20 May 2010

Third Year at Malory Towers

Look at those crazy eyes, people – she looks like she is thinking about smaking you down … the crazy eyes of Darrell Rivers …

Sorry for the delay. I really liked some of the feedback I got about my Gwendoline post – I’m glad I’m growing the love for big G. Since then I’ve been super busy reading stuff for class, and catching up on my grown-up reading. This week it is Monkey Grip by Helen Garner (I’m going through some neglected classics … thank you Penguin for your cheap and plentiful supply!)

So on to Third year at Malory Towers, or Assimilating Rogue Elements into Your Regime For Dummies. This is arguably my favourite book — it’s certainly the last ‘classic’ Malory Towers. You’ll see what I mean in the next book.

Ladies and gentlemen hold on to your hats – we have and AMERICAN!!! That’s right, one of the great Blytster’s favourite stereotypes has come to the party with a Bang, and doesn’t our E have a field day with the cultural stereotypes!

This is part of a long tradition of UK v US culture-clash. If this were an American production, the American would go to the stuffy English school and really teach them how to live, while simultaneously learning some deep lesson about life that has escaped all those British people. She would also fall in love with the token handbag boy (‘cos it’s that kind of story).
As it is British, the American is loud, clueless and too old for her age. She pretends to be a grown-up and is taught how nice it is to be a child, after being properly humbled.
I’m not sure that Enid ever got over the War of Independence, as she really doesn’t have much time for the new inmate of Malory Towers Juvenile Detention Facility. Our new inmate bangs on a bit about waving the stars and stripes and not letting her country down, but spends the term being indoctrinated into the ways of the regime and learning to love the regime.

First up – the name: Zerelda Brass. That’s right, all Americans give their children silly names like Zerelda, rather than sensible names like Darrell. Zerelda could be an homage to Jesse James (whose wife and mother were both called Zerelda – he married his cousin), or it could just be that she Enid assumed a foreign character needed a foreign name … just so that we really KNOW that they are foreign and don’t confuse them with a normal person.

We first meet the lovely Z at the beginning of the book, as Darrell’s parents are giving her a ride to school. Normally they’d be picking up Sally, but Sally’s in quarantine for mumps or something, so she is separated from her wifey …

(Sidenote: I do find the whole issue of illness at school to be fascinating. An event that occurs at the beginning of each book is the characters handing in Health Certificates, which certify that they haven’t been in contact with infectious diseases – without one they are isolated. Ah, the days before immunisation.
I don’t know whether EB is just using it as a plot device or whether people really did come down with all these illnesses. So far in the series we have had flu, appendicitis, some imperfectly diagnosed stress disorder, now mumps and whooping cough. Later we’ll have a heart condition, measles and injury. I really wanted someone to have had Polio – just because it would have been interesting to see how it was viewed back when it was still common. Up until the 1950s, when the vaccines were developed, Polio was endemic. We probably don’t see it in MT because the recovery is not always as graceful as the other illnesses, but I would have loved to have seen a character dealing with a fairly common illness of the time.
I should really shut up about this now .)

Zerelda is very good natured, but is considered rude as she hasn’t been primed to worship the regime and falls asleep while Darrel waxes lyrical about the Towers. Frankly, I say GO ZERELDA! I would prefer to sleep too. Darrell is quite miffed and decides to cold shoulder her. Zerelda doesn’t notice.

The main thing that strikes me as off when I read the first few chapters is how Zerelda is treated as a sort of exhibit in a zoo. It is as if a wild animal has been let to roam the halls of the school for everyone to stare at. I half expected an Attenborough-like narration to follow her: ‘the American shows no sign of apprehending the approaching danger, letting out its cries of ‘Gee’ and ‘Wunnerful’ upon spying humans …’. The girls, meanwhile, stand around staring and saying “golly” and laughing behind her back, because, as we all know, being different gives the majority licence to deride. And she really is the school freak – even if her mother is English (although ‘she’s forgotten that she ever was English’ says Zerelda). Even the teachers are a bit at a loss as to how to deal with her. Her teacher, Miss Williams, is wrong-footed a couple of times, not recognising her after she’d taken off her make-up (seriously, how many Americans were there at the school that the teacher couldn’t identify her by accent alone?).

Just to rub in the UK superiority, Zerelda turns out to be stupid. Due to the dreadful teaching at ‘those American Schools’ the 16-year-old Zerelda gets bumped down into a class with all of the 14-year-olds. Everyone from her old form was most happy to see her go – the novelty of having an exotic pet obviously wore off when they realised that she wasn’t properly potty-trained (they really objected to cleaning up her droppings). Really, the staff just put her in the too hard basket. Like Gwendoline, Zerelda is considered to be not regime material. So she is ignored. The solution of the teachers is to move her around so that she won’t be in the way of the real children. Miss Grayling is claims that bumping her down will be good for her, which makes me wonder why she doesn’t use phrases like ‘moving forward’ or ‘wellness’ – Grayling is a BS queen.

