07 December 2010

Parole - Malory Towers wrap up

Well, these six books seemed to take a great deal longer to review than I expected them to. I have, however, been paroled from Malory Towers Correctional Facility and am now free to explore other areas of Blytonia.

I just wanted to write briefly a word of warning to the unwary who wish to seek out the treasures that are MT. It seems as though the publishers are not content with leaving well enough alone. They’ve committed a travesty against the work of Blyton - by writing sequels.

Yes, children, Hodder got Pamela Cox (a serial Blyton sequel offender) to write a set of books following June and Felicity through their MT careers. The stories follow similar themes as Blyton's, which is disturbing as they were written in 2009. you know the type of thing: girl is ashamed of her working class relatives/circus performer grandmother/trained chimp brother. Enid could (just) get away with that rubbish; Pamela Cox – no.

On a more disturbing note, the German translation has twelve sequels, which follow Darrell into her adult life. She comes back to the school as a teacher, marries her old German teacher (alarm bells should be going off right about now) becomes the matron then later the Headmistress (when La Grayling gets hit by a car – Hooray!). I’ve only read the Wikipedia summaries and I feel a shudder going through me at the very thought of these books. It’s like reading the sequels to Heidi (I don’t suggest you do that unless you have a sugar deficiency). GAH!

Anyway, after that Public Service announcement, I shall move on to other counties in Enid’s Blytonia. The ever-wonderful Amelia Jane is the next series that I will tackle, amongst my packing and moving (who moves over Christmas? If I had my way, not ME), but first I shall take a break from Enid and we will have a quick romp through the wonderful/irritating Anne of Green Gables …

22 November 2010

disjointed ramblings of the nouveau riche and schoolgirls

Right. Attack of the nouveau riche. Go.

One of the side stories in this book has to do with second former Jo. I warn you, this is a cautionary tale of letting the wrong sort associate with you … prepare to be horrified.

Jo is obviously of the lower orders. Her name is abbreviated as befits a servant (but what about sally …?), and she is far too conscious of her money (well bred girls don’t worry about it – there will always be a parent or husband around to give them an allowance …) which indicates that her wealth is not of the old variety.

Big red flags have been planted around Jo – she’s fat, not very intelligent and doesn’t even like sport! Oh no! As she’s been around for a term already, the indoctrinated know that she is not to be befriended, and we the audience are thrust into the story just accepting that Jo is what they say she is.

But it’s her father that really shows what she is.

At the beginning of the book, Jo’s father nearly runs Darrell’s car off the road, which leads to a confrontation in which Darrel’s dad coldly tells off Jo’s in front of a crowd. It’s one of those moments where the breeding and dignity of Mr Rivers is supposed to shine through and show Jo’s dad for the low brow cretin for what he really is. In reality, a well placed ‘piss off’ would do wonders for the scene. Really.

And we know Jo’s dad is low brow. He drops his haitches, dresses inappropriately and is far too familiar with strangers. In fact, he’s quite a friendly guy, but stuck in Enid’s ice sculpture garden, he just wilts.

Basically, if it were an Australian contemporary story, Jo’s dad would be a bogan in a souped up torana who thinks those Angus burgers at McDonalds really are ‘just a little bit fancy’. Miss Grayling indicates that she regrets allowing such an uncouth interloper into her fine establishment, just after an encounter in which he tries to charm her. So we are forewarned that Jo is in danger.

Enid’s girls begin their usual round of bullying and victimisation to try and coerce her into being at least acceptable regime material. But Jo is defiant, making friends with an impressionable girl from the first form (note: this girl is you or your child – good, but helpless against the incursions of the classless). She fights back, but you know how it is – she’s never going to make it work.

The crisis comes when Jo loses five pounds. Just why she was carrying it around at school where there is nowhere to spend it is a mystery, but she is low class like that. Anyway, she loses it and matron finds it and deduces that it is Jo’s. But instead of just calling Jo in and giving her a bollocking for having too much money at school (girls are only allowed a few shillings a week, kept locked up in the matron’s office), matron puts up a notice asking for the girl to turn herself in.

Jo’s in a pickle. She needs to get the money back, but doesn’t want to get caught by the regime … so she picks her moment and steals the money out of the safe – along with four more pounds. Then she goes to town and spends the lot at the local shop, buying food for a birthday feast (what I love about this part is the fact that the shop, no doubt well aware of the allowance of the students, nonetheless let her spend the money then contact the school). By the time she gets back, news has got out that the money is missing. The entire form gets in trouble because Jo won’t own up and one just does not tattle.

Of course, the girls dole out the worst possible punishment – COVENTRY. Jo, beginning to feel guilty, ostracised by her peers and just plain fed up with the raw deal she’s been getting, decides that the ideal solution is to run away. But she can’t do it alone – remember that first former friend? Bingo! Off they go!

… and aren’t missed until bed-time.

Blah blah blah, they get found the next day, the first-former gets off (aren’t you happy? She claims the Nuremberg defence – which gets her off! WTF?), but Jo is expelled. No second chance, no redeeming character trait that would soften the icy chambers of Miss Grayling’s heart. Grayling does happy dance in her head during the interview with Jo and her dad. The Nouveau Riche threat is neutralised!

To be fair to Jo – she does learn something, she writes a letter to prove it. She apologises to the girls, puts on a brave face about her current school-less situation, and goes forth into the night. Just why she couldn’t do that at MT, I don’t know. Jo’s not very smart, a fact that La Grayling pounces on to justify her decision to vote her off the island.

…. And we all learn our lesson. Class will tell. It’s impossible to think that the right thinking element will not prevail. Absolutely impossible!

Meanwhile, June, suitably chastened by the near expulsion last book, has now come under fire from Amanda, the new sixth former. Amanda is a big, sporty type who is going in for the Olympics. When goaded by the other girls, she claims she can make June into an all-round sports champion. Amanda bullies June, June has a tantrum and quits (I think she even throws her racquet). Then drama strikes.

Amanda, being Enid’s choice of victim for her ‘pride comes before a fall’ 4x2, decides that she wants to swim in the ocean. Which has currents she is unfamiliar with. And sharp pointy rocks. Smart. Anyway, she sneaks off early one morning, gets half way to … wherever she was going (America perhaps), and gets caught in the current. Rather than swimming across it like any Australian knows to do, she fights it, tires out and gets dragged to the big pointy rocks. In a marvellous coincidence, June happens to come down, happens to see, and happens to know how to break into the hitherto unmentioned boathouse belonging to the school. Amanda lives, but may never be a great athlete, thus learning her lesson – and serves her right, wouldn’t you say? June also starts training again so that Amanda can live vicariously through her triumph … that’s an arrangement that will definitely end happily.

That’s really all of interest in the book. There’s a brief cameo of a copy of Claudine from St Clares, but Enid doesn’t quite know what to do with her. There’s also an improbable trick involving magnets and teachers’ hair pins that was funnier in Enid’s head than on paper.

And so we leave Malory towers (FINALLY – it took me long enough). The girls go off to wherever their parents deem the most likely place to meet their future husbands, Enid leaves you with that insidious feeling that you want more, and her publishers helpfully point out that they commissioned writers to write sequels so that you can get even more Malory Goodness. Don’t expect me to read them, though. Enid is only fun when it’s Enid doing the writing.

11 November 2010

Don’t say Peculiar, that’s just strange: The Obfuscation of Enid

This is the essay about editing Enid that I alluded to a few posts ago:

A couple of months ago, the dedicated rose up. Cardigans fuzzed and tweeds burred. Battle lines were drawn in ink. It was an outrage, they cried, it was a travesty. Forums het up until they became incandescent as the dedicated protested that it would never be done to Dickens or Shakespeare.

The unthinkable was happening. Enid was being tampered with.

Again.

Hodder Childrens Books had announced that they were re-editing Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books to remove all traces of mid-century slang and render the text ‘timeless’ for generations to come. The announcement was one of those ‘moving forward’ type of actions so loved for their pretence of progress; it was meant to show that Blyton would be well placed for the new millennium.

The devoted said Shucks to that.

