Books Monthly April 2020 The Enid Blyton page - this month: The new BBC CBBC Malory Towers series and the books...
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Allegra McEvedy: Jolly Good Food - A children's cookbook for every time of day inspired by the books of Enid Blyton

 Published by Hodder Children's Books 5th October 2017

Delicious and easy recipes, inspired by the beloved stories by Enid Blyton. Bake your own pop-cakes and google buns, and wash them down with homemade ginger beer! Have you ever dreamed of having picnics with the Famous Five, midnight feasts with the Malory Towers girls or party teas with the Folk of the Faraway Tree? With this cookbook, inspired by Enid Blyton's stories, you can! Packed full of yummy recipes, lively artwork and extracts from Enid Blyton's stories, this cookbook will inspire children - and the whole family - to get busy in the kitchen. It's the perfect way to share the pleasure of making and eating food with your child. There are 42 exciting new recipes designed by top chef and Junior Bake Off TV judge, Allegra McEvedy, with fabulous illustrations by Mark Beech and glorious food photography too.

This wonderful book came my way by chance when I was researching various editions of Enid Blyton books for my forthcoming article on cover art. It was published back in October 2017, and there's a paperback version out next year, but I thought it would be worth a look so I found a dirt cheap version on the web and here it is! With all the excitement about Enid Blyton right now - it seems the Malory Towers series on CBBC and previously released on iPlayer has been a massive hit - and her continuing popularity with all age groups, this is a brilliant idea. Crammed with simply smashing recipes, from the very simple and familiar (jam tarts, jam sponge) to more exotic fare her characters might have enjoyed during midnight feasts or on holiday at the Cornish Riviera. There's even a recipe for making your very own "lashings of ginger beer"! Lavishly illustrated, this is a superb collection of simple but mouthwatering recipes, with each section of the book prefaced with an excerpt from one of Enid's series (Malory Towers, Famous Five, The Naughtiest Girl, etc.). A smashing book based on one of the best-loved writers of all time!

Enid Blyton's Malory Towers

I have just finished watching, on BBC's iPlayer, what is hopefully the first series of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers, a 13-part serial of what the BBC hope will become the "children's Downton Abbey". The writer, Narinder Dhami, has penned a TV-tie-in version of the stories, which I read first, now I'm reading the original series by Enid, and loving every minute of it. I came to Malory Towers rather late in life, but that wasn't the case with Enid Blyton. Her first Malory Towers title, First Term at Malory Towers, was published in 1946, the year I was born, and I was sublimely unaware of the fact. Although Noddy first appeared the same year, I don't remember making his acquaintance until the early years of our first child, Martin, born in 1967, the year after we were married (this year, 2020, is our 54th year of marriage!). The two subsequent children, Chris (1981) and Samantha (1984) were always familiar with Noddy, and at one time we had a complete set of his adventures, as well as cassettes of stories about the little nodding man, and a South African LP of narrated stories, in one of which Noddy was threatened with a fine of "one rand" by a very South African Mr Plod.



My first encounter with Enid Blyton came in around 1954 when, at the age of eight, I was lent a copy of The Rockingdown Mystery featuring Roger, Diana, Snubby (and Loony his dog) and Barney (and Miranda, his pet monkey) by the ginger-haired twins who now lived next door to us in Brockworth, Gloucestershire. They were two years older than me, and I was stuck for something to read. Unusual for me, and in fact it wasn't strictly true. We had been playing in the twins' bedroom and I had spotted the book on a table next to one of their beds, and asked if I might borrow it. And so my journey with Enid Blyton began! I was thoroughly captivated right from the first page, because Roger and Diana were catching up with each other during the summer holidays, meeting at the railway station on their way home from boarding school, something I was familiar with from the comics I read at the time. My sister's Schoolfriend comic, which she took every week (my comics were the Lion and the Tiger, of course, never the Eagle, although I did like the look of Dan Dare) featured The Silent Three, a rolling tale of three girls at boarding school who solved various mysteries while dressed in cloaks with hoods. They never ran out of such mysteries, and the series was always one of my favourites. There were plenty of boarding school stories in Lion and Tiger too, of course, and the genre swiftly became my absolute favourite, featuring both boys and girls, it didn't matter to me at all, I loved them all. Billy Bunter and the original Famous Five at Greyfriars was always a favourite and remains so to this day.



The Rockingdown Mystery wasn't a school story, and I had no idea at the time that Enid Blyton, who was going through her most prolific period in the mid-1950s, had written such stories. Our knowledge of what literature was available to pre-teen and teenaged readers was confined to the advertisements carried by our comics, or by a visit to W H Smith to browse the shelves. There was no social media, no television (we went without a TV until 1963, when we finally moved away from Gloucestershire to a new life in Stevenage New Town), and although there was a children's newspaper that kept children aware of what was going on in the world, publishers generally didn't produce the kind of publicity they do now. As I say, I had no idea that Enid Blyton was a famous author at all, let alone an awareness of her back catalogue, and didn't discover Malory Towers until, probably, the mid-1960s. Now I have the complete collection, along with the St Clare's series, The Naughtiest Girl series, all of the Barney mysteries, the "Adventure" mysteries and various other books by Enid, including some Noddy books and Famous Fives. Having written more than 700 titles, the Enid Blyton output is something I am always interested in, and spend many happy hours trawling car boot sales and charity shops searching for titles I don't have or older/newer versions of titles I already have. At the time I'm writing this, such emporia are not available to me, and the possibility of car boot sales this year is looking decidedly doubtful.



