Upper Fourth at Malory Towers (by Enid Blyton)

I have dozens of Enid Blyton books on my shelves dedicated to children’s books. I loved them as a child, along with most avid reading Brits my age. But it’s rare, nowadays, that I pick one up to read. However, a young friend has been re-reading some of my school stories, and on returning this one to me I picked it up in an idle moment, and found myself reading to the end.

‘Upper Fourth at Malory Towers’ features the year in which Darrell and her classmates take the ‘school certificate’ exam - these books are old enough that they pre-date even O-levels - and are thus hard at work for most of the time. That doesn’t stop them doing plenty of swimming and walking, and taking the occasional day’s outing. They even manage a midnight feast, although trouble looms when it’s discovered.

Darrell’s sister Felicity starts Malory Towers in this book, after being unable to go the term earlier, and at first she becomes friendly with Alicia’s rather over-confident cousin June. Darrell, who has mostly conquered her hot temper, finds that June riles her terribly, and that’s not good when one is finally promoted to the class head girl.

As with most of Enid Blyton’s books, the writing is simplistic, with clich├ęs and highly caricatured characters. And yet, somehow the significant people manage to get under my skin. Despite often poor writing, I find myself moved; not so much in this book as some of the others, but still I get caught up in the plot, even though I vaguely remember most of it, having re-read it myself many times as a child.

I developed most of my early schoolgirl ethics from Enid Blyton. I knew from a young age that it was wrong to cheat or brag, and that there was a difference between mischief (as in harmless ‘tricks’) and deliberate defiance of rules and authority. I also developed the slightly unbalanced view that well-rounded individuals were not only kind and caring, but loved sports; a view that endured until recently in many school stories.

Some people turn their noses up at Enid Blyton, giving examples of her poor writing and exaggerated people. But I’m thankful she wrote so prolifically, and doubt if I would read nearly so much today had I not started out on her books.

They’re dated, of course; but they make good reading for fluent readers of about eight and older who devour books and want something to relax with that’s not ‘easy’, but not too challenging either.

It's a testament to the popularity of these books that they appear to be in print continually, re-published in new covers to appeal to today's children. This book is also now available in Kindle form.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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