This, of course, is not the first time that the first lady of children’s literature has been violated. Of all the classic writers of the English tongue, Enid Blyton is the one author against whom the blue pencil continues to be wielded. Classic English literature is generally considered sacrosanct, each work a product of its time and thus part of shared cultural history. But Enid? Enid is the anomaly, belonging to none and every generation simultaneously.
It has been half a century since the last of Enid Blyton’s books were published, and in that time Her books have rallied a legion of followers. This latest renovation of Blyton’s works has opened up that particular can of worms in a way that none of her previous revisions have done. The battle over who truly ‘owns’ Enid and how that ownership is to be displayed has developed into an increasingly heated conflict as the various generations of her readers mass and take sides. With several decades of copyright left to run, this partisanship will only escalate in the coming years.

On one side, we have the devoted Enid-ites, epitomised by the aging and be-cardiganed man who teeters just this side of creepy (and possesses more information about girls’ boarding schools than is seemly). Joining him is the middle-aged and ostentatiously artistic lady, and the pseudo-retro and over-opinionated gen-yer and their ranks of clones. Arrayed against them is the mindless, soulless publishing machine, whose single aim is to world domination and the compete obfuscation of Our Lady Enid.

And then there is the battlefield: Enid Blyton’s body of work. The terrain is rocky, as there is no author with such an ability to engender adoration and embarrassment in equal measure. She drew all manner of un-PC matter under her wing and nurtured it, leaving her followers unsure as to how to deal with her. She’s that great aunt who regales your friends with stories of her bowel movements but who gives you the best Christmas presents.

Enid’s writing really taps into the whole idea of how each generation thinks they should raise the next. Because she remains so amazingly popular (Hodder states that they still sell half a million copies of her Famous Five books every year), her work is constantly adapted to suit whatever the current child rearing trend happens to be. You can see the progress of ideas from generation to generation through the various stages of assault on her body of work.

The first campaign Enid withstood was an attempt to silence her. In a two decade stand off, the BBC maintained an unofficial ban on her works, dismissing her as a “competent and tenacious second-rater” (the BBC’s archive has a page devoted to their letters from, to and about Enid – the reviews are quite brilliant, for example “There is rather a lot of the Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dumm”). By the fifties, however, Enid had become such a leviathan of children’s literature (churning out 12 books per year at her zenith) that even the behemoth of the BBC was forced to capitulate and consent be dragged along in her wake. The first Blyton story was read on the Beeb in 1954. Round one the lady.

The next assault was, most would concur, a sensible one; it was certainly the most successful. It was felt that if Enid could not be stopped, she had to be censored: the racism had to go. Blyton was famous, even in the fifties, for her parochialism and her rampant racism. French people were selfish, Spanish bad tempered, Americans were crass and “Gollywogs” … well, they don’t even print those books anymore so I’m not sure what they were supposed to have done. Only proper English people were capable of true goodness in Enid’s mind; society didn’t agree and she was overruled (to an extent … French bashing is apparently still in vogue). This victory levelled the score, although it was a bit of a one-sided battle: Enid had succumbed to Alzheimer’s and opposition to PC-ing her unfeasible in the face of such reforming zeal.

It was the nineties that saw the next sharpening of the blue pencils. We were all looking to the future, so Blyton’s works were accordingly modernised: girls drank coke, not tea, had central heating rather than fires and were called Zoe instead of Betty. Decimal currency was in, so all those old duodecimal references were out. It was all very new millennium and forward looking, but it dated quickly. Tea turned out to be healthier than coke and sitting around the central heating really held no appeal. As for Zoe, well, the next generation of girls was called Mackenzie, so the name dated awfully quickly.

The response to these last changes was not so favourable as previously. Blyton societies had begun to gain traction; the internet emerged as powerful rallying point for the knights of Enid. Objections to alteration ‘for alteration’s sake’ began floating around along with the idea that enough time had passed that Enid could be classified as a set historical entity. These new changes ended in a draw: new ‘classic’ editions of the books were put out to placate the growing number of the followers of the True Enid. But the schism between the true and false Enid had begun.

Flash forward to today, and we have the latest stoush in the long-running war.
Hodder’s press release flashed across the world, bouncing off satellite and burrowing through cable, planting itself firmly in news sites and discussion forums. The hounds of Enid bayed, blogged and commented, crying for today’s children and the rich cultural experience that they would be losing. This was change for change’s sake and as such we were called to revile it and hold faith with the true Enid.

So what were the changes? On the face of it, it sounds innocuous enough. Hodder announced that the times were a-changing and that Enid’s language had to change with them. If it were just a matter of replacing a few nouns or adjectives there might not have been much of an issue, but even in the small excerpt Hachette Australia provided above, you’ll notice that there is more going on. Judgement calls are being made as to content. The edited version removes reference to ‘the boys’ in relation to climbing and swimming. The female empowerment of this omission is certainly very PC, but misses the point of the passage – that Anne’s major companions are ‘the boys’ and they are part of all she does. It is gendered whitewashing, ensuring that no parent could possibly be upset by anything Enid may have to say.

Which brings me to a question that I’ve not seen answered, or even addressed, in all this: what do children think of this development? Who knows? And really, who actually cares? Certainly not anyone involved in this discussion. This latest bout of fisticuffs in the battle for Enid is between publishers and the readers of news reports and press releases. Parents weigh in, literature critics have something to say. The actual readers of the books are silent over which version they would prefer; the battle rages over their heads. Enid is the domain of the grown-ups. There is almost a belief that Her stories cannot truly be enjoyed until one is an adult, childrens’ tiny heads being incapable of recognising Her genius. She is the ultimate nostalgia: brimming with wholesome, innocent adventure that allows us to point back and say with a sad, smug smile that yes, life was better when we were young.

So what scarring would there be to little Johnny who doesn’t understand what a swotter is (or why it’s awful)? And how would children really react when faced with something beyond their ken? We fear failure for the next generation, so the latest changes attempt to make things easier for them. These efforts, however, intended to render the books age appropriate, have resulted in a solution that appears quite ridiculous. Enid’s stories involve technologies, institutions and ideas straight from post-war Britain. How is it that this aspect can remain relevant to readers yet the vocabulary used is not? She either is relevant or she isn’t. Her stories of upper-middle class children at boarding school solving cold war crime are not precisely tapping into the current affair issues of eight-to-ten-year-olds – so why must the language do so?

Enid is a product of her times and no amount of editing is going to make her more relevant or more readable to her audience.

23 September 2010

Last Term at Malory Towers part 1



So we are coming to the end of this moving tale of school life and cultural indoctrination. It brings a tear to my eye to see all these little brats all grown up and ready to be inflicted on society.

In a small segue, I was quite excited that seven Blyton manuscripts were bought this week by Newcastle Library to prevent them going into private hands. One of them was this book!

Book six I will call “Attack of the Nouveau Riche”. I promised you that I would show you what happened when the ‘wrong sort’ were allowed into the Facility, and I shall deliver ... in the next post.

I’ve split this up for a reason. I loathe this book. It’s badly put together, disjointed and confused. The side-stories that I’ve excised and given their own post are really just put in so that something happens in the story – whenever something bad happens, Darrell just “Oh that’s just too bad, but I won’t let it spoil my last term, so I’ll just forget about it ... la la-la la-la ...”. Of course, she does this with the Gwendoline story, but Gwen is the true hero of the story, so I’m not putting her in a corner.

Anyway, the story.

As far as Darrell is concerned, you can basically ignore her for most of the book – Enid does. She’s now Head-Girl of the school, and well on her way to adult bovinity (it’s something that I have noticed. All the teachers and grown-ups seem to be extremely stupid. They are always surprised and always at a loss to figure out how the younger kids manage their ‘ingenious’ tricks. It’s almost as if their brain switches off after a certain age … actually, that’s it! It’s always annoyed me that the end of Enid’s school series seem to imply that life is over … and maybe it is. Children get sent to school to be ‘educated’ and once the indoctrination is complete they are sent out into the world as drones, placid, unimaginative and completely devoid of that spark of individuality that defined them as children. The fire dies out, and they live out their lives with only the pilot light on … look at me getting all poetical.). Anyway, She’s being driven to school for the last time and is quite miserable over the whole process.

As the reader, you get drawn into this fit of nostalgia. I read it again waiting for Hedwig to be killed (if I just spoilered HP for you, too bad. It’s been out for years now, and I can’t pander to those who are waiting for the movie. And yes, that is a message to my sisters who complained about me spoilering Anna Karenina for them), thinking again that this was one of the true parallels between the two grand dames. Nostalgia at the beginning of a last book is just self-indulgent.

