught by Miss Williams and are preparing to take their certificate exams. But that doesn’t of course stop school life from going on as it usually does. This is the first term in which Felicity has joined Malory Towers. Darrell is excited to show her little sister around and help settle her in, but before she can do that Alicia’s rather nasty little cousin, June, takes Felicity under her wing, and out of Darrell’s way, something the latter can’t approve. To add to the situation, Darrell has been made head-girl of the form, a post she is proud to occupy but her temper rears its ugly head again, putting everything that she’s been working for at risk. There are also new girls of course, the meek and unattractive Honourable Clarissa Carter, who Gwendolen (rather like St Clares’ Alison in this respect) is keen to befriend, and (non-identical) twins Connie and Ruth, opposites of each other in more than one way.

 

This was another interesting instalment in the series once again focusing on the girls’ different temperaments, and how this leads them to like or repel each other, and causes differences as well. At the end of the day, the message if one can call it that, which comes through is that one must be responsible for one’s own acts, face up to one’s own failings and deal with them if one wishes to be a good human being, not merely a winner of prizes and scholarships (the very same that Miss Grayling gives her new students each year). Some of the girls (Clarrisa, for one, Felicity another) must learn to see their ‘so-called’ friends for who they really are rather than the face they put on for them. Darrell must learn to face her temper and deal with it, or else face the consequences, just as Gwendolen must do for her deception and machinations. The twins have to learn to deal with each other’s personalities, and not get overshadowed by the other, while Alicia has to learn not to scorn other just because she has some gifts that others do not. For some these lessons have long-term results, but others merely fall back into their own ways.

 

Upper fourth feast.jpg

Another Cover (Harper Collins 1971): The girls having their midnight feast by the pool.

That was the serious side, but there is a lighter side too. This was the first of the Malory Towers books where the girls actually had a midnight feast (St Clares seemed to have far more), which is fun though it does get interrupted and has some unpleasant cosequences. They also play a trick, once again on the unsuspecting Mam’zelle Dupont, who doesn’t realise what is happening (not even once its all over), much to the amusement of the girls, and Miss Williams. And of course, there is the usual fun of term time, a picnic, games and swimming which some girls are excited about while others perpetually try to get out of, Belinda and Irene’s madcap antics, and the usual fun. All-in-all a good read again. I think I’m appreciating these better reading them now, than when I read them as a child.

 

p.s.: An interesting fact I learnt from this book was that EB was a regular contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica on English fauna. I knew she wrote nature books and was very knowledgeable about nature (something that reflects in her other books too) but not that she was a contributor to Britannica too.

Malory Towers Challenge: Third Year at Malory Towers

third year malory.jpg

Book #3 for my Malory Towers Challenge, or rather of me reading through the Malory Towers books chronologically. Although this one is titled ‘third year’, as always, it deals with one term at the school. The story opens as usual with Darrell preparing to return to Malory Towers, where her sister Felicity will be joining her next term. Her friend Sally is in quarantine, and they must take along Zerelda Brass, a new American student, along as they drive down. Zerelda is Blyton’s somewhat typical American student concerned with her appearance alone, and not so much with studies or the activities (sport and such) that the English girls love. She also appears a lot more grown up than she is because of this inviting disapproval from the teachers, though admiration from Gwendolen Mary. At school, we meet two other new students, Wilhemina or Bill whose whole life revolves around horses, especially her own horse Thunder, and Mavis who is supposed to have joined last term (but this is the first we meet her—I am not reading the books Blyton didn’t write for this challenge), and whose sole concern is her excellent voice which makes her rather conceited but also somewhat adored by Gwendolen Mary. Also we find, like Sally, Alicia’s pal Betty is in quarantine so Alicia decides to team up with Darrell for the time being. While we do see what the usual cast of characters get up to, the focus of this one is the three new girls, their temperaments and problems, and how Malory Towers and the girls (and indeed teachers) they meet there change their approach to life, and to school.

 

As I wrote in my review of book 2, reading this series, I really appreciate that Blyton has made these characters very real, even the ‘good’ ones have flaws, and not ones that get magically cured, but that creep back time and again as they do in real life, and have to be dealt with, at least by the ones who are capable of recognising these in themselves. This instalment, as I said, concentrates more on the stories of the three new girls. I wonder how Blyton formed her picture of the typical American girl, but Zerelda in this one is very like Sadie from St Clares concerned with her complexion, hair, and nails, and not much else even though they are good natured people, mostly. (Incidentally, Gwendolen Mary’s habit of fawning over a new girl each term is much like Alison of St Clares too). But even so, that is clearly not her idea of what children should be like, growing up before they need to. Zerelda of course has more to her than simply being a Sadie clone, with her ambitions to be a successful actress someday. But she realises in the course of her term at Malory Towers, that there is more to being an actress than she thinks. Mavis too has ambitions, but while she has talent as well, she lets that make her conceited, which doesn’t go down very well with the others. And Bill (Wilhemina) needs to start accepting that there is more to the world than just her horses though they will continue to be an important part of her life. I know Blyton has a specific idea of what children should ideally be like and that shows through in many of her books (therefore, weaker characters don’t come through as simply one type of person, but ones that have to become stronger), but some of these ideas—especially of being good people—are definitely something that people need to learn to be, even today (and which schools aren’t much concerned with). Of course, besides these issues, and Sally and Darrell dealing with their own problems and progress in school, there are the antics of the other girls (Irene and Belinda), Alicia playing tricks which Mam’zelle finally takes good-naturedly as always and the term time staples, making this an enjoyable read in the series.

Malory Towers Challenge: First Term at Malory Towers

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.

Malory towers

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.

Malory towers cover

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.