02 September 2010

In the Fifth at Malory Towers

Sorry about the delay in posting – I couldn’t bring myself to post about this book, plus, I’ve been reading Anna Karenina and that’s been taking all of my time lately. I have an ever-growing pile of books to read that are stuck at the AK traffic jam. Anyway, onwards and upwards!

I do like the fact that a friend of my sister was reading Malory Towers for the first time recently (she is 31). I’m not certain if she reads this blog, or whether it was a spontaneous Blyton reprisal (this friend was responsible for my introduction to Five Go Mad in Dorset some years ago), but I was vastly amused when she begged me not to spoil the end of the last book. I was amused for two reasons:

1/ The idea of Blyton having any level of suspense for a reader over the age of 12 just tickles me
2/ The fact that she hadn’t finished it – seriously, these books you can read in one sitting.

Right, book 5.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s all feel-goody and light, on the other, it’s saccharine and plot-device-y. It feels rather like a filler book than an actual part of the series.

Storyline: It’s the term after book 4 and all the girls are relaxing after a heavy term. Then they get the news that they are in charge of the end of term entertainment (which, apparently, is quite a big deal, despite us never knowing of this event’s existence before …). They decide to put on a pantomime – Cinderella to be exact – in a move that is so freaking pedestrian and narrative vehicle-y that it makes my eyes bleed.

By a peculiar coincidence, the form happens to have a composer (Irene), a set designer (artist Belinda), a costume designer (previously unknown, but apparently long term inmate Janet), and a voice coach (Gwendolinitis recoveree Mavis). Unimportant people from other towers fill in other roles, but they aren’t worth Enid’s notice (although she throws the names around in quite a confusing manner). Then, in the manner of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Enid lets us in on something. Darrell – thug Darrell, who usually expresses herself best with her fists, is an aspiring writer – and is given the task of writing the script.

WTF? How is it that it has taken 5 books to get to this information about our Heroine? This caused me some concern. What has Enid really told us about Darrell?

1/ She likes sport
2/ She’s sort of smart
3/ She has anger management issues
4/ She has a Boring BFF (capital B)
5/ She has Anger management issues (in case you’ve missed me beating you over the head with that fact
6/ She Loves Her School

I’m writing this list, wracking my brains to figure out what Darrell really is like. It’s stumped me. She is a total blank. She’s not so much one dimensional as without any dimension at all. I mean, it’s hardly surprising that she loves her school, given her starvation of affection at home (it’s not as though her parents HAVE to send her away to school – I presume that there’s a number of perfectly decent schools nearby that they chose to not send her too – they must really like being empty-nesters or something).
And now we learn that she likes writing. And according to Enid, she does a jolly good job of writing the panto, resulting in a bang-up script. Well done Darrell – scooby snacks all round!

There is, of course, tension. New form-bitch Moira (left down from the previous term) has megalomaniacal tendencies and much drama ensues – culminating in several cast members quitting the panto. The Suspense, the Angst! It’s all edge-of-the-seat stuff, I tell you. What I really love about this is the skewed logic Alicia displays when Darrell begs her to come back. She says that she wants to, but that she never goes back on her word because that is weak … and Darrell accepts that? If it had been me I would have slapped her for being such a stupid, self-centred bitch. Or at least told her that pig-headedness is not strength …

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing with the next generation. Not with Felicity, of course, as she is now in line with the regime and has been rewarded with a spot on a Lacrosse team, but with June. June is getting into trouble constantly with the fifth formers, who are happily testing out their brand-new ‘punishment books’ on her (apparently senior students can make junior students do strange things like learn poetry as a punishment – ever notice that these magical items have never been mentioned before. PLOT DEVICE!). June is ticked off particularly by Megalomaniac Moira, and is starting to feel the want of motherly love about the place. So, she does what any pissed off teenager out for revenge would do – she starts sending anonymous notes to Moira along the lines of “You’re a bully and no one likes you!".

Shocking stuff, right? Moira is stoic about it, but is secretly upset, because deep down she just wants to be liked by people (I especially like the part where she is worried that the writer could be her sister – what familial affection!). Then the unthinkable happens: June is found out – by Mam’zelle of all people. All hell breaks loose – and everyone is so surprised that it’s clearly-typecast-as-school-baddie June who committed the heinous crime. June is expelled, but Moira nobly goes in to intervene and gets June unexpelled (the really funny thing is that all this drama takes only 1 chapter – that’s just a couple of pages).

Now, here’s the thing about June’s letters. They may be mean and underhanded, but what else would you expect of a thwarted, rebellious teen? How many times did you write a letter to someone telling them EXACTLY what you thought of them? Or imagined writing one? Teenagers write notes for EVERYTHING – from “do you like me? Check yes or no” to “I HATE YOU. YOU ARE A ******* *****”. They don’t like confrontation, and notes give that. Plus any confrontation would have just resulted in more punishment for June.

Secondly, June keeps saying that she ‘didn’t know it was wrong’. I believe her. In a way, she was the most honest person in the school when it came to Moira. Everyone else was bitching about Moira behind her back, and MT penitentiary is not backward in having regime members tell renegades exactly where they are going wrong. June is actually doing Moira a favour in telling her what people are saying about her – but no one seems to feel guilty about how they’ve treated Moira. Gossip is encouraged in the regime – after all, every regime needs a propaganda machine.

