Saturday, June 11, 2005

I caught the most contagious cold in the world in Bristol (probably due to all that walking around in the rain), and now everyone I know has it. So I have stayed at home all week reading Enid Blyton books (it's for work! I promise).

Me and my sister were raised on Enid (a children's author who wrote hundreds of books). I always maintain that you can tell people who read Enid B as a child because as adults they have better manners, a more grounded sense of morality and slightly unfashionable hair. Poor old Enid has come under a lot of criticism in the last couple of decades, with her books being seen as racist, sexist, classist and the like. For example, the Famous Five books were about four boisterous middle-class children who solved adventures (usually involving gruff foreign smugglers or working-class villains). Here's an excerpt from Five Get into Trouble: “Good old Anne. Look she’s got all the food ready. Proper little housewife aren’t you Anne?” You are silly Dick” said Anne. “You ought to be glad I like messing about with food and getting it ready for you.” The other girl character, Georgina - was a budding lesbian and insisted that she was "as good as any boy" and should be called Georgina.

My favourite books though, were the St Clares and Malory Towers girl's school stories - another unacknowledged clue that little Lubin was going to grow up gay. Set in a boarding school (again for posh girls), and with a large cast of characters (firey French teachers, spoilt brats, brave heroines) and plot-lines (midnight feasts, pranks, people getting lost at sea, whodunnits involving catty anonymous notes, Head of Form power struggles) etc, they always managed to be thrilling - like a little mini-soap opera (and no flying broomsticks in sight). My favourite character was Gwendoline Mary - a pampered, bratty only child who whines and schemes her way through six books. She still has her Nurse living at home, and her mother and father are completely under her thumb. But in the last book, in a chapter called "A Dark Day for Gwen", her father falls seriously ill, the family loses all its money and Gwen has to leave the school in order to get a menial job and support the family. Of course, nobody gloats openly about it, but this sort of moral come-uppance was always on the cards. No wonder Blyton fans are so well-behaved as adults. We know that if we misbehave, there's always the chance of a karmic fuck-up round the corner, even if it takes 6 books in coming!

Although Blyton's books are viewed as somewhat simplistic and unorginal, I do remember the school stories as having rather complex, almost tragic characters. The heroine of the Malory Towers stories is a very capable upstanding young lass called Darrell Rivers. However, her "flaw" is a terrible bad temper. And when faced with a act of treachery from some bitchy girl, rather than turning the other cheek, she usually responds with a huge slap! Darrell is always struggling against her temper and its consequences - in the fourth book in the series, it's one of these slaps that means she has to step down as Head Girl (and there's no greater disgrace to my mind). Darrell has a more "level-headed" best friend Sally. However, Sally's flaw is that she's a passive-aggressive cow who goes cold and silent rather than talking about her problems. Even the nasty characters are shown to be multi-faceted (apart from Gwen) and usually redeem themselves by scoring the winning goal at the Lacrosse match or rescuing some mousey character who's fallen off a cliff.

I haven't read any of the Malory Towers books in about 20 years, but it goes to show what an impact they've had. I can practically recall every detail, plot and character in them!


Caress said...

I loved the Secret 7! They solved a mystery at a train station with masked tarpaulin and saved the day by catching the smugglers! Then there were the 5 Find Outers, my teacher Miss Houston got me hooked on them, there was a fat one who always ate cakes and was slow at chasing the villain cos he'd been such a greedy hog, many of my nights were spent as child reading Enid and investigating the local streets to find out any exciting crime or caper to emulate the Secret 7 or famous 5, only I didn't have an Uncle Quentin or Aunt Fanny to make lemonade after!

Sparky said...

I always knew that I was missing part of the joke in the "Five Go Mad..." sketches on "The Comic Strip Presents" ( Clearly they were parodies, but I had no idea of what. Now the mystery is solved!

comatose said...
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comatose said...

I used to like the magic faraway tree. I remember in one story there was a snooty cousin who came to stay, and all the children went up the tree to find a land where you could have any kind of ice cream you wanted. The cousin didn't believe this so asked for sardine flavour and was forced to eat it. I can also remember the palpable sense of dread and doom when one of the children stayed too long in one of the lands (which were only accessible for one day) and got stuck there.... There was something very strict and slightly pompous, in that old-fashioned english way, about the themes in those books

gordon said...

Gwendoline Mary is also my favourite character! Actually Alicia is my best favourite but this is more of a "schoolgirl crush". Gwen is the character I identify most with! I particularly liked the storywher she discovers that another girl ( the unpreposessing Clarissa ) is a Hon. and tries (against her better judgement) to cultivate her friendship. The dénouement is when Clarissa'stitled parents turn up for sports day in a clapped-out old car looking decidedly...dowdy - quite unlike the flowery scarves of Gwen's mum. It's EB's way of pointing out the difference between the real aristocrats and the nouveaux riches.
Also good in Malory Towers the "mannish" (Miss Potts!) teachers and, as you rightly point out, the complicated personality of Darrell. Trivia: Enid Blyton's husband (!) was called Darrell, I think his surname.

JayMaster said...

Have to agree with Comatose (and probably all the other gayers) that the Magic Faraway Tree books were ace! (The snooty/naughty cousin was called Connie I think. I also really enjoyed Secret Island, one-off Enid book where 4 siblings hideaway from their evil aunt and uncle, creating a home and farming on a secret island.