I just finished the Sixth Form at St Clare’s today, a continuation in the original St Clare’s series which finished, somewhat abruptly (for me anyway) with the Fifth Form. I was quite happy to see that had written some more books to fill gaps in the series and continue the story on. I found a second-hand copy a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t gotten around to buying them yet as the boxed set went out of print and I was waiting for them to do a new boxed set.
Now I do have all the Naughtiest Girl continuations, which is another of my favourite Blyton series. I got them a couple of years ago, and while they’re written well, I was, as I expected, slightly disappointed. I felt the same way after I finished this one.
They all follow the formula well enough, quite strictly, in fact. In each new term there are new girls, prank-playing fun-loving girls, a new girl who behaves badly who has a secret, a girl left behind a term who the others dislike, and all of this needs sorting out before term ends. These have been included, along with the usual sports games and midnight feasts.
The midnight feasts present the first problem. The books have been modernized, everything from the food, to the currency, to the speech. And it makes them slightly bland. The magic of reading Enid Blyton, and especially the school stories, was that they were written in the forties. You’re transported to another time and place, where everything is fresh and innocent and different.
Now if you’re going to modernize a book on a girls boarding school you need to be realistic, and girls these days are hardly going to be preoccupied only with playing pranks on teachers, studying, playing sports and saving the souls of others. Malory Towers and St Clare’s don’t fit in with today’s world. So why do we need a ten pound note to buy a handbag for a present when a shilling will do? Why don’t we hear quaint terms like ‘jolly’ and ‘smashing’ and ‘wizard’?
And the food. Oh the food. Gone are the days of eating six tomatoes for tea and being called a pig, bread and butter and dripping, hot cocoa and ginger beer. Well, actually there is ginger beer. But it’s not the same. The old days of lighting the fire and boiling the kettle on a hook over the fire and leaving toast to keep warm on the hearth are gone. And where are the buns?
Everything has been replaced with crisps, sausage rolls and sandwiches. How awfully dull. The girls go into town to have a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, not cream-filled buns and cake and tea.
The old midnight feasts were a riot. The vast array of tinned food always fascinated me as a child, Nestle’s condensed milk, tinned pineapple and peaches, prawns, sardines, tongue (although I think that was at an afternoon tea and not a midnight feast) and a host of crazy mixing of food which inevitably made a few girls sick in the morning.
Two of my all-time favourites were tinned prawns dipped into ginger beer, and sardines pressed into ginger bread.
No, sausage rolls and crisps will not satisfy my craving for classic midnight feasts.
So while the books are serviceable, and written well enough, they simply can’t compare with the original. And while it’s perfectly true that Enid Blyton’s actual writing skills were somewhat average, slightly repetitive, and bordered on preachy and elistist in some cases, there is one thing you can’t mimick.
That’s the timeless, child-like world in the mind of Enid Blyton, and that’s why children devoured, and continue to devour her books year after year. Because she was just like a child, and always knew exactly what we wanted, and gave us lashings of it.