16 April 2010

The Dilemma

Something strange happened when I actually started writing my first post.

The moment I finished my first paragraph I began to feel guilty about the whole enterprise. The review felt ... low and backstabby, as though I had decided to kick a puppy. This worried me for a while.

I thought that it may have something to do with the fact that I’m beginning my Blyton odyssey with Malory Towers, a series I read and re-read growing up. My feeling of treachery seemed to stem from the idea that I was betraying my alma mater (of sorts), ridiculing something that had given me so much (in the words of Miss Grayling, the Head-mistress). Then I started re-reading the books and I realised what the matter REALLY was.

I’d been brainwashed.

That’s right. Wholesome Malory Towers is actually an arm of the cult of Blyton. It is not just a set of amusing stories about school life, it is social conditioning – behaviour modification of pre-adolescents. Seriously, those girls never have to deal with a single growy-uppy type of issue. None ever seemed to have periods ("Irene, I've told you a thousand times - THROW your pads AWAY!"), or talk about boys ("Alicia, could you hook me up with your brother, he is sooo cute"), or anything like that - because the characters aren't meant to reflect reality. They exist solely to further the teachings of the great EB: toe the line, the majority is always right, Keep Britain Great ...

I’m amazed that I had never noticed how willing I was to take Enid’s point of view when reading this series. Enid’s way of writing just assumes that you agree exactly with her idea of what a ‘decent’ person is: English, solid upper-middle class, English, from a good school, English, sporty, English, smart and English. Any one not meeting these requirements, well, toe the line and they might let you join the posse. They were all jolly nice at Malory Towers, and if I wanted to be liked I had to be just like them ...

Just look at the characters in this series – they all start out as individuals, but over the course of the series all come to conform to the norms of the structure in which they live. And so does the reader, in a way. Continual reinforcement of certain ideas indoctrinated me into a certain way of thinking – even a certain way of viewing the characters and their actions. It was highly seductive and masterfully done by EB. I tip my hat to her twisted genius.

I’ll admit to being brainwashed, and to enjoy being so manipulated. There is a certain sort of smugness that we get from identifying with ‘nice’ characters, when really, deep down we are all have more in common with the ostracised and disliked characters (particularly as teenagers – teenage girls can be utter wenches). I read these books numerous times, and at one point, when there was a possibility that I might be sent to boarding school, I was adamant that I should go to that school or one just like it, and I was sure that I would be a Darrell and not a Gwendoline … oh stop looking at me like that – I was 13! No one is particularly smart at that age, AND I was misled by the covers of my books (more about that in a later post), so I was envisaging a mid-90s utopia rather than the mid-40s reality of the series. I think that I am still a little disillusioned by the shattering of that little dream.

... You do realise that Blyton ran at least 2 fan clubs. That woman was a master programmer – she not only wrote books, but maintained newsletters for these groups, as well other periodicals and so on - just to support her agenda. I conjecture that this agenda was world domination, using children as her minions. I can see the progression: she spent a few years teaching in order to understand children better, then spent the rest of her life preaching at and indoctrinating them into her way of thinking. The children joined the fanclub and became more and more involved in the groups and forming squads, before graduating into full militant Blytonians ... I’m not sure what would have happened if she had lived to see her legion of fans grow up … history might have been very different … (I had a brief image of a Blyton-style empire, and it was not pretty).

I find it amusing that Blyton’s works are now being censored for being racist and generally politically incorrect. It’s being touted as some grand revelation that she didn’t like ‘nasty foreigners’, or people of ‘inferior’ classes … or anyone much, for that matter. If you go back into E’s early writing, however, you’ll find that this bigotry was always there – 15 year old E’s postcard to a friend (during one of her very few trips abroad) from France complained of how ‘greedy’ the French were and how much they ate (this from the woman whose narratives are often dominated by food!) – can anyone say Mein Kampf? Early indication, people, that’s all I’m saying.

So coming back to the series after a hiatus of about 10 years (during which all of my Blytons sat in a box awaiting an as yet unforthcoming next generation) is a bit like returning to school after graduating (which can be a little pathetic). You can’t believe that you actually thought the place was the centre of the universe, but you feel a bit guilty because it was instrumental in shaping you into the person you have become. There is one small problem: I never went to Malory Towers because IT DOESN’T EXIST. I am not an ‘old girl’, nor am I in any way indebted to this series of books. My feeling of guilt is due solely to the brilliant manipulation of a woman with a megalomaniacal disposition. I must break free of this false sense of obligation!!!

This deconstruction is therefore therapy for me, I’m de-programming myself. This incoherent and disjointed rant is just the beginning! I’m glad I have it all justified in my mind – otherwise this might just seem sad. Take the view that you’ve been corrupted (even if you have never read Blyton – I assure you that prevention is better than cure) and read on for the cure!


  1. Hello hello!
    I'm enjoying your blog so far by the way :-)
    Just thought I'd mention why I was attracted over though. My favourite children's author was Alison Uttley. I adored her even though I knew nothing about her. I still collect her books in all their forms and I don't think I'll ever stop. But now I know better that she was apparently quite a bitter, difficult, woman despite some of her amzing achievements. I read an article about the publication of her diaries and it disillusioned me. She seems to have hated pretty much every fellow author of her era. Blyton being the least favoured. See this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/17/diaries-little-grey-rabbit-uttley
    I thought back to my childhood days when I read some of Blyton's books and I think I must have been brainwashed too because I only remember the idyll. I thought at the time that Alison Uttley must just have been irrational and it saddened me more than the rest. However the more I read of this the more I think she might just have had some foundation for her hatred. And to be honest her comments just amuse me more and more. I'm quite tempted now to buy the diaries that I feared buying before in case they made me dislike her more. I think its ok so long as we can reconcile our childhood with reality equally.

    Err... sorry... wittered a bit...
    Keep writing!
    (of Obernet)

  2. I just read up on her ... I am definitely doing a post on her - she sounds amazingly unbalanced ... SQUEE!!

    In a way, I love the fact that these authors were so troubled ...