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Kids' Book Club: First Term At Malory Towers By Enid Blyton

11/06/2012 19:51 | Updated 22 May 2015

Oh no! That was my reaction on seeing the modern editions of the Malory Towers school series by Enid Blyton.

What has happened to all the lovely old-fashioned illustrations which were still there in the 1980s editions of my childhood?

Where is the map of Malory Towers with its four towers and swimming pool which used to grace the inside of each Malory Towers book?

And why does the picture of Darrell on the front cover of First Term at Malory Towers look like a modern schoolgirl, with her pink hair clip and cartoon appearance?

I don't understand what was wrong with the old pictures of schoolgirls in gymslips and hats. If anything, given the nostalgia mothers feel for this series written in the 1940s, you'd think Blyton's publishers would be packaging Malory Towers in vintage style, making the most of the innocent post-war setting.

Happily, the text itself hasn't been modernised - there's still all the jolly hockey sticks vocabulary like 'simply wizard' (modern translation: wicked, innit), and 'my people' (parents).

There's still the dormy, the San, the mysteriously important health certificates, the two Mam'zelles (French and therefore terribly foreign), the formidable headmistress Miss Grayling, and steely Miss Potts.

As an adult rereading First Term at Malory Towers, I found myself wondering about things which can't help but strike a modern reader. For instance, why did Blyton pick the name Darrell for her heroine? Why does nobody mention periods or boys? Why are there no black people? Why is there no social context; no awareness of how privileged these boarding school girls are?

And I feel terribly sorry for poor old wet, snivelling Gwendolyn Lacey, roundly mocked because she's homesick for her mother and doesn't like swimming or lacrosse.

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But these are anachronistic concerns and I wouldn't honestly want anything to be changed. As a historical snapshot, this was an era of tough love, traditional hierarchy and high moral values of service to others.

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There's unquestioning respect for Katherine, the solid head of the first form, and it's considered an outrage when Darrell 'cheeks' her. 'Mother' and 'Daddy' are 'sensible' and only feel the need to pop in to see Darrell once a term (except when Daddy is called in to perform expert surgery in the San at a moment's notice).

It's not the most tolerant of worlds and no one has any time for 'silly nonsense'. The teachers call the girls 'brainless', warn them about being 'failures' and expect them to buck up and better themselves - and the girls thrive - there's none of the modern mollycoddling approach to education!

First Term at Malory Towers is still a damn good read; it's not that far from chicklit. There's a cracking pace, it's easy to digest, and there's real drama in the plot, which is very accurate when it comes to portraying the cliquiness of adolescent girls 'going off' in groups and getting jealous of one another.

Characters grapple with some heavy emotional stuff, from Darrell learning to control her tendency to 'fly off the handle' to steadfast little Sally discovering how not to be envious of her baby sister to scaredy-cat Mary-Lou finding her courage.

It's easy to mock Enid Blyton, but there are decent values for a girl to learn from this book: making a solid friend like Sally Hope is better than chumming up with charismatic but malicious Alicia; that if you make a mistake it's OK if you say sorry afterwards; and that we must all strive to be unselfish.

Three cheers for Malory Towers!

First Term at Malory Towers is published by Egmont (£4.99).

If you want to rediscover the out-of-print classic illustrated editions, try buying second-hand on Ebay.

Did you love Malory Towers as a child? Have you introduced your own children to the series?

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