So, Darrell’s boring, and all of the sixth-formers are disposed of in the first few chapters. Mary-Lou is going to become a children’s nurse (and marry a doctor – Oh I can see it a mile away!), Alicia, Sally and Darrell are off to St Andrews University (cough findahusband cough), Bill and Clarissa have bought a stable and are going to start a riding school (did you notice the part where they BOUGHT a farm? No talk of a husband … but two girls living together is apparently quite acceptable), Maureen is going to become a secretary (pleb), Irene and Belinda are off to Guildhall to be all arty and stuff, and Gwendoline – well she’s apparently off to finishing school (but more on that soon). So we can forget the oldies. They’re all very maudlin about leaving school and this being the last time that they will do this and do that … GAH!

And Gwen? Well, Gwen comes into her own. This really is the basis for my absolute love of this character. Forget about the sympathy you have for the bullied misfit, Gwen gains depth at the end of this series – depth that is really quite beyond Enid, and possibly depth that wasn’t intended by the author – but depth nonetheless.

Enid is at her vicious best at the beginning of the book. Gwen keeps telling everyone about a fight she’d had with her dad over finishing school. He wanted her to get a job, and she thought that was too plebeian and wanted to follow her mother’s plan of going to finishing school. Gwen’s dad really doesn’t hasn’t done himself any favours in the past be being such an absentee father and leaving her with her mother (and that governess who is having it off with either [or both] Gwen’s mother or father, because why else would she still be in the house when Gwen is 18?), because when intimations are made that he is ill, Gwen brushes it off as being a claim similar to her own or her mother’s claims of illness (and we all know Gwen’s track record).

Towards the end of the book, disaster strikes. Gwen’s father is struck down with some mystery illness – one so bad that he may die. Gwen rushes home, convinced she’s missed her chance to make it up to him.

It’s here where Gwen really comes into her own. After a couple of weeks (the next chapter really) She writes a letter to Darrell, letting her know that her dad survived, but will be an invalid for the rest of his life. Unaccountably, this means that all their money is gone too – but you know, karma and all. So Gwen looks like she’ll have to financially support her family from now on … and she’s calmly accepted it and is ready to do so. She ends the letter by asking the girls to keep in touch.

Darrell’s response is sickening. She’s happy that Malory Towers has rubbed off on her and writes back out of pity. Pity? WTF? Gwendoline just showed that she is ten times the person that any of the others there, and they PITY her? What proper adversity have THEY suffered? What also sickens me is Enid’s attribution of influence to the school, by having Grayling wisely say that this adversity ‘could be the making of her’. That this proves true does not mean that the credit goes to the school. Gwen’s spent her whole school career being bullied, isolated, put down and used, and when push comes to shove, she doesn’t back down This letter is really why I am a Gwen fan.

But Enid is happy with the sappy, poor Gwendoline end. The story winds up after this. Nostalgia comes back with a vengeance. A last this, a final that. In the last pages, Sally and Darrell and Alicia have a moving scene where they ‘pass the torch’ to Felicity and June (I kid you not – they use that phraseology – carry the torch, hold the standard ... Almost warlike in its tone). It’s quite a frightening moment: yes we do want the grand traditions of brainwashing, bullying and classism carried on from generation to generation. Well done Enid!

And then it closes, with Enid dropping in to personally say goodbye. I hate this device. It is so manipulative. There is a feeling of loss associated with the action of saying goodbye – it’s said as Darrel drives away, so we are stuck at this damn prison with Darrell off on a new adventure to which we are not invited. I always hate the end of books for that very reason – the whole what happens next? But Enid just manipulates the reader. She makes you miss the damn girl. It’s like an abusive relationship – what she’s done in the past is forgotten and we’d probably happily go back to her in another book ... until she loses it and hits someone again ...

GAH! I could talk about this all week, but I’ll stop. There’s more to come – basically the side stories. And the nouveau riche ... never forget the nouveau riche!

15 September 2010

Prep and house-mistresses

I had decided to post my latest essay for class up here, as it was a lyrical essay about Enid and the various updates done to her over the years, but two things stopped me:

1/ I haven't actually handed the essay in, and if they run it through turnitin, I may have some explaining to do ... which would be awkward
2/ I already covered the underlying issue in an earlier post

So, I'll put it to you. I'll put up the first paragraph and ask you if you would like to read it (at a later date, when I've well and truly handed the blighter in)

Hem, hem:

"A couple of months ago, the dedicated rose up. Cardigans fuzzed and tweeds burred. Battle lines were drawn in ink. It was an outrage, they cried, it was a travesty. Forums het up until they became incandescent as the dedicated protested (nearly in caps) that it would never be done to Dickens or Shakespeare.

The unthinkable was happening. Enid was being tampered with.

Again."

And one of my favourite descriptions, just for good measure:

" ... we have the devoted Enid-ites, epitomised by the image of an aging and be-cardiganed man who teeters just this side of creepy (and possesses more information about girls’ boarding schools than is seemly)..."

If you want to read about Enid being edited again, do let me know, and I'll post the essay in full in a couple of weeks.

Tally Ho!

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 …

26 July 2010

Don't say peculiar, that's just strange

People can be so stupid!

This is a link to the ABC's report of Hodder's latest brainwave.

They are going to re-edit Blyton.

Again.

This time, rather than get rid of the offensive racism (gone) or the offensive names (also gone) or even the outdated technology (gone in places), they're going for the REAL problem.

The vocabulary.

OK, I get why 'dirty tinker' needs to go, but 'swotter'? Altering 'mother and father' to 'mum and dad' seems pointless, and changing 'peculiar' to 'strange' is just stupid (in fact, I'd say that's counter-productive in the struggle to expand children's vocabulary). Hodder claim that it is being "sensitively and carefully" revised and that Blyton would approve as she wrote because there were no 'modern' books around when she was a girl. They say the aim is to make Enid's work 'timeless', so as to appeal to future generations.

Many people (as you will see in the discussion below the story) are annoyed, nay - outraged, at the stupidity of this action. They put forth the observation that it is only Enid who undergoes this constant revision; they argue that reading these old words will help children expand their knowledge and vocabulary; they claim that Blyton's vocab was indicative of the time and should stay as a testament to the period (and that generations continue to find our E appealing despite the old slang).

All of this I agree with. My problem with this action is, in addition the above, that despite the insidious nature of Blyton, she has a distinctive narrative voice, and her characters also speak in a particular way, that will be lost somewhat in the de-identification. Besides, the first thing that sprang to mind when I read this was Orwell's 'newspeak' in 1984.

And say what you will, saying George was 'jolly lonely' sounds a great deal more interesting than saying she was 'very lonely'. Those two phrases don't even mean the same thing! The latter adjective lends the phrase an element of self pity that the former does not; 'jolly' has quite a stiff upper lip feel to it. Lose the slang and you lose more than you bargained for ...

I hate to admit I was watching this (in my defense, it was after Masterchef and I couldn't be bothered getting up), but Jamie Oliver's US school show contained an element very similar to the idea behind this re-edit. When talking to the cooks about the lunch menu, he finds out that the children are never given a knife and fork to eat with because it is 'beyond their abilities', so between the ages of 4-11, they were not taught basic table manners and ate with a spoon and their fingers.

This re-edit is like that. This is a publisher deciding not to push children to grow and learn, but to drop back and make it easy for them. The loss of peculiar really irks me - I mean ... really? If a child doesn't know the word, they can LOOK IT UP! I remember writing word lists when I was young - I'd write down words I didn't know and find them in the dictionary. And I learned things that way.

GAH! You know what the result will be? Bland, dateless, over-edited books, devoid of narrative voice, lacking in decent dialogue, without the one major virtue of the distinct vocabulary. Seriously, if you want a modern children's book, there are so many writers out there you could keep your spawn reading until middle-age.

Just Leave Enid Alone!!

21 July 2010

Book 4 Again ... I know and I'm sorry, but this is the very last you'll hear about it!

Before I start, I just want to hand out a special commendation to Lol, who valiantly tried to remove the Blyton coloured glasses from an eight-year-old immersed in the Malory Towers chronicles. In the face of (what I understand to be) fanatic Blytonism, she laboured to suggest that Gwendoline wasn’t quite as bad as previously thought. The Blyton, unfortunately, was strong in that one … but I heartily endorse her de-programming efforts.