Zerelda’s defining character trait is her determination to be a film actress. With true devotion to the art, our intrepid American discovered early what it required to make it big in the movies – looks. The girl is obsessed about her looks, constantly fixing her hair, make-up and nails (she wears lipstick in school – oooOOOooo), and doesn’t really bother with honing talent. Seriously, the girl knows the business. Today she would be a megastar with a sex tape floating around, or something like that.

Coincidentally, the Form has rehearsal for a play this term – Romeo and Juliet, with a never before and never after mentioned drama mistress. Zerelda’s world is devestated on finding that the teacher thinks that she is a dreadful actor (can I just point out that after the rehearsal, all mention of the play ceases? PLOT DEVICE!!!). She turns up to the play all ready for her close-up, and gets a complete verbal bitch-slap from the Mistress, much to everyone’s delight. Belatedly, they kind-of realise that it might have hurt her feelings, but no-one thinks of apologising …

OH! And Zerelda has Gwendolinitis, as does another girl, Mavis. With Zerelda going to be an actress and Mavis a self-centred opera singer, there is something of an epidemic. After Zerelda is told she’ll never be an actress, and Mavis possibly loses her voice (she gets caught in the rain after running off to the local village to enter a talent contest – the others poo-hoo the idea because it would certainly be too lowbrow for them, but Mavis is an applause whore), both decide that it would be ever such a good idea for them to be friends and are thus magically cured of the life-threatening illness of Gwendolinitis. Suddenly they are perfect little English school-girls. The opinion of girls? Sucks to be Gwendoline.

When I step back and look at the Zerelda story, all I really see is the Regime breaking an individual. Held captive in this fortress by the sea (ooooOOOOoooo – how very Mrs Radcliffe), Zerelda is first stripped of her individuality (hair and makeup), isolated (the Zoo exhibit treatment by all of the girls), humiliated (twice – class and drama), then, when she is at the nadir of her existence, she receives scraps of praise from her captors. It’s all very Stockholm Syndrome-ish. By the end of term, she is identifying with her captors and mimicking their behaviour in order to earn their praise. And what has she taught them about America? That it isn’t as good as Britain — so all is well with Blyton world again! Hooray!

Other stuff

Sorry – I had such fun with Zerelda, I forgot about the others. Really, Zerelda really is the star of this book. Darrell is a lazy protagonist. She shows up and goes through the motions of doing stuff, but it’s always the new girls who do the heavy lifting (dare I say it, but apart from the smackdowns … Darrell is a boring cow). She probably sits in her trailer and refuses to come out until her scene.

Let’s see. There’s another new girl, Wilhelmina (Bill for short), who is brown and freckled (ten points for anyone who can remember what that means, apart from Enid’s lack of comprehension regarding skin types – tanned AND freckled? BTW – hello skin cancer!) and is horse mad. She constantly gets into trouble with the she-man third form teacher, Miss Peters, and is forbidden to see her horse, which is apparently a tragedy for her (I’m thinking there is something potentially Equus-like in her devotion to her horses – but loving animals is so very British, so jolly good for her! Incidentally, we never hear of the school stables until this book …PLOT DEVICE). Right at the moment of this ban, the horse develops colic, and Bill, with Darrel to help her (why, I don’t know. As I told you, LAZY protagonist!) simply has to disobey the rules and go down to him. I suppose Darrell has to go down because, as a devotee of the regime, she fetches the she-man teacher to help. She-man teacher rides off into the night to fetch the vet (why the school doesn’t have a car is beyond me – did she really have to ride the horse?) and on the way back, she coincidentally finds Mavis collapsed on the road.

I should put in a word about Mavis. I don’t really mention her because she is not introduced as a new girl – she was new during an invisible term and is part of the furniture by the time we are ushered into their little world. She has an amazing voice and is ‘going to be an opera singer’ one day. She apparently has extra singing classes every week, but I have some misgivings. She has the classes at night with the singing master Mr Young without supervision. Does that seem dodgy to anyone else? I find it extremely disturbing – all I can think is ‘grooming’.

The horse survives, Mavis gets sick (and thus gets her come-uppance for being so vain about her voice) and bill and She-man become firm friends. All wrapped up ready to go home at the end of term!

Darrell Smackdown

Is there one? Alas no, my children, and there are two very good reasons for this.

First off, Darrell has to play peacemaker in a cat-fight between Alicia and Sally. Alicia’s friend Betty is off for most of the term with whooping cough, so Darrell and Alicia, both friendless, become temporary BFFs. But when Sally returns, Alicia doesn’t want to stop playing BFFs with Darrell, much to the jealousy of wifey Sally. Cue schoolgirl bitch-fight! WOOT!! Darrell thinks they are both being silly; they should both just chill - there’s enough Darrell for everyone. With no handy mud-pit around, Darrell is disinclined to let them fight it out, and spends most of the time placating Sally (you know, talking about Alicia behind her back ‘she is soooooo annoying – I can’t wait until Betty comes back next week and she leaves us alone’ — so very schoolgirl). The PMS is spread out too thinly for sufficient smackdown concentration in Darrell. Sigh.