It has been suggested that Enid's Malory Towers series is possibly the most popular boarding school series ever. It will be interesting to see what the forthcoming Girls Gone By Publishers' Encyclopedia of Girls' School Stories has to say about that! Having read two biographies of Enid Blyton, together with the various articles about her online, I have to say that I have never found anything contentious or offensive about her or her books - she lived to write stories for children, and everything she ever wrote, in my eyes, is harmless and brilliant. I am proud to have her books in my collection, and I am especially pleased that the BBC have decided to air this new TV series based on her most famous school story series, Malory Towers. The cast is sensationally good, and I'm already hoping it will make the transition to DVD in due course. Going back to the question of whether Malory Towers is the best girls' school story series ever, well, the aforementioned Girls Gone By Publishers, my favourite publisher for various reasons, is well known for championing and publishing the Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer.


The Chalet School is a series whose first title was published in 1925, and therefore predates Enid Blyton's Malory Towers by 21 years. There can be little doubt that Enid would have had access to Elinor's books - she was well-read and must have derived her inspiration from the huge amount of reading she would have done before considering writing herself. I've read all of the Chalet School books that Ann and Clarissa have very kindly sent me to review in Books Monthly, and they are all great. Some are formulaic in nature, but that can be said of any series book, in my opinion. When I think of series such as Poldark, or the Whiteoaks, there are certain things that happen in each volume, things you come to expect. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, and in many cases is to be welcomed. Of course, girls' school stories (and boys' school stories, for that matter), have a long and illustrious history. I have a book called Totty by Roland Smith that was published in 1908, then serialised in the Commander Books for Boys (1957-1960), and seems much more in keeping with the 1950s than the 1910s, but illustrates the fact that boys' school stories in their "golden age" format have been around for more than 110 years. Experts will no doubt point out that boys' school stories probably originated with Tom Brown, but I'm talking about "modern" stories here.


The Chalet School stories are entirely different to Malory Towers for the simple reason that they were not written by Enid Blyton. Enid's writing style is utterly unique and compelling. That doesn't mean that the Chalet School stories are not compelling, it simply means what I said - they were not written by Enid Blyton. I don't want to get into the question of whether or not Enid Blyton was a bad writer, or that she was not PC, for example. It's irrelevant. You have to accept that she was writing at a time when everything people (critics) nowadays might think was wrong, and probably is wrong now, were accepted, everyday, and harmless.  Narrow-minded people may disagree. The fact remains that Enid found a writing "voice" and founded her career on it. In every series, you can clearly identify "bad" people as distinct from "good" people. I don't see that as a bad thing, and I certainly can't think of an instance in any series where the bad people are black, and in the books I've read about her, there isn't a shred of evidence that Enid was racist. The characters in her major series are broadly similar. Roger and Diana from the Barney mysteries, George, Julian, Anne and Dick from the Famous Five, etc., etc., (you don't need me to list them) have similar backgrounds, with professional fathers (and sometimes mothers), a middle-class upbringing, and an ingrained sense of what is right and wrong, much as we were taught at school and by our parents in the 1950s. It's part of the Blyton appeal. To my mind we've had at least three generations now who have neglected to teach their children right from wrong, and the results are horrendous!


Sometimes Enid broke out of her formula and wrote about "poor" people. For example, one of my favourite EB books is THOSE DREADFUL CHILDREN, which I borrowed from my sister and kept hold of. My need was greater than hers. I just finished watching the CBBC series, Malory Towers: Darrell and Friends, and found it charming, captivating, thilling, tense, superb; all adjectives I would happily use to describe the Enid Blyton books I love and still enjoy reading. I'm now halfway through FIRST TERM AT MALORY TOWERS, and intending to read the entire 6-book series followed by Pamela Cox's second six Malory Towers stories featuring Darrell's younger sister Felicity. I will interrupt that to read the new Stephen King short story collection IF IT BLEEDS, (my limited edition numbered proof copy arrived 14th April). But then it will be back to Malory Towers, followed by St Clares, and probably the Barney Mysteries. Once you've discovered Enid Blyton, you'll always have something to read. As to whether her Malory Towers is the best-ever girls' school story series - to my mind it's a no-brainer - she was a genius, she knew what her readers wanted to read - the answer is a resounding "Yes!"



Next month: The Barney Mysteries...


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.



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Next month on the Enid Blyton page - The Barney Mysteries - and a look at the various artwork styles that grace the covers of some of Enid's series!