Anyway, everything is finally cleared up and the panto, dogged by absolutely no rehearsals in the past few weeks, magically comes together on the night. Notable is the fathers ogling Alicia in her snug costume doing acrobatics (what do you think they are really saying when they marvel to each other “she could be on the London stage”?). It all goes swimmingly, and concludes with everyone yelling for the author. And we close with our heroine basking in the applause and thinking she may just have a career in writing. Enid really is manipulative: you close the book with a cheesy grin on your face (well I do) and then stop to wonder exactly WHY you are smiling when you don’t particularly like Darrell? GAH!

OH! And Gwen update! Gwen gets Gwendolinitis! New girl Maureen is foisted onto her after everyone else decides that she isn’t worth having as a friend. She’s meant to be Gwen’s twin in temperament, and Gwen learns a lesson about herself in the process. Of course, Maureen goes through her own hazing from the girls, who really go hammer and tongs for her (so far that they actually feel a little bad for a moment afterward, but it is soon squashed by the weight of their self-righteousness). Gwen does try to change, but no-one’s really interested in helping her do so, so her efforts AGAIN go unrewarded. Really, after part of the reason Maureen was foisted onto Gwen was to ‘teach her a lesson’, the least the girls could do was some follow up …

And Mam’zelle plays a treek! In what is my favourite trick of the series, Mam’zelle buys fake teeth and puts them on one Saturday, then goes around randomly smiling at people. I heart this trick – and the reactions it gets from all of the people she passes. They all keep wondering if she has a toothache!

Anyway, that is the fifth in this series … there’s only one more book before I move on to another of Blyton’s brilliance. Next up is nostalgia central, and although Enid doesn’t quite kill Darrell’s owl, she comes pretty damn close.

PS. I’m really sorry about all of the capitalisation in this post. My Shift keys and I seem to have an understanding at the moment …


  1. I must admit, your blog is tempting me to finally finish reading the series. It would be much more fun to do it with quotes from your blog posts popping into my head as I go along.

    The subtlety of a pantomime plot device is just the sort of thing we've come to expect from Enid, really. And I'm pretty sure I recall some amazingly miraculous skill-sets being revealed in other books or hers, just when they're needed! So convenient.

    I was so happy to see this post today! It's very easy to start missing a regular dose of The Blytonly Obvious.

  2. I just wanted to finally post a note to say I love this blog.

    I too grew up reading Blyton and like you, I found I became uneasy with some of themes in them as I grew older.

    You express exactly what I've been thinking brilliantly, and your posts are eloquent, witty and basically darn good! Please keep it up.

  3. Just found your blog and am really enjoying it. I discovered Enid Blyton as an adult. I was practice teaching for a semester in London in the 80's (I'm American) and the girls in the school introduced me to Malory Towers and St. Claire's. I was hooked. So British, so dated, so horrifically stereotyped, so funny, so Wunnerful! I started collecting.

    I always secretly identified with Gwendolyn and love your posts with your impressions of her. And Darrell really did beat the crap out of a lot of people!

    Will you do St. Claire's? The same characters with different names and in a different school.

  4. GAH! I should check my posts more regularly. I've been so busy writing essays for uni (about Blyton, funnily enough - no use letting all this research go to waste) that I haven't been checking.

    Hello All! Thanks for your comments!

    As for St Claire's, I have them sitting on my shelf, but I may leave them for a while - I have a heap of other blytons as well, and I thought I'd break up the boarding school stories with some of her other work.
    (St claires has some absolute clangers in it - I LOVE how blatant some of the racial stereotyping is)
    Amelia Jane is next on my hit list, although I'm looking at doing a more contemporary novel in between each blyton series.

  5. Excellent post, but there's one thing in this book that made me very angry that you overlooked. You forgot about Catherine Gray, a girl who is condemned by everybody else because she tries to be kind and helpful to others.

    "Gosh, if she's going to be as pi as that I shall resign from the fifth and go up into the sixth!" muttered Alicia to Irene, when Catherine says that as she's an old member of the form she can help the new ones carry on the tradition.

    All the others detest her for her 'overly-kind' nature and eventually resort to bullying her by drawing pictures of her as a saint in mockery of her and then laughing at her.

    Blyton tries to paint Catherine as pious and martyr-like and as kid I accepted her words mindlessly but now I'm older I don't see Catherine like that at all. If anything she's the kindest girl in the form and I hate how the others treat her so cruelly.

    In fact, Blyton is sending a horrible message to young children, that it's bad to be kind and helpful to others, and that disgusts me.

    1. You make a good point. My only qualm with that is that her kindness is of the "Oprah" variety, in that she does like to advertise it. It's irritating, but not sufficient to warrant such abuse - she's probably not coped well to being dumped in boarding school at a young age and seeks approval from those around her.

      I think Blyton, in general, reflects herself in her characters, and she appears to have been quite the narcissist. Being a chronic pleaser, like Catherine, appears to be weakness to her, and is therefore denigrated. It doesn't send out a good message to children, both in terms of acceptable behaviour of individuals AND acceptance of other people/personalities.

      I have to apologise for cutting Catherine out of this review. At the time I wrote it, I was going about my reviews entirely the wrong way, and as such, I missed a wealth of detail to discuss the points that interested me. Catherine piqued my interest, but there just didn't seem to be enough to go on there (and I stand corrected on that point) - or I was still in some way under Blyton's conditioning; it can be a hard habit to break.

      I may one day revisit MT, as I can talk about the horrors contained therein all day.