So, on to the book …

This is the last post on book 4. I promise. I didn’t mean to write so much on this book. It’s just that there is SO much packed into one little book that I just couldn’t let an issue pass.

And this is an issue that really pisses me off about our lady of Blyton. It really does. It’s lazy, unnecessary and manipulative and irks me no end.

It’s the introduction of the ‘next generation’.

That’s right. As well as the merry-go-round of new students in the dormy (ever wonder what happens to some of them? There is only space for ten or so in the one room. Scotch stereotype Jean and nervous wreck Ellen are too smart for the form, so have been moved up; American brainwash-ee Zerelda has gone back to the states to indoctrinate the continent of ignorant savages there into the ways of Our Enid; others from earlier books just disappear as they become superfluous. I actually think Enid drugs their tea at night and lobs them over the nearby cliffs, before returning to school and convincing the girls that “Violet doesn’t exist. There never was a Violet. Violet was just a dream …”. If she can get children to swallow some of the other crap she feeds them, why not this?), Enid also decided to go back basics and introduce two new first form characters.

There are two new ciphers in this book. Felicity, Darrell’s sister, and June, Alicia’s cousin, begin their school school career this term (with much copy-and-pasting from book one: train ride to school, wise words about school going quickly blah blah blah). Felicity is a cross between Darrell and Mary-Lou (all puppy dog eyes and strong sense of self-righteousness), while June is Alicia on steroids, exacerbated by a dash of Gwendoline stubbornness and all-round Blyton spitefulness. We watch their initial settling in issues, remember fondly reading about our own first term with Darrell (I’m not joking, there’s this indulgent and nostalgic ‘yes I’ve already done that’ sort of feel to the whole thing) and sagely agree that Felicity really shouldn’t be friends with June. It’s damn smug and self indulgent – Felicity is such a dishrag there’s nothing to hate and June has not one redeeming feature in her make-up. I find it nauseating, which is interesting, as in previous reads I never really cared about the younger girls one way or the other. It’s just when you really look at these characters you see that they are so badly written as to be infuriating.

(Side note: E’s daughter Imogen is the model for Felicity, but she was more like June in reality – feeling neglected for being shipped off to school at an early age, she was rather a rebel and was almost expelled from one school – more about that in the next book.)

I really dislike this because there are already too many new characters to keep track of in each book. The narrative is divided up between two separate stories (rather than between characters in the one story), and in these later books, Darrell seems to take a back seat as the drama and comic set pieces are given to the younger, less ‘trained’ characters (to show the young readers the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour – because we will all benefit from a revision of the rules of the regime).
June in particular is set up to be re-programmed quite heavily, being a cross between Alicia and Gwedoline. Brilliant but stubborn, she is Enid’s vehicle for increasing the drama in the story. Darrell hates her, given her demonstrable resistance to the regime, and that, along with study stress, is a catalyst for her simmering Harry Potter-esque anger running throughout the book

In this case, June gets all bitter about being bullied by the older forms. Having some crazy idea that hierarchy shouldn’t matter, but also possessed of a very high opinion of herself, June gets bitter at the thought that she is henpecked by older girls. So when she finds out about (and joins in) the fourth form’s illegal midnight feast, she decides to turn herself in to look good to the teacher and ‘get back’ at the fourth form. It is about this time that Darrell finds out, leading to the smackdown scene that covers Darrell in shame for the rest of term (mentioned in the first post for this book).

Felicity, on the other hand, is all shy new girl throughout the book. She’s BFF’s with June until June’s smackdown, at which point she realigns herself with a more regime friendly, Darrell approved BFF (who is never actually seen, just spoken of, giving you an indication of the interestingness of her character). She doesn’t actually do anything, just add the ‘ooh, aah’ filler of a newbie at the school – Oh, and learn a valuable lesson for us all to take in and apply in our own lives. Today’s lesson is charismatic ‘bad boy’ types do not make good friends – stick with the regime friendly alternatives instead.

(Side note: If Bella from Twilight had read Blyton, that book could have ended sooooooo differently … she’d probably end up with Mike or something like that (since apparently she HAS to end up with someone). To be honest, it probably would have made the story more interesting …)

I truly loathe this introduction of the next generation. Not only does it take away from Darrell’s character development (which is something Enid would want as she can’t do ‘growing up feelings’), the two new characters are just amalgamations and rehashes of extant characters. It’s done to reinforce this whole idea of ‘growing up’, in that the older characters are supposed to act in a more dignified manner, as befitting their advanced age (I believe they are all of 15 in this book). Once indoctrinated into the system, acting contrary to it is frowned upon – so we’ll never have the older characters acting out so badly as the younger girls: they’re meant to ‘know better’.

Also, in Enid-land, all adults are stupid (except her because she’s a super-cool freak with a photographic memory). A story about adults (even young ones) would be boring because they are all lacking in intelligence and overflowing in nuanced emotions that were beyond the literary grasp of our great lady. She doesn’t like writing about them. In her opinion, all your growing up is done by 18 and the rest of your life is just … nostalgia for those halcyon school days. The end of school is the end of life in E’s opinion, so it’s important to learn all the lessons you can before that dreadful day … and if you think that that is fatuous tripe, just wait and see what our Enid has in store for you later …

Right, so I’m done with book four (or as done as I can be in 3000 odd words – I could go on forever about why I wish Felicity could be killed off). Seriously, I’m actually going to move on … shocking I know. Given that I started reviewing this book before I went on holidays, it’s rather terrible that I’ve drawn the story out for over 4 weeks. My apologies for that.

Obviously, the next book is book 5, but the next post will be an examination of the regime in MT. All students are equal, but some are more equal than others …

02 July 2010

Upper Fourth at Malory Towers Pt II

The bitches of Upper Fourth

I almost thought I would have to backtrack on my vigorous defence of Darling Gwendoline after her antics in this book. Gwen could almost pass as a bitch in this instalment. And this put me in a bit of an awkward position.

There are two things you should know about me to understand this angst: 1/ I’m extremely stubborn and 2/ my favourite four words in the world are ‘I TOLD YOU SO’. Having delivered myself of an impassioned diatribe for everyone’s favourite bullying victim, and basked in your admiration for my inspired analysis, this book was a bit of a slap in the face. It was entirely possible that I would have to retract my analysis and admit that Enid was right. The thought had me distinctly worried; I hate backing down on an opinion – ESPECIALLY if I realise that it is wrong.

Then I thought about it, and thought about it, wrote an entry … and took off my Enid coloured glasses and realised that I was being influenced again. I should have realised the moment that Gwen showed up at school inexplicably fat (she’d never been so before).

Let’s look at what Gwendoline does. She makes a friend, one who mummy would approve of very much. The honourable Clarissa Carter, who turns up at school, undersized, burdened with braces and glasses and a heart condition, and no idea of how to go on at school (having never attended). Yes the friendship is self serving, but were I Clarissa, I would have been grateful for it. Speaking from experience (I started new schools 3 times in high school), the first thing you want is a companion of sorts. Sometimes the friendship doesn’t pan out, but that’s OK.

In this instance, Gwendoline’s lack of social nous stymies the friendship. She starts out by bitching about all the girls in the year (and let’s be honest, at that age – who doesn’t?) and taking advantage of the meek nature of Clarissa. Being the dominant member of the friendship for once, Gwen takes advantage of that position. But what can you expect? Looking at the example shown by Gwen’s mother and governess – or even by Gwen’s past friendships (in which she was the submissive character), that is how she sees friendships operate.

Eventually, Clarissa sneaks over to become friends with Bill, as it turns out that they are both horse mad (“hello world, this is me-eeee, life could be-eee-eee … fun for everyone” – and if you know that theme tune, have fun getting it out of your head). After which time, she joins the general dislike for my friend Gwen, having been effectively cured of her Gwendolinitis (aided by the miraculous improvement of her looks when her braces and glasses are dispensed with). So Gwen is left alone again, bitter and bullied.

Of course, Clarissa’s dislike may be due to the trick Gwen pulls on those around her, which was the cause of my discomfort. What made me change my mind is realising that this trick was so stupid that in the real world it would never have succeeded for an instant, so Blyton is just being wantonly vicious to poor Gwen.

