Malory Towers is my dream school, and I was always a little concerned that if I picked up the “new” stories (authorised, but written by Pamela Cox) then I’d be disappointed. It looked like a money grab to me. But I read all the St Clare’s books for the first time last time, including the new ones, and I couldn’t really tell the difference, so I thought I’d give the Malory Towers reboot a go…
Book: Malory Towers (New Term, Summer Term, Winter Term) by Enid Blyton
Read before: Never
Ownership: Bought around six months ago, but only just built up the courage to try.
Leaving aside the fact that I hate this modern cover (I understand it needs to appeal to current day kids, but the uniform is wrong), I was pleasantly surprised. These books focus on Felicity’s year group, who we’ve been spending time with since they joined the school in Upper Fourth, so there’s already some good familiarity to draw on. Darrell, our original protagonist, pops up at the beginning of New Term to say goodbye to Felicity as she sets off, and I was struck by the sensitivity of the part where she says she’d be too sad to return to Malory Towers just yet as she hates having to leave. It’s a classic passing-the-baton moment, but also, given my own feelings about Last Term, which makes me want to cry with nostalgia for a school I didn’t even go to, I thought this was a really nice touch.
So we don’t see anything of Darrell after this, though she is mentioned fairly often. Felicity is pretty much Darrell 2.0, but with less of a temper and more of an inferiority complex. I loved how she felt like she was in Darrell’s shadow, given the very vocal love the teachers (and basically everyone) had for Darrell. Felicity becomes Head Girl of the third form, just like Darrell, but having these worries meant that this didn’t feel like a straight rehash. Susan, Felicity’s best friend, is more or less Sally, Darrell’s best friend, but a bit more mischievous; June, the class prankster, is a less clever Alicia. There are posh new girls, American ones, mean ones, sly ones, mysterious ones… This is nice. No one’s expecting anything ground-breaking here, so it’s very comforting to have these character archetypes around.
I thought Cox’s Mam’zelle Dupont was completely spot on, especially with her reaction to ‘treeks’. One update I would have liked to have seen, though I didn’t expect it would happen, would have been for Bill and Clarissa (two of the girls from the first series who now own a riding stable by the school) to have been more overtly a couple. Surely everyone always got this vibe from them?! I felt that their inclusion in these new books was a little odd – they feature very heavily in the mystery of Summer Term, where they would be around 19 years old, but act more like they’re in their mid-thirties. I guess it’s that lens of ‘girls who’ve left school are grown-ups to those still at school’, but I found it a bit weird.
A word on the ‘bad’ girls – they are so much more nuanced than Gwendoline ever was. You have Amy, who’s stuck up, but really a good egg when she realises how she’s acting; Olive, who’s mean and stand-offish, but has been bullied into acting out; Bonnie, who’s astonishingly self-serving but at least honest about it. None of the girls is as black and white as Gwendoline, and they all learn to rub along. This feels more modern, but not in a bad way – Gwen’s lack of character arc and her ‘punishment’ of a sick father always seemed a little bit moralising, where as these girls benefit from a more up-to-date understanding of personality and nature-vs-nurture.
The actual plots of the books are by far the least important thing. In these three books there’s a feast, a mystery involving horses, a school play, a family feud, the endless stream of new girls and the problems they bring with them, a few tricks, a few half terms… If anything had struck me as weird, I would have noticed it, but these feel like they could have been plotted by Blyton herself.
I think I’ll always have more love for the original series, because I grew up with Darrell and her friends, and know the books basically by heart. But if I’d grown up with these too, then I wouldn’t be able to separate them. They’re a wonderful continuation of the series – new readers should just take them as canon, and old readers should trust Pamela Cox. I’m definitely going to finish up the series.
An overall four out of five cats for the new series as a whole.