Secondly, Darrell is given an outlet for her violence – Lacrosse! Given a stick and a piece of field, Darrell is licensed to kill … as long as the victim is from another school. Darrell has played tennis before this, but there’s nothing like ‘accidentally’ hitting another person with a stick and being praised for it, is there? Darrell is the only third-former picked as the ‘third reserve’ (which means she sits on the bench in uniform and watches). I think a quiet word from the head was had, as later on she gets bumped onto the team (I know it’s supposed to be because she practices so hard, but I can’t help it – it feels like she is put on as an enforcer) runs around hitting people with sticks and winning the game. WOOT!

So no smackdown. I was most upset over this turn of events, until I remembered what book was coming up (happy dance for mindless violence!!).

I realised that I’m well over 2000 words, so I’m going to shut up now. Next up is the 4th book, which might well be titled Malory Towers: The Next Generation.

PS. If you’re reading this, and you haven’t already, can I humbly request that you click the little ‘follow’ button in the sidebar? I’m not going to stalk you down, I just wouldn’t mind knowing how many people are actually reading.


  1. I love the way you write about these books, really I do. There's all that background knowledge you bring into your commentary that really helps to contextualise everything (at the risk of sounding slightly wanky about this...). Anyway, I like it.

    Blyton really does love to mock the Americans, doesn't she? She had a ball with that American character in FF (Lesley?) - she probably just recycled her here, or vice versa.

    What are you going to do when you reach the sixth book? Will you go back and talk about different elements or something? Or is the plan to read some other classics, as per your previous request for reading material? I kind of don't want this to end. :)

  2. check the random spam! Why yes, I do have a problem with hairloss - thank you ever so much!

    Thanks Katie!

    My planwith the blog once I finish MT is to round it up, have an intermission with a non-blyton book, then move on to another Blyton series - I think Amelia Jane is my next target. I'll just keep on following that pattern - since she wrote about 800 odd books, I am only limited by the availability of her books ... I can just keep going and going!

  3. I can't really comment much on the Malory Towers books as I haven't read them, but I'm still really enjoying your reviews (the only Blyton books I've read are Famous Five, Secret Seven and the Faraway Tree books, and a couple of her other fantasy stories). I've added a link to this blog to my Wordpress blog's sidebar. I hope you don't mind.

    I don't think I can use the 'follow' function as I don't have a Blogger or a Google account, but you should know that I'm reading, and, by tracking the stats on my Wordpress blog (which I do, because I'm cool like that), I can tell that other readers of mine are clicking through to this blog.

  4. Was St Clares any less scary than MT? I can't remember. Probably not, though I at least don't remember it having a permanent down-trodden antagonist like Gwendolyn. 'The Naughtiest Girl in the School' had a heroine very like Darrell, I remember, though the major difference was the school was co-ed. EB did seem to like heroines with anger management problems.

    This is Lol, by the way, though you probably gathered that from the icon.

  5. St Clares is an earlier series - it has its own set of oddness about it - there were characters who were 'bad', but they weren't as excluded as Gwen (although, I may have been hasty about singing her praises too high ... I just read book 4 again ... the bitch comes out big time).

    Dolorosa, thanks for that. It's all good - I just don't know how many people are actually reading. I set up analytics, but I have to re-do it as it's not working. Damn my IT illiteracy. To really push the whole following thing though ... you can follow with a twitter account.

    A comment received recently was that the posts were too long. I had aimed to keep each post to 1000 words, but I generally reach 1500 and just push through 'til I'm finished. Would it be better for me to break up some of my posts into easier sizes?

  6. Enid Blyton's portrayal of Americans is offensive. I've no doubt that an American would not be at all happy with how Blyton handled Zerelda.

    1. Enid's portrayal of everyone is offensive. I sometimes wonder if she really liked anyone at all ...

    2. On the other hand, the threat of Thunder getting colic was very well-done, I think. I first read this book over six years ago and when I read it the first time, I feared that Thunder would die. Blyton was actually able to put suspense into that part of the book for first-time readers, at least for me. I don't remember anything else that she wrote that made me fear for a character's life, as when every other time something really bad happened to one of her characters, I felt they would be fine before it was resolved. With Thunder, I thought he would die the first time I read it, so I'll have to give credit to her for that.

  7. My second comment in one day! As a microbiologist, yes those diseases are very serious and deadly potentially. We forget that these days but the recent outbreaks of whooping cough and measles and mumps where people have died are just the tip of the iceberg pre-vaccination, as a direct result of the antivax fear mongering over the last 20 years. Polio certainly would have been interesting but far too serious. I like how a certain character in book four shrugs off measles because she's so fit and healthy... Yep, cos measles never kills healthy people, right? Oh.... Right....