Here it is: having noticed that Clarissa gets out of games because of her heart, Gwen decides to fake one too. Once in motion, Gwen decides to use this ploy to get out of the School Certificate. Picking the usual butt of jokes, Mme Dupont, as her target, she convinces her that she is ill, then arranges a meeting between the teacher and her mother at half-term, which results in her being taken home right before the exams. Of course, this all unravels when she is taken to a specialist who basically says ‘meh – she’s fine’, then absentee father turns up and decides to be all self-righteous and send her back to school to fail the exams (seriously, he raised her [or failed to do so] – then gets all sooky because she doesn’t turn out the way he wants).

My question is how could this trick have been so successful? Where was the principal in this? The sports mistress, the house mistress … anyone? Gwen got a sick note based on a couple of observations of one teacher, known for her gullibility? The whole series of events is so unlikely that I can’t really blame Gwen for getting away with it. Everyone tries to chuck a sickie at one stage of their school careers. Gwen is a known malingerer, she’s never had heart trouble before, and only one person can attest to having seen it. If that had been me, my mother would have had no trouble in dismissing my ‘illness’ as being what it truly was – a bunch of crap. Yet Gwen is portrayed as sly and sneaky and all types of nasty names and creditied with being a mastermind. Oh well, I suppose that in the land of rotting grapes, a raisin can be queen …

This episode, if it happened today, would be regarded as a cry for help. If someone these days was so desperate to get out of ‘one of the finest schools in the country’, people would be asking her what was going on to make her so averse to the idea of staying at school. Counselling sessions would be ordered – probably mediation with her peers as well. Here, Gwen is considered a failure and allowed to sit (and fail) her exams – to ‘teach her a lesson’. What that lesson is I don’t know, but Gwen has had enough experience of failure over her career at school not to really let it worry her … so Sucks to you, Malory Towers!

In other news, new students Ruth and Connie have different problems. Fraternal twins, Ruth is dominated by her larger twin Connie, who does everything for her. Ruth is smarter than Connie, and Connie, afraid of failing the School certificate, asks her to deliberately fail the test. It’s then when Ruth’s creepy side comes out. Connie’s things mysteriously start being destroyed by an unknown vandal. Through her usual methods of clever sleuthing (making a large assumption and then accusing someone), Darrell finds out that Ruth is behind the vandalism. So she goes to see her teacher (a first – I bet it’s because she’s brown-nosing, I mean, she does get back her form-bitch status from this) and dobs. Miss Williams, seeing the potential for Ruth to become a crazy axe-murderer or something (my money is on the idea of killing and eating her sister) and tells Darrell that it will all work out next term, so run along and let the grown ups deal with the problem. The end, all is well with the world again. Seriously.

One issue I have with this is the resolution. Ruth knows what happened, Darrell finds out, and a teacher is told. But Connie is left out of this circle of knowledge. Why not? Well, it boils down to the fact that Connie isn’t smart enough to understand. Ruth talks to Darrell about Connie’s dominance, but they decide to keep the vandalising to themselves. They also decide to just let things roll out naturally (Ruth moving up, Connie staying down) instead of sitting the twins down and having a talk about their issues. So Connie, has no clue of what is happening, nor why her sister is about to start cold-shouldering her, because she is deemed not smart enough to understand. It’s a prime example of Blyton’s ability to write people off who are not good enough for her. Snob

Another issue is that despite everyone else being given a second chance in the school, as soon the items start being destroyed, fingers start pointing at Gwendoline. This is based on one incident dating back to her first term – and she has made it to FOURTH FORM without a repeat. Do we ever hear of people missing items and blaming Daphne? Or bruises being blamed on Darrel (even though they probably were her work)?

19 June 2010

Portrait Game




So here's the game. Look at the face carefully and tell me what you think the person is thinking.

For example I think he's thinking "are you sure you know what you're doing, Mr painter-man? You're an artist, you say? Could have fooled me."

BTW,the portrait is by Van Dyke.

09 June 2010

Upper Fourth at Malory Towers Pt 1



Another example of the mid-nineties misleading advertising - is there anything in that picture that screams mid-century boarding school? Yeah, that's what I thought.

You thought I’d forgotten Darling Darrell, hadn’t you? I haven’t. She’s still on my mind, even while I’m supposed to on holidays. Enid didn’t take holidays (well she did, but she used all of the information in her books, so it more like research trips ...)

I thought I’d start writing this as I sat in LAX terminal three waiting for my delayed plane, tired, queasy and watching a bunch of children play a game in which the main action is hitting one another and giggling. Happy days. It has been 7 June for 2 days, and I have come to the decision that I am over this particular day. (I fell asleep in the terminal soon after writing the above – I’m now in San Francisco, hiding from the chilly wind and Karaoke night)

But back to the matter at hand, which is Darrell’s latest stint in juvie. We have some fun in this book – so much that I am going to break up this into at least two, perhaps three, entries.

My fist entry is going to be background information and Super Smackdown, the second will be fourth form bitches and the last will be MT: the next generation.

So, I shall begin.

Many people have made a comparison between the two most beloved authoresses of children’s literature over the past century: Enid Blyton and JK Rowling. Detractors will say that Ms Rowling stole (or borrowed heavily on) this tradition of going-away-to-school stories, of which Enid was a past mistress. It’s so clear that JK hasn’t an original bone in her body given the blatant copying: Enid’s books are set at school, so are Rowling’s; most of Enid’s characters are students, so are Rowling’s. Do you see all of the similarities? CLEAR copying).

You might notice that I don’t really subscribe to this view of HP plagiarism. At least I didn’t, not until I started reading Upper Fourth at Malory Towers. All at once, I was overcome by the clear deception that I had bought into, thinking that JK was an original writer. If you read Upper Fourth and then HP and the Order of the Phoenix, you’ll start seeing strange similarities. Darrell has her School Certificate (precursor to the O-levels, which then became the GCSE exams – I actually wrote an entire entry on this topic, but fortunately you are to be spared this piece of nerdiness – I left my usb with it at home); Harry has his OWLs. Darrell faces the challenge of being head-girl of the form; Harry has Voldemort’s return to contend with. Both deal with these pressures in the same way – by retreating into a bubble of anger that eventually bursts forth. Harry yells at Dumbledore – Darrell beats the crap out of a first-former.

Can you see how Rowling has copied? Taking this highly original story by everyone’s favourite author, Rowling callously appropriated it and planted it in her story – the responsibility, the anger, and spurts of irrational violence. Harry might as well wear a sign saying “I’m a PMS-y school-girl with a stupid name”.

So this is basically the storyline – Darrell goes back to school, gets made head-bitch of the form, the form does something naughty and a first-former (who I’ll talk about in my ‘next gen’ post) finds out. When she threatens to snitch, Darrell loses it well and truly – and is found a couple of minutes later violently shaking a pre-pubescent girl as violently as a person such a Darrel can. Unfortunately, because a teacher actually witnessed the violence, they can’t turn a blind and sack her as head bitch (in spite of her clear skills in the area). She mopes around for the rest of the term about not being head-girl (OH OH OH – HARRY KEPT BITCHING ABOUT NOT BEING MADE PREFECT! Rowling strikes again!). All turns out just fine in the end, by the way – Darrell solves a perplexing mystery and earns enough brownie points to earn back the posish. Hoorays all-round as the mindlessly violent triumph again!!

I’ve mentioned before how fortunate Darrell was in her choice of victims – all vulnerable and alone at the time of the attack – well the little first-former is no different. Darrell can’t be more that a foot taller than her and no more that 10-20 kgs heavier – there was nothing wrong with what she did – she was probably just teaching the stupid girl a lesson. And the punishment? The teachers basically say “I’m going to do the worst thing I can think of – I am going to take away my trust ...” They don’t send her to the headmistress? No detention? Suspension? Court-appointed psychologist? Nope – just their trust ... how terrible!

Look at me, being all laconic! I am actually going to finish the post here ... but keep looking out for the next two for this book – I have some plane flights coming up, so I’ll write them then ...

Laters!

28 May 2010

Holiday reading suggestions

I'm going on holidays soon, and there will be a lot of flights involved.

So I need books (budget airlines being low on entertainment)

What would you consider good holiday reading - or what would you like to see reviewed (I can write gut reactions - excellent multi-tasker, I am).

