First Term at Malory Towers – Chapters 15 and 16

(Note: we’ve done some redecorating!  But there is a certain amount of housekeeping that needs to happen with our header, what with it being too large, and also Official No Award Calligrapher Moya has forbidden us to use one of those fonts.  Stay tuned.)

Back in the day, before I realised that blogging with Stephanie is more fun, I had a series of posts about Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books on my personal blog.  Specifically, I was reading a chapter or two at a time and offering a running commentary with snark, illustrations, random anecdotes from my childhood, and whatnot.

That was 2012.  I don’t know why I stopped, except that I was busy, and there was a lot of typing involved, and probably something shiny came along and distracted me. But I bought the modern (electronic) editions of the books yesterday, and fell madly in love all over again.  Yes, the brown-and-orange uniforms called me back once more.

Accordingly, I’ve imported the original posts over to No Award (that’s totally a thing you can do, thanks, WordPress!), and I’m going to continue here.

(Importing old entries means we’re in the odd situation of having content that predates the existence of this blog.  No Award’s second birthday was last weekend, by the way.  We should have vegan, gluten-free cake to celebrate.)

And first, let me say, these new editions are weird.  There’s no more talk of slapping people, not even jokes.  Instead of giving Gwendoline four sharp slaps for her cruelty towards Mary-Lou, Darrell gives her “a rough shake”.  I’m not sure how inflicting brain damage is supposed to be an improvement, except that it’s probably harder for small humans to cause any damage when they engage in imitative behaviour.

Additionally, someone has done a search and replace, substituting “strange” for “queer” throughout. Which is fair enough, shifts in meaning and all, but I feel like something important has been stolen from, like, two-thirds of the queer people I know.

(I know, I know, it’s not as if they’ve rounded up all the old editions and set fire to them.  I might start nosing around secondhand stores for old copies, though, just for comparison/completion purposes.)

Chapter 15: A Sudden Quarrel

Where we left off: HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALF-TERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRM.  Darrell’s mum wants to talk to Sally Hope, the weird, quiet girl in Darrell’s class, but Sally accuses Darrell of interfering and takes off.

It occurred to Darrell to wonder if Sally was avoiding her—but no, why should she? There would be no reason for that.

It’s not like Darrell has a history of violence against her classmates or anything.

Darrell’s mother wanted to pass on a message to Sally about Mrs Hope being worried because “Sally writes such funny wooden little letters.  I showed Mrs Hope some of your letters, darling.  I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

One: I, personally, would mind.

Two: it occurs to me that my whole “voice” for a generic maternal character when I’m writing is … Darrell’s mum.  This is not a good thing.

On the upside, I’ve never put the words “Mother dear” in a character’s mouth, so I’m one up on Blyton.

Mrs Rivers provides insight into Sally’s mysterious angst:

“But Mother dear, Sally’s awfully funny about things. She truly and honestly did tell me she hadn’t got a sister, and she was furious with me for talking about her mother. She said I was interfering and all sorts of things.”

“Well—perhaps she was joking,” said Mrs. Rivers, also rather puzzled.

In the 21st century, that’s the kind of “joke” that gets kids sent to counsellors, not boarding school.

“Sally does know she’s got a baby sister at home. For one thing, that was why she was sent to boarding school, so that the baby, who is rather delicate, could have all Mrs. Hope’s care. It’s a dear little thing.”

Poor Sally.  A decade and a bit as an only child, and then she’s shunted off to boarding school so her sister can have more parental attention.  Baby Boomers, eh?


Blyton doesn’t usually give reasons for her characters to be at boarding school, but this one is especially sad.

Darrell cheerfully informs her parents that she totally slapped shook assaulted a classmate, and Emily — remember her?  Quiet girl, sews a lot, insta-BFFs with Darrell’s mum? — helpfully notes that everyone wanted to slap/shake Gwen.  Darrell’s parents are disturbingly entertained by this anecdote.

At last, HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERM ends, and Darrell eventually remembers to go looking for Sally.

Two of the music rooms are in use.  One is occupied by Irene The Music And Mathematical Genius.  The other contains Sally.  And Sally’s rage.

