Last week I finally finished my revisit of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books. (I say finally because while I started my revisits last year, and finished the first five books, because of various things, I only got to the final book this year). While I have reviewed each of the books individually as I read them, this post is my thoughts and impressions of the series overall.
Malory Towers is a six-book series by Blyton, set in the boarding school of the same name, in Cornwall. The series was published between 1946 and 1951. (There are further books by author Pamela Cox; while I didn’t these include in my reads, but you can find more about these on the World of Blyton blog here and the Blyton Society Page here). This is one of three school series by Blyton, who also wrote at least one standalone school story Mischief at St Rollo’s. (I have a post about her school stories generally here). The stories feature Darrell Rivers (named after Blyton’s second-husband, Kenneth Darrell Waters) a young girl of twelve setting off to attend school at Malory Towers in the first book, First Term at Malory Towers, and trace her journey until her last term when she is about to turn eighteen, finish school, and join St Andrews in Scotland with some of her Malory Towers friends. At school, she is keen to make friends and is initially drawn to the intelligent but sharp-tongued and somewhat nasty Alicia and Betty, but finally finds a friend in the more sensible Sally Hope, who after getting over her sibling-jealousy turns out a good friend indeed. In the later books (Upper Fourth), Darrell’s sister Felicity, and Alicia’s cousin June also join the school. We also meet various other students like the mathematics and musical genius, but scatter-brained Irene (always misplacing her health certificate, a standing joke in I think all of the books), Belinda, equally a genius but at sketching, Willhemina (Bill), and Clarrisa, who are crazy about horses, and also various others.
Being set in Cornwall, one aspect that stands out in the books (though not all of them) is the Cornish landscape–the school pool for one, amidst the rocks, filled with sea water by the tides. The beach which is out of bounds, and also the rather dangerous waves have a role to play in one of the books, as do the cliffs and gales in another of them, both resulting in some of the girls getting into trouble, for different reasons.
As I have been writing in most of my reviews of these books, the characters in the books stand out for their different temperaments, dispositions–some brave, some reckless, arrogant, kind, spiteful, self-centred, reserved, cowardly, and such. Also, there is, as in real life, no one who is ‘perfect’; even our ‘heroine’ Darrell, has to deal with her own bad temper which gets her out of control from time to time, and is not something she can always manage to keep in check; even towards the end of the series, though she does get better. But of course, while characters like her and Sally do manage to face their flaws and work on them to an extent, there are others like Gwendolen Mary Lacey, spiteful, self-absorbed, selfish, who remain so till the end, only to be shaken into their senses the hard way. So are some others. One student is even expelled from the school, which I don’t remember happening in any of her other stories (though I may be wrong about this). But as in real life, Darrell must also learn to deal with the fact that one will meet all sorts, and have to live with them. Blyton also brings up issues like pressure to excel at exams in one of the books, which is again something one faces in real life.
And also as far as characters go, in this series, like the St Clare’s books, there are also many ‘stereotypes’ (that one gets to see, often in Blyton’s books). For instance, Zerelda, the American girl, is typical, interested more in her appearance–her complexion, hair, and nails, than anything else; much like Sadie from St Clares. But Zerelda does want to become an actress, unlike Sadie, but soon realises that this too requires hard work rather than simply talent, and what she thinks is the way to act. Similarly we have the french girl, Suzanne, Mam’zelle Rougier’s niece, who like Claudine from St Clares, speaks in an exaggerated way (‘Police’, and ‘piggihoolear’, and such), and doesn’t have the same sense of morals and such as the English girls do. Though of course, in both cases, they are good-natured and likeable. And of course, the Mam’zelles (the stricter Mam’zelle Rougier, and the more good-natured Mm’zelle Dupont) too have a tendency to use the wrong English expressions, and are often at the receiving end of the girls’ tricks though Mam’zelle Dupont plays one of her own too–involving a set of false teeth, no less! In Bill and Clarissa’s love of horses, there are shades of St Clares’ ‘circus girl’ Carlotta, who is also a whiz with them! And in Gwendolen Mary Lacey, though she is self-centred and spiteful, there are shades also of Alison O’Sullivan, fawning over some new students if they happen to be beautiful or rich, mostly the latter. In a sense, her ideal students too (even if realistic) have a certain stereotype attached to them, which are her own views of what the ideal child is like–fond of sport, strong (or at least not weak), honest (and able to own up even where he/she has done something wrong). While there is nothing wrong as such with these ideas (of the ideal child I mean), she does seem too hard at times on people who are ‘weak’, and unable to speak up for themselves or know their own minds.
Compared to her other book series, I think over all, the structure of these books, even the characters are a lot like her other six-book series St Clares, which feature Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan, Twins who initially want to go a more exclusive school but finally find St Clares to be the place for them, sensibly picked by their parents of course. But while the Malory Towers girls play tricks like the St Clares ones, they don’t I think have any midnight feasts in any of the books, which the St Clares girls most certainly do. Also, in the Malory Towers books, there are sometimes characters who are supposed to have joined in terms that we were never part of (the ones not in the books), and we’re are introduced to them later, which again, if I remember does not happen as much in St Clares. Whyteleaf school in the Naughtiest Girl stories is more radical in terms of how the student body functions and such, and is also different in other respects.
But, similarities and differences aside, Malory Towers turned out to be an enjoyable series to revisit, for me especially since I haven’t read these as much as a child as I did the St Clares books. It gives a fun picture of school life but also a realistic one with ups and downs, lessons and sport, study and tricks, different people, but most importantly, of the journey itself.
Have you read this series or any of the individual books? How do you find them in comparison to other school series (by Blyton or other authors)? Which are some of your favourite school series/books? Looking forward to you thoughts and recommendations!
Find some interesting Malory Towers posts (there are plenty) on the World of Blyton blog here and here and on the Blyton Society Page here; a fellow-blogger’s review of a stage adaptation of the books here