26 May 2010

Treeks and Xenophobia

I had a great opening, but I think I’ll keep it for another day … it’s good but it doesn’t fit here. It did give me an idea for another post, however … the workings of the REGIME …

I want to look briefly at the tricks in the story, the standard comic set piece of every book. As a child, I thought them hilarious, and wondered why I couldn’t be so clever. Looking back at them, I wondered how anyone would ever think it worth the time it took to write them. They are weakly

Alicia is the main perpetrator of these practical pleasantries, coming up with jokes that are (so we are led to believe) clever and foolproof. But there’s a catch — they can only ever be played on the French mistresses, as they are the only ones gullible enough to be taken in by such ‘treeks’. The English mistresses, of course, are far too clever, and far too familiar with the regime from the students’ end, to ever be taken in

I’ll give you a run down on the ‘treeks’ played on Mam’zelle:

Form 1 – Alicia pretends to be deaf. When Mam’zelle says something too her, she deliberately misunderstands, and much hilarity ensues as the students repeat what the teacher says at the top of their lungs. Mam’zelle is completely taken in; Miss Potts susses it out in a second …

Form 2 – Invisible chalk. Alicia’s friend Betty brings invisible chalk that cannot be detected on a surface, but when it comes into contact with another surface, leaves a bright pink chalk mark (No one ever explains why the chalk can be seen on one surface and not another, nor why, if it needs heat to be activated, it stays visible once cooled).
Although first played on the singing master, it is later played on Mam’zelle Dupont — Darrell incurs Alicia’s ire by writing ‘OY’ on Mam’zelle’s seat, thus gaining the upper Forms’ admiration – talk about thunder stealing. The trick is never detected.

Form 3 – Alicia’s brother sends a package of home-made sneezing powder – which is always guaranteed to end well … When played on Mam’zelle, the pellets are found to be too strong and Mam’zelle has the rest of the day off sick from exhaustion.

Form 4 – tablets stuck to the ceiling of the classroom created bubbles that the girls pretended not to see (or hear, as they apparently burst with an audible noise – WTF?). Mam’zelle thinks she is the only one seeing bubbles and becomes hysterical. Miss Potts is called and thinks it good fun to tell Mam’zelle to ask a maid to sweep the ceiling.

Form 5 – the Empire strikes back! Although a first former tries a trick with balloons under her shirt, Mam’zelle hits back with hideous false teeth. She wanders round the school grounds randomly smiling at people. She manages to scare the crap out of a heap of students, half the teachers and Miss Grayling with a couple of parents. IMO, this is the best trick of the series. It inverts the idea of making one person believe a big thing, and instead makes everyone believe a little thing. Once the trick is outed, all of the teachers are quite disapproving, but Mam’zelle is quite unrepentant.

Form 6 – there’s a recurring trick regarding a magnet, hairpins and hissing gas pellets. With improbably perfect timing, random and disparate elements come together to form an ‘astounding’ trick in which the French teachers’ (yes BOTH of them) hair pins are removed with a magnet and stashed around the classroom. The teachers never figure out how it’s done, despite the obvious set up …

If you look at the tricks, they’re not very ingenious. They are utterly dependant on convincing Mam’zelle of something highly improbable. Like clockwork, the students manage to pull these unworkable and rather weak tricks on teachers whose mental powers are repeatedly called into question. The fact that these tricks are only ever played on the French mistresses is the flagship example of Enid’s xenophobia in this series. Readers are expected to believe that the one teacher (it’s always Mam’zelle Dupont) will continually fooled by the same people over and over. No-one is that stupid.
Seriously, this is an upper-class school. Are we really expected to believe that they would hire someone so stupid? All those parents would not be happy that their precious monsters would be getting such bad service, especially given the money they are paying. Besides, the woman has been there for years – where’s her cynicism? Has she the memory of a goldfish? Dealing day-in and day-out with these monsters, are we really going to believe that she will be taken in every time something strange happens?

But she’s French. That’s apparently meant to be reason enough for her stupidity.

And I really hate that reason. It’s not just xenophobic and socially inaccurate, it’s bad literature. It makes, and forces the reader to accept, large assumptions about all French people. Mam’zelle is too vain to wear glasses, is silly and plays favourites with the pretty girls; therefore all French people are shallow. She’s not a strict disciplinarian and is quite a drama queen, therefore French people are – and that’s why they make worse teachers than English. It’s not stated outright, but the general tone is a dismissive ‘oh, she’s French’. I would love to see how the character is portrayed in French (I’ve tried to research it, but only came up with one article that didn’t really mention the teachers).

Each ‘treek’ scene is ended by an English teacher coming in to bring order to the chaos. Mam’zelle is always in near-hysterics, saying ‘oh-la-la’ in a very French way (that’s all French people say, apparently. I think I wasted nine years learning French – all I needed to learn was ‘oh-la-la’). Funnily enough, the girls only ever get in trouble once – with the sneezing incident. It’s as though the teachers are of the opinion that you either sink or swim in this world.

So basically, it’s fine to play a trick on your teacher – so long as they are French (or at least foreign) …

(BTW, I absolutely love the fact that until the 50s, when her popularity could not be ignored, the BBC had a pseudo-policy of not broadcasting any of EB’s works. Despite numerous attempts (she was a shameless self-promoter) to branch out into broadcasting, the BBC steadily refused our Enid, insisting that her works was ‘second rate’. They hated her dialogue and her plots, thought her work waffly and limited in its vocabulary – and just all round NOT GOOD ENOUGH. This is in addition to the publishers, librarians and academics that also disliked her books on literary and social grounds – she was considered racist and overly class conscious even in her own time!)

Next generation is coming up!

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.
Thanks,
Fen

14 May 2010

Gwendoline Mary - a Heroine of Our Time

Let’s talk about Gwendoline Mary. I really want to talk about Gwendoline Mary. I have been restraining myself over the past two books, knowing that I have a good one or two thousand words to say on the girl. I’ve been waiting to tell you my revelations about the Draco Malfoy prototype. Yes that’s right, Gwendoline Mary is the original Draco Malfoy (more of that later).

I have to admit, on re-reading this series, particularly after discovering the manipulation by Blyton of the reader, I have come to see Gwendoline in an entirely new light. I don’t love her, but I certainly identify with her a whole lot more than I thought I did (in fact, I see a bit of my teenage self in her, something I would never have admitted when I first read this series – I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread). And I certainly have a lot of sympathy for a girl who is really given no chance to fit into the school, but who is constantly bullied and ostracised for no reason other than the fact that she is different.

Why you don’t like Gwendoline

Gwendoline is sulky, she’s lazy, she has a high opinion of herself, she’s catty, and she doesn’t play well with others. The others don’t like her, and by extension you the reader don’t like her (you little conformist). You even think that it’s fine to not like her. But there are two things you have to remember about darling Gwen when you are disliking her:

1) Gwen might have all of these bad qualities, but so do the other girls. EB just doesn’t dwell on them. Alicia is catty and has a high opinion of herself, Belinda is lazy, Darrell doesn’t play well with others. You see this, but it does not register through the EB glasses. The others fit EB’s idea of the perfect child, so the imperfections are seen as only further perfection. To EB, these girls sweat champagne and flush little nuggets of gold down the toilet every day.

Reality is not so simple. Teenage girls are complex creatures. Not quite children, not quite grown up, they are often very insecure. At the same time, there is this enormous amount of excitement that the future is coming for them and that they are going to be BIG. So you get this situation where all these children are starting to see themselves as superior beings, yet having a pressing need to shore up that opinion of themselves with the good opinion of others. That combination of mental workings can turn female adolescence into a nightmare of cats and claws. (I was going to say that all teenage girls are bitches, but I know a couple of my readers are teenage girls. Of course I’m not referring to you, dear reader. You are an amazing, wonderful person – but please, do come back and re-read this description in a decade or so …)

Malory Towers positively seethes with this tension – the girls have no reprieve from one another. They eat, sleep, study and relax within metres of each other. Do you honestly think that there are girls who are immune to the pull of raging hormones? So why is Gwendoline singled out?

2) You don’t like Gwendoline because you ARE Gwen. Don’t deny it. As a teenager reading the books you secretly identify most with Gwen’s antics and attitudes. You may like to think that you are Darrell, but you know that you are Gwen. This scares you, as you want to be friends with the popular girls. So you pretend that you are like them, become complicit in the bullying of little Gwen, and hope against hope that they don’t realise what you are really like.