She came to the other practice room, from which music was coming. It was not the entrancing melodies that Irene had been playing though, but plain five-finger exercises, played over and again, over and over again, in an almost angry manner.

Cover to a Spanish edition. Sally's going through her Tori Amos phase.
Cover to a Spanish edition. Sally’s going through her Tori Amos phase.

I just love Sally.  Blyton’s not known for her layered characters, but tiny cranky twelve-year-old Sally, with all her pubescent anger and frustration — she’s so great.

And she’s pointedly ignoring Darrell, who naturally escalates the situation.






Darrell went near to her and put her mouth to her ear. “Why did you say you haven’t got a sister? You have, and that’s why your mother couldn’t come and see you! But she sent you her love and said…”

Sally swung round from the piano, her face looking strange and white. “Shut up!” she said, “interfering little busybody! Leave me alone. Just because you’ve been with your mother all day long, and had her fussing round you, you think you can come and taunt me like this! I hate you!”

“You’re mad!” cried Darrell, and she struck her hand on the piano, making a strange sound of clashing notes. “You won’t listen when I want to tell you things. But you shall listen! Your mother told mine that you only write her funny wooden letters … she said…”

Darrell, I’m pretty certain you weren’t meant to repeat that.

When I’m writing, I have to work really hard to keep in mind that what the main character is experiencing is not necessarily what the supporting characters are doing or feeling.  So next time I make fun of Blyton’s workmanlike qualities, please remind me that she just made it look effortless.

But meanwhile:

“I won’t listen!’ said Sally, in a choking voice, and got up from the stool. She pushed Darrell blindly away. But Darrell could not bear to be touched when she was in a temper, and she shoved back with all her might. She was strong, and she sent Sally flying across the little room. She fell across the chair, and lay there for a moment.

Let me tell you, I am really, really glad that this instance of shoving wasn’t replaced with something more anodyne.  Probably because it’s crucial to future developments.

Illustration from the first edition. The girls look a lot younger than twelve here.
Illustration from the first edition. The girls look a lot younger than twelve here.

But, having been a little girl with a bad temper and an unfortunate tendency to lash out with violence, as discussed with my younger self here, I really empathised with Darrell and her struggle to control her temper.  I didn’t need to be told that hitting people was wrong — I already knew that perfectly well — I just needed to know that I wasn’t the only one who had this problem.

(I also could not bear to be touched when I was in a temper, and would like to apologise to my brother for all the times I elbowed him, and also for the occasion on which I knocked out his two front teeth, although that was a legitimate accident.)

And the 1963 version. The girls look closer to their age, and Darrell's hair is fashionably large.
And the 1963 version. The girls look closer to their age, and Darrell’s hair is fashionably large.

Sally is overcome by abdominal pain and stumbles away, leaving Darrell to feel terrible.

An hour or so later, Mary-Lou reports that Sally is lying on her bed in the dorm, making “a groaning sort of noise and she keeps holding herself and saying,’Oh, my tummy !'”

Miss Potts is ON IT.  (She’s so wonderful.)  She makes a diagnosis of overeating (“too many strawberries and too much ice-cream”) and sweeps off to find Matron.  DUTY OF CARE, DAMMIT.

Darrell: continues to feel terrible.

She had flung Sally across the room, and Sally had fallen over that chair! She must have hurt herself in the stomach then. Darrell remembered how she had said, “it hurts.” It wasn’t too many strawberries and too much ice-cream. It was Darrell’s temper that had caused the trouble!

Darrell couldn’t eat any more supper. She slipped off to the common room to be by herself.

End of chapter!

Chapter 16: A Bad Time For Darrell

You know, it’s not a great time for Sally, either.  Just saying.

Alicia, not the best at empathy, is puzzled that Darrell is so concerned for Sally.

“Why ever should she be [ill]?” said Alicia. “Lots of people can’t eat strawberries without getting a pain or a rash. One of my brothers is like that.”

Remember that, next time someone tells you that food intolerances didn’t exist Back In The Good Old Days.

