On Tuesday I started First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, and I finished it on Wednesday. It was a book I read as a child, and I wondered if I’d still like it and I did–very much–and it also made me think a lot, which I can’t say about most children’s books.
It’s in the boarding school genre; there were many of those in my elementary school library; someone in charge of purchasing books (or a donor) must have liked them and so did I. In this series each novel represents one year of the six that the protagonist, Darrell Rivers, spends at the school. It starts with her boarding the special train that goes to the school from platform 7 at the station. There are four houses, each housed in a tower. The entrances reminds Darrell of a castle. Okay–you’ve got to wonder if J.K. Rowling read these as a kid, too, don’t you?
The adults are scarce, appearing mainly to articulate the social values that permeate the book, rather like the adults in Louisa May Alcott’s children’s books. The values themselves are much like Alcott’s of a hundred years earlier: character over achievement; honesty, openness, directness as against slyness, shrewdness or manipulation; sympathy but not enabling; courage especially the courage to overcome personal fears; not faultlessness but the open acknowledgment of fault and an effort at curbing and channelling it. As Darrell says of her father, he has a temper like hers but he reserves it for worthwhile things.
What surprised me in reading this book again was first of all, how much I simply enjoyed it–the girls’ different personalities, their antics, their conflicts and what they learn, the sly girl’s true colours revealed, the fearful girl’s surprising bravery.
And it gave me pause to think because the values it espouses, like Alcott’s, are much my own and not what I was raised with, where achievement and appearance trumped other concerns. I wonder whether my own values were innately different from my family’s or whether some other forces were at work. Did I find in these books an articulation of what I felt to be true or did they shape my perception of truth?
I suspect that there was probably a combination of those. It’s strange to think of myself at age 10 or 11 quietly reading and arriving at the values that inform my middle-age life and the way I raise my own children. We are our own ancestors; the lineage runs from me at 10 to me at 54. The lineage runs from Alcott in the mid 1800’s to Blyton in the mid 1900’s to Rowling in the 2000’s. There is more–I can’t remember which blogger I follow mentioned this series recently. (Let me know please!) But that is what spurred me to read it. That post was the predecessor to this one.
Don’t believe all the hype and fear mongering: such a lineage has too great a power. Books in whatever form, stories in whatever form, will carry on.
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die! The Child is father of the Man; I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety. - William Wordsworth