Just like real life.

Essentially, this is high school idealised – a world in which you can become one of the popular crowd by being ostensibly individual, but essentially conformative. Giving up cozy little bitch-fests with Gwen is a small price to pay for popularity in your imagination …


Malfoy?

This is just a side-note, but anyway …

I know there are a couple of you desperate to know what Gwendoline and Draco could possibly have in common, apart from being the designated baddies of their respective series. There has to be a ‘baddie’, but really, neither of them are in the true sense. They are really just people that the ‘goodie’ doesn’t’ like.

It’s actually that ‘baddie’ designation that is part of the similarity of the characters. From the very start, we know that they are the baddies because of who they are. They are the children of their parents, and as such, they are judged before given a real chance to show themselves. Of course, as children of their parents, they are influenced by the example shown them by said parents, and act in accordance with that example as young children. Malfoy’s parents were the magical equivalent of Nazis. Gwen has a dim, superficial mother and an absentee father from whom she learnt her values. Both children display those values early on, but later do try to reform a bit (with varying levels of success – we’ll talk about Gwen’s transformation later). Neither will ever be completely accepted by the mainstream, but you do tend to like them better as adults.

… And that’s enough Harry Potter for one day.

Treatment

From the beginning, the regime doesn’t like Gwendoline, and sets out to break her. Unfortunately, the regime is a self-glorifying and stupid beast; in its wisdom, it decides that negative reinforcement is necessary to cure her 'bad' character.

Looking at the facts:

• she is an only child,
• she has been homeschooled (presumably in the country – you can’t be proper aristo without a country manor),
• she hasn’t really had that much interaction with children her own age, and
• her chief companions are her mother and governess.

At the age of twelve, her father summarily decides that this isolation is a bad idea and ships her off to boarding school, without integrating her into outside interaction with children her age first. Is it any wonder she is socially awkward?

Thrust out of her native surroundings, she begins to behave in a manner that has always been rewarded in the past, yet that only brings down scorn and mockery from her fellow students, tacitly encouraged by Miss Potts, who hears but ignores the malice of the ‘well brought up’ girls. So begins Gwendoline’s induction to Malory Towers. In my reading, I really cannot say that I have come across any instances in which anyone was nice to Gwendoline, yet she is treated as though her lack of friends is her own fault. Darrell is accepted quickly because she has learned the rules to the whole ‘school game’ long before she attended this centre of re-programming. There is no buddy system that would help Gwen acclimate to her surroundings, there is no praise for any good work done (carrot and stick doesn’t work without the carrot) – just because we don’t see her good moments doesn’t mean that Gwen is consistently bad (at one point Gwen starts working hard, but this is really not rewarded by the teacher, so she gives up).

The rest of the girls feel that they are teaching her by giving her harsh treatment, but all they are really doing is replacing one sort of behaviour with another. A pattern is established by which malice is exchanged on both sides, but with unequal power bases it was never going to be a fair fight. Gwendoline, hobbled by the animosity of the author as well as the general unfairness of the situation, retreats from the precepts of the school – she has not benefited from them, she has had no experience of them, therefore she sticks with what she knows – the lessons of her mother, reinforced every holidays. I don’t really blame her – it’s the only positive experience she has during her school years.


Case Study: Daphne

Take as an example the similarities between Gwen and Mary-Lou and their friendship with Daphne in book 2.

Gwen starts out as friends with Daphne, as Gwen sees her as pretty and of a similar social standing to her. With the precepts of her mother drummed into her, she makes friends with the one person who would earn her mother’s praise. Having made the friend, she is happy to be the lesser party in the friendship, listening to Daphne’s stories of her family and wealth, running errands, and generally being something of a slave.

Mary-Lou is captivated by Daphne’s prettiness and sets about becoming something of a dogsbody to her. She is happy to be treated as something like an also-ran to Gwen. She does Daphne’s homework, listens to her long stories, runs errands for her, and generally acts as a slave.

There is very little difference in the two separate friendships. Both are founded on rather superficial facets of Daphne’s make-up. Both are subservient, slavish type roles that leave no room for a friendship based on equality.

YET, Gwen is seen to be rather silly over Daphne, and Mary-Lou a true friend.

Later, when it is revealed that Daphne is not only not rich, but the class thief, Gwen is portrayed as being small minded for not wanting to forgive her straight away. It’s never pointed out that Gwen has been the main victim both of Daphne’s lies and her stealing (Daphne steals money off her and then borrows more from her, which she never pays back), nor is Gwen given any time to digest this information – she is just expected to suck it up and forgive Daphne because she is a hero. Let me be clear: GWEN IS THE WRONGED PARTY. If it were you, you would be quite rightly pissed off. I would want some sort of repercussion. But no – under duress from the rest of the form, particularly knuckle-dragging Darrell, Gwen is forced to capitulate.
(AND Gwen is honest about money – she won’t borrow money of anyone, even when she is short, and is shocked when Daphne wants to share borrowed money with her. I actually rather liked her at that point. It showed that she was taught ethics and follows them, even when she has the opportunity to ignore them.)
Mary-Lou is grateful to Daphne for the whole saving-her-life thing, but is that really enough on which to base a friendship? Daphne is still a rather obnoxious person – and we don’t know if she gets better, as she only turns up from time to time after book two.

I really feel that this skewed perception of Gwendoline is misleading, given her similarity to the rest of the girls.

Gwendolinitis

Book two is not the only book in which people make friends with Gwen, only to dump her at the end. It happens in book three and book four. It is as though friendship with Gwen is an illness that one must be cured. Generally the people friends with Gwen are have a character flaw, usually an ego, and enjoy having Gwen run around after them. When their fault is cured, they automatically dump Gwendoline for some new BFF. Gwen generally hasn’t done anything to warrant such treatment, so I always get annoyed when I get to these parts and find that everyone is happy that another student has been ‘cured’ of Gwen.

It is odd. After Book one, Gwen really doesn’t do anything cruel to the other girls. She’s generally sulky, but fairly innocuous. Even her tricks in book one don’t get any worse than smashing someone’s pen and sneaking a spider into someone’s desk. But there are only a number of second chances that are on offer at MT, and Gwen is always passed over. Bashing up a fellow student – free pass; stealing from your classmates – free pass and a pat on the back; poison pen (this comes later) – a stern talking to , but ultimately reprieve. But being unpopular? You have no chance.

Of course, this is news to no-one in the real world, but I really object to the Way Blyton dresses it all up. I really object to the idea that being unpopular is the fault of the unpopular, rather than intolerance on the part of the right thinking element.

Conclusion

There is hope for Gwen. There really is. I really feel that she actually comes out the best character in the end (I won’t spoil the story – I know you are all on the edge of your seat, but you have to calm down!). I like her because I get her. And so do you. She is that little ball of insecurities that haunted you during adolescence. She is all those fights you had with friends and former friends. She is how you look back at yourself (if you’re being really honest). Gwendoline is what you see when you take off the rose coloured glasses.

Gwendoline IS adolescence.

09 May 2010

Second Form at Malory Towers


Welcome back, boys and girls! Are you ready to dive back into the heady world of post-war boarding school? I am. After a short break of reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac and watching the old Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice (which is so bad it’s funny), I am all ready for my next Blyton adventure.

Actually, the second book in the series is more interesting than the first. Once all of the introduction rubbish is out of the way, we are clear to actually get into the story proper, and Enid obliges to the extreme – this book is almost epic in the scope of its action. I would give this book the alternate title of ‘Mary-Lou Finds an Owner!’ or ‘Extreme Sports at Malory Towers’

I do want to note something about the cover - it's meant to be Mary-Lou hanging off a cliff, but she looks like she's had a really bad bleach job done. On my cover her hair looks orange ... and she has one abnormally big hand. This artist is crap!