Here is a moment where Alicia is not terrible:

Alicia plunged into one of her bits of family history and Darrell listened gratefully. Alicia did not relate stories that glorified herself, as Gwendoline always did—she simply poured out amusing tales of the life she and her brothers led in the holidays at home—and, if Alicia was to be believed, the pranks they got up to were enough to turn any mother’s hair completely grey! However, Alicia’s mother had not seemed to Darrell to have any grey hairs at all, when she had seen her that day.

That paragraph contains a useful social tip that I could stand to use more often!  Also, I am quite sad that we never see much of Alicia’s mother.

When bedtime comes, it is Mam’zelle, not Matron, who oversees the girls getting into bed.  (Why is this a thing that happens?  Surely, by the age of twelve, the girls don’t need help getting ready for bed?)  Mam’zelle cheerfully informs everyone that Sally is desperately ill, and no, it definitely wasn’t the strawberries.

Sally is no better the next day, and Darrell’s concern wins her the private approval of Miss Potts.  Darrell is picturing herself being expelled, bringing shame to her family, and comes to a terrible realisation about herself:

“I can’t tell anyone, I can’t!” thought poor Darrell. “I’m afraid of letting people know, because of what would happen to me, and how it would make Mother and Daddy feel. I’m a coward, but I daren’t tell. I never knew I was a coward before!”

She suddenly thought of Mary-Lou, whom she had so often called a coward. Poor Mary-Lou—now she knew how she felt when she was afraid of something. It was a horrible feeling. You couldn’t get away from it. How could she have sneered at Mary-Lou and taunted her? It was bad enough to feel afraid of something without being taunted about it.

Important moments in emotional development: self-awareness.  Not that Darrell is in a position to appreciate it, of course.

According to the rumour mill, Sally is seen by two doctors that day, and all they can conclude is that her illness isn’t contagious.

Darrell, meanwhile, comes to the conclusion that she has to confess.  But not to anyone at school, don’t be ridiculous.  She decides to write to Sally’s mother and tell her everything.  Girl, I think, you are just putting off the inevitable.

It was not an easy letter to compose, but Darrell always found writing easy, and she poured out everything to Mrs. Hope— about the quarrel and what led up to it, and all about Sally not wanting to speak to Mrs. Rivers, and how unhappy she seemed to be. She was quite surprised to find how much she seemed to know about Sally!

Because you are platonic SOULMATES, Darrell.  Not that you know it yet, you’ve just spent a couple of paragraphs moping about how you didn’t even manage to make friends at Malory Towers.  But you will.  SPOILERS.

Unable to sleep, Darrell decides to go outside for a walk.  A car is approaching the school, purring as all of Blyton’s cars do.  The door to the building containing the Sanitarium is unlocked, and Darrell decides to stickybeak.  What — or who — is she going to find inside?!



2 thoughts on “First Term at Malory Towers – Chapters 15 and 16

  1. merriank

    My crack is Elsie Jeanette Oxenham’s Abbey Girls (and the rest) books with a side order of Chalet School. It is always interesting to me as an adult reader and re-reader that among the anodyne and journeyman plotting (EJO uses car accidents to create sudden change in her girl protagonist’s lives) there is quite powerful stuff about character and female friendships and relationships and girls finding their place in the world around them. EJO writes quite unlikeable heroines at times but they are seen as having a right to their own narratives (along with the judginess of their mates) as much as the angels of the house. I appreciate that this female world is reified as important and find the car accident plots interesting because they offer an insight into lack and types of female agency and how often that agency is a reactive thing i.e. EJO couldn’t imagine the pivot point coming from the girl herself but only from her reactions to the imposition of events.

    I am old and I remember in the 1960’s when decimal currency and metric came in they published the Norah of Billabong books with all the measurements and money changed from imperial to the new – as if that suddenly made the books modern.

    I hope you keep adding to your Malory Towers readings. They resonate with me.

  2. Pebble

    I’m enjoying this series! Thanks for importing the previous entries.

    You’re pulling some surprisingly decent moral lessons out of the story! I’m accustomed to ignoring Blyton’s moralising, given that her paragons of virtue (Julian, Fatty, etc) are invariably horrible people. There seems to be more on being a good (trustworthy, possibly even kind) person in these and less on being a conveniently well-behaved, conforming, non-fuss-making person.

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