St Clare’s fill-ins/sequels by Pamela Cox

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Oh dear, I was no more impressed by these than I was by the Pamela Cox Malory Towers books.  Maybe I’d have loved them if I’d read them when I was about 7, but I’m not convinced.  Alison O’Sullivan (whom I always liked) being followed about by a girl from a lower form, OK, and an aristocratic girl pretending to be a commoner, OK, but an Irish girl turning up at the school, talking in a comedy Irish accent and bringing her pet goat with her was a step too far!   Seriously, a pet goat?  I suppose we should be relieved that it wasn’t a pet pig.  And as if Miss Theobald would have allowed someone to bring a goat to school.

And they just didn’t sync with the original books.  The books are set in the 1940s.  No-one in Britain in the 1940s went around talking about “the guys at school”, and upper middle class girls in Britain in the 1940s did not refer to their parents as “Mum and Dad”.

Maybe the idea was to make the books “accessible”, but I never get the “accessible” argument.   When I was reading school stories at the age of 8 or so, no-one in my world went to schools like the Chalet School, with its glorious mountain scenery, or Malory Towers, with its seawater-fed swimming pool, or indeed to any boarding school at all, but that was what made the books attractive.  I didn’t want to read about kids like me, living on housing estates, going to schools with gravel playgrounds at the side of busy main roads – I wanted something a lot more exotic!   And what’s “accessible” about inappropriate language?  Would you show characters in a book in the 1940s using mobile phones and watching films on Netflix?!

I didn’t find them very well-written, either.  Everything was just a bit wooden.

On the plus side, they were light reading, and entertaining in their way.  But some fill-ins/sequels written by different authors stand up quite well by comparison to the original books, and these, unfortunately, don’t.  There’s better Enid Blyton fanfic available online.

 

Malory Towers sequels by Pamela Cox

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I’ve now read all six of these, having read the first one a while back.   They’re readable, but I’m not overly impressed.  I’m not sure that Malory Towers particularly lends itself to sequels, because its “world” just isn’t big enough.  We only know the basics about the girls’ home lives, and the action all takes place on or near the school premises.  There aren’t even any school trips.  Pamela Cox does try to address that issue by placing Bill and Clarissa’s riding school close to Malory Towers and showing the girls spending time there, but it hardly compares to the Chalet School girls’ walks in the mountains or even the Kingscote Guide walks.

The books are about Felicity Rivers and her friends, although Daphne Hope also features in the later ones.   There are midnight feasts, “treeks” being played on Mam’zelle Dupont and various sagas about nasty new girls and mysteries over who’s responsible for things disappearing, plus plenty of tennis and lacrosse matches, but where Malory Towers scores is its realism in showing that people are actually having to work and pass exams, and there’s none of that in these books.  Incidentally, has anyone ever understood the form system at Malory Towers?  It should be either I, II, III etc or Upper III, Lower IV, Upper IV etc, and it seems to be a weird hybrid!

Some of the storyline are OK, but some of them are plain silly.  Gwendoline Lacey returns, to teach deportment and other finishing school type stuff.  Excuse me?   Malory Towers wasn’t into that sort of thing.  Girls were there to have fun and learn to be strong, reliable women etc, but they were also there to work and pass exams, not to learn to be debutantes.   Even worse, Jo Jones returns, using her middle name and her mother’s maiden name, and none of her old classmates recognise her because she’s lost weight and is wearing glasses!    There’s also a story about a long-lost grandma, which is more Angela Brazil than Enid Blyton.  And a teacher who is spying on the girls, and blackmails someone who was expelled from a school at which she taught previously into telling her what’s going on.  Why would a teacher want to spy on pupils?   It’s hardly as if they’re concealing state secrets!

I sound as if I’m being very critical.  I don’t mean to be: it’s just that Malory Towers is a bit of a cultural icon, and it’s strange reading these books which aren’t quite Blyton’s Malory Towers.  They’re not a bad read, but they’re not super-wonderful either.

 

 

New Term at Malory Towers by Pamela Cox

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I approached this book with a fair bit of suspicion, as I would a cover version of an iconic song (I’ve never quite forgiven Atomic Kitten for murdering “Eternal Flame”) or a remake of an iconic film. It just couldn’t be the same as the “real” Malory Towers books which I and some of the other girls in my class at primary school first read way back when, could it? Well, no, it wasn’t. There wasn’t even a midnight feast. The pool barely featured; and Susan wasn’t accused of being “frightfully pi” even once. But I think I quite like this gentler version of Malory Towers. As a kid, I used to think, as you do, that I’d have been well in there with the MT in-crowd. Now, I don’t even want to think about what Alicia and Betty would have done to a swotty fat girl with zero self-confidence and a Northern accent: I’d probably have run away after a week! But I think I might have stayed in this form, with Felicity Rivers and her friends.

Obviously I knew Felicity, Susan and June from the original books.  All the teachers were there too, but, apart from the two Mam’zelles, they didn’t feature much, though. We didn’t see Miss Grayling welcoming any of the new girls to the school. I was slightly put out when I arrived for my first day at secondary school – along with around 110 other first years – and found that we weren’t each going to get an individual pep talk from the headmistress about how the school would turn us all into strong, capable women 🙂 . And, although Darrell and Sally made a brief appearance in the first chapter, and Bill and Clarissa’s riding school was mentioned (sadly without any clarification as to whether Bill and Clarissa were together or whether they were just good friends), none of the old gang were there, apart from Amanda who featured as the Games Prefect.

I always felt sorry for Amanda. GO authors do like to punish characters who break their rules, but it always felt very harsh that Amanda should lose her chance of being an Olympic swimmer and Mavis her chance of a singing career just because they showed off a bit. I’ve also got a weird recollection of, at the age of about eight, telling my grandad about Amanda. Why I thought a 68-year-old man would be interested in Malory Towers, I have no idea – poor Grandad!!

Anyway. The old characters didn’t feature much, but the new girls, and the girls we already knew, were quite well-drawn.  You don’t expect a Malory Towers book to go too deeply into people’s personalities, and this didn’t, but they all seemed quite realistic.

There wasn’t much actual action. Apart from Felicity worrying about whether or not she was doing a good job as head of the form, it was all about who wanted to be friends with whom. Even the tricks, which were, as ever, played on Mam’zelle Dupont, were about trying to impress other people rather than just for fun. Veronica wanted to be friends with Amy, Freddie wanted to be friends with June, Bonnie (were any teenagers in the 1950s actually called Bonnie?!) wanted to be friends with Felicity.  Felicity and Susan tried to get Bonnie to be friends with Amy to get her away with Veronica and to get her off their own backs, people kept overhearing things and getting upset, people were jealous of other people’s friendships … it actually wasn’t a bad reflection of what a group of 13-year-old girls can be like!!  But it was made clear that no-one was all bad or all good. And, in a way more reminiscent of the Chalet School than of Malory Towers, people did genuinely try to be nice to all the other girls, even those who’d behaved badly. No-one was sent to Coventry. No-one was the victim of a group bullying campaign.

I don’t think that writing a book like this about the original characters would have worked.  Darrell persuanding everyone to give Gwendoline Mary a chance, or Alicia realising that she’d been behaving like a bitch, just wouldn’t have rung true.  But, because it was a different group of girls, it worked OK.  I’m not sure that it really felt like Malory Towers, though.  Maybe it needed a midnight feast by the seawater swimming pool …  😉