Claws Come Out

So, we start the story with a good ‘ole bitch-fest. That’s right. Wifeys Darrell and Sally spend the trip to Cornwall discussing and passing judgment on their classmates. Specifically, they discuss who would make a good Head of Form. I understand that this is a very prestigious position: middle management of the school. The teachers can’t really be arsed actually supervising the kiddies all the time, so they deputise loyal adherents to the regime to enforce obedience and general right-thinking. For the adherent, it’s a bit of a power trip – you get to tell the other kiddies when to go to bed, administer punishments (mostly with a hairbrush – I can’t help but think of Sebastian Flyte and Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited:
“What do you suppose Lord Sebastian wanted? A hairbrush for his teddy-bear; it had to have very stiff bristles, not, my Lord Sebastian said, to brush him with, but to threaten him with a spanking when he was sulky.”
)

Sally gets this coveted position, bringing about the underlying of tension of the book. Alicia, thinking that she should get the posish as she is just so damn cool, spends the majority of the book sniping at the wifeys for being such goody two shoeses. This situation isn’t helped by Darrell one-upping them in the practical joke department (a most amusing prank involving invisible chalk on teachers' seats). So Alicia spends most of the book being a snarky bitch, until her snarkiness sets off a chain of events that almost gets the class puppy killed. Of course, from this Alicia learns her lesson: snarking at the establishment is not cool – the establishment is there to protect us, we should love the establishment ...

It is interesting to note that Sally and Alicia never really seem to like one another at all until the very end of the series, when they have grown out of their teenage angst to an extent. Until then, it’s all on for young and old between the ‘establishment’, headed by sally, and the ‘rebels’, with Alicia in charge. Of course, in the environment in which the girls live it is impossible that the rebels will ever win, so of course Alicia ‘learns her lessons’ and is finally brought into line. It’s a shame really: the death of the individual at the hands of the ‘man’. Damn the man.

How much is that Doggy in the Window?

Anyway, on to Mary-Lou’s new owner. After trotting faithfully at Sally and Darrell’s heels for the past few terms, this term Mary-Lou is captivated by the new girl Daphne. Daphne is pretty (although her eyes are too close together, and we all know that that is a very clear indication of character), is friends with Gwendoline (red flag number 2) and claims to have heaps of money. After using Mary-Lou all term, copying her homework and having her run errands, Daphne finds herself in a spot of bother (having stolen possessions off most of her classmates, Daphne decides she has to get rid of the evidence for fear that the police will come looking for fingerprints) which leads to Mary-Lou being blown over a cliff (I wouldn't be surprised if she jumped). Daphne fortuitously finds the dangling damsel and manages to save Mary-Lou (in a highly dramatic scene, Daphne knots her two belts together and lowers it to Mary-Lou – Enid seems to have a great deal of faith in the strength of both the belts and Mary-Lou’s upper body, as they manage to hang in position for roughly half an hour ...)and earn everyone’s favourite puppy’s eternal gratitude.

Of course, the responsibility of having a pet opens Daphne’s eyes to the fact that she would have to give up her wicked ways or spend her days in prison – and who would look after the puppy? All the girls forgive her for stealing their stuff because she was so damn brave about saving Mary-Lou, and she magically becomes a better person immediately, despite being aspiteful cow the entire book (in addition to the stealing). Can anyone tell me what a deus ex machina is?

The ‘Right Sort’

While on the subject of Mary-Lou, this throwaway comment really got to me:

Mary-Lou had become exceedingly good at French, for her mother had had a French girl in to look after her in the holidays for the past year.


Where to start?

Mary-lou’s mother. Hires. a maid. To look after her during the holidays.

I just wanted to make sure we all understood that (I was tempted to ask why she didn’t just send ML to a kennel, but that would just be too easy). I’m going to repeat this again: Mary Lou’s parents, who send her away for months at a time, hire someone to look after her for the few weeks a year that she is home, because they don’t want to interrupt their life for the annoyance of a child coming home to visit.
I’m sorry to harp on about this, but I’m somewhat taken aback. Living in the post-war austerity era, these people feel it is still necessary, nay, desirable, to hire a maid to care for their 13-year-old daughter?
Of course this is all perfectly normal. Blyton herself sent her children away to school at a young age so that she could concentrate on her writing. Children can be such a bother, can’t they, young E?

I just find it absurd that this sort of arrangement is considered not in the least unusual. Look at the wording – ‘Mary-Lou’s mother had had a French girl in’ – we are all expected to know what it’s like to have ‘a girl’ in. This subversive snobbery is extremely seductive. When you add up the other little hints that are dropped throughout the series, this series really isn’t about your average group of girls, as it purports to be. Gwendoline’s governess continues to live with Gwen’s family even though little G had gone off to school (I always feel that the governess has something going on with Gwen’s dad ... or perhaps her mum ... I can’t see why she remains with the family throughout Gwen’s entire schooling career). The school must have a pretty big community of servants – maids, kitchen staff, etc – as the girls never do any cleaning, but we never see any of them. They basically do not exist – I mean, they are only servants, after all. Even Darrell has to go around and say goodbye to all of the household servants before.

There seems to be a bit of a theme of the rich/poor divide throughout this book, as shown in the two characters to whom we are introduced. We have Daphne, apparently a spoilt rich girl, and Ellen, a scholarship student. Despite the obvious red flags regarding Daphne, particularly her eyes being too close together (I kid you not – EB is HUGELY into judging books by their cover: Sally is sturdy [sensible], Miss Potts has a firm chin [disciplinarian], tomboys have freckles, sporty girls are tanned, non sporty girls are spotty, the list goes on and on!) when push comes to shove, she is seen as one of the girls while Ellen is not. There is an outbreak of stealing in the form, and the finger is firmly pointed at the scholarship girl (because all poor people steal – it’s just in their nature) rather than her more well off compatriots. It eventually turns out that it was Daphne, whih is incomprehensible until she explains that she wasn’t rich after all, so the world makes sense again! Of course, the effects of this class bias causes Ellen to have a breakdown, but that’s of no real consequence ... she's just a scholarship girl.

Smackdown

Do we have any moments of Darrell’s spectacular murderous rages? But of course!
In this latest instalment, our intrepid and enraged heroine stalks down the stressed-out Ellen, who is going to steal exam papers. In the middle of the night, she tracks down Ellen in a class room and proceeds to beat all kinds of crap out of her. But it’s Ellen’s fault, naturally, because Darrell ‘can’t bear cheats’ (as good a reason as any to give someone a smackdown, I suppose).

Then Darrell lost her temper! She flew at Ellen, shook her fiercely and slapped her hard on the cheek! Ellen fell over the legs of a desk and dragged Darrell down with her. She struggled and Darrell pummelled her well.
‘You wicked girl!’ shouted Darrell.


I have to note that Darrell has a knack for picking out the weak and really going for them. She never dares to attack Alicia, for instance, even though Alicia spends the whole book picking a fight. All of her outbursts are against those weaker than herself: Gendoline, Sally (with appendicitis) and Ellen (who is having some sort of stress episode). The latter two of these attacks exacerbates the victim’s condition to such an extent that they end up in the ‘san’ (today they would be sent to hospital, but the ‘san’ sounds so much less serious). And yet we admire the little shit. She rubs her nose and grimaces, saying ‘Oh dear, I have such a temper. It’s a real fault of mine’ and everything is fine again – hooray!
Maybe … ooooh, I just had an idea … maybe Darrell is a special needs student. I never thought of that possibility. Think about it: even after confessing that she was
a) out after curfew;
b) in a fight with another, sick student; and
c) possibly complicit in an attempt to cheat at an exam ( if you think about it logically, she is either complicit or a vigilante)
The headmistress STILL fails to do anything. There is no punishment. There is no conference with the Form teacher, or the House Mistress. Nothing. Just a bit of tutting and ‘what is the world coming to’ sort of thing.

WTF?

The only explanation is that Darrell is a special case. There has to be some sort of under-the-table arrangement between Darrell’s parents and Miss Grayling. In lieu of mood suppressants or electro-shock therapy, these stiff upper-lip stalwarts are opting for the more conventional method to deal with Darrell’s mental illness: send the girl to boot camp and keep her in line just until she can be foisted off on some other poor sod. Then when the shit hits the fan, you can blame the poor husband; ‘she was such a good little girl’.

Miss Grayling is nothing if not a savvy business woman. She knows the value of a well bred vigilante, especially one whose parents are prepared to pay her to look the other way every so often …

Conclusion

Midnight wrestling, abseiling ... this school's actually starting to sound fun! But with all of the drama in this book, can the next book pip such gripping chapters as 'Daphne is Annoyed' or 'OY'? Who can say?