What makes the Chalet School series stand out?

Author:  Alison H [ Wed Sep 10, 2008 9:37 pm ]
Post subject:  What makes the Chalet School series stand out?

Just been re-reading some of the Enid Blyton school stories for the first time in years and, whilst they're enjoyable in their way, they really don't stand up well in comparison to the CS books. I was trying to think exactly what makes the CS series so good (despite all the little niggles we have with it) and just wondered what everyone else thought. The main points I came up with were:

1. Length of series - you get to "know" the main characters very well and see them grow up.
2. Locations - I always thought that being at Malory Towers and being able to swim in the sea sounded good, but it never seemed nearly as good as being in Austria (or Switzerland) with all those lovely lakes and mountains (and accompanying adventures and accidents :lol: ).
3. Seeing people out of school, either in the holidays or just on expeditions - again, you get to "know" people well.
4. General school ethos - much nicer and less bitchy than most schools in books!
5. Better character development/discussions of more profound issues than in most other school stories.
6. Inclusion of staff as well as pupils as major characters.
7. Internationalism (is that a word?) - most other GO schools have a caricatured French mistress but other than that everyone is from English-speaking countries.
8. Maybe the fact that we "know" the school from its birth, so to speak.

I;m sure I've missed all sorts of major points, though ...

Author:  Alex [ Wed Sep 10, 2008 9:58 pm ]
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I agree with all your points, Alison. The only other thing I could think of was:

Massive cast - the same group of people aren't always being focused on. Even in the later swiss books, which obviously aren't up to the rest of the series, we get to see a lot of different groups of people - Jack & co, Ailie & co, Trips etc.

And better food of course. :lol:

Author:  miss_maeve [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:26 am ]
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I don't really know how to compare Blyton/Brent Dyer books.
My problem is, that I read St Clares/Naughtiest Girl/Malory Towers books when i was much younger - from about seven or eight. I didn't get my first Chalet book until I was about 12 or 13, by which time I'd grown out of Blyton stories.
The Chalet books do deal, in some ways, with more grown up issues that Blyton books, like illnesses, and marriages and children, although I would guess that's because of the length of the Chalet series. With Malory Towers for example, the series starts with Darrell's arrival at school, and ends with her leaving. No indication of what happened to her after she left the school unlike Jo, Simone etc.

Author:  JS [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:45 am ]
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Agree with everything Alison said. Also, I seem to remember the CS books were longer (especially the library hardbacks) and as an absolute bookworm child, that was a real attraction for me.

Author:  Mez [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:15 am ]
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I too agree with Alison's points.

I reread some of my Mallory Towers last month for the first time in a while and left the biggest impression on me was the shallowness of the character development. I used to love Darrell but this time round I didn't sympathise with her at all. One of the ones I reread was when Sally doesn't return at the beginning of the term due to a quarantine (I think) and Darrell is "forced" to team up with Alicia. She realises that perhaps Alicia can be a little cruel at times and my first reaction was finally!!

Author:  Maeve [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 10:10 am ]
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Everything you say is pretty bang on, Alison, although I think Antonia Forest's Kingscote books do an even better job with your points 5 & 6:
5. Better character development/discussions of more profound issues than in most other school stories.
6. Inclusion of staff as well as pupils as major characters.

Her schoolgirls and teachers are the most interesting and complicated/flawed I've ever encountered in GO lit and there are also some very good discussions about faith and careers and moral issues, etc.

What I would add to the list is the exoticness of the whole idea - you kind of touched on this when you mentioned locations - just the radicalness of having an English school in the Tyrol and then all the other places they ended up, and lessons in three languages, etc.

Another thing I like about the sheer length of the CS series is that when I get tired/bored with one part of the series - the Tyrol years or the Guernsey/St. Briavel years or the Swiss years - I can pick up a book from another part of the series to suit my mood.

Author:  JayB [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 10:43 am ]
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EBD's attention to detail. The endless descriptions of uniforms and dormitories and school routine in the Swiss books do become tedious after many times of reading them, but they do mean that one can visualise exactly the girls' appearance and their surroundings and daily routine.

A girl picking up a Swiss book at random as her first Chalet book would be drawn immediately into the world, even if she didn't understand who a lot of the characters were and how they fitted into the story.

And yes, I agree with others - the exotic locations, especially at the time EBD was writing when fewer people travelled outside the UK. And the soap opera aspect, whereby one can follow characters not just through their schooldays but through their whole lives.

Author:  Ela [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 11:48 am ]
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I think that a lot of the pleasure of returning to the Chalet School books is, despite "bad" characters appearing for the sake of the plot, and the presence of death and illness, the Chalet-world is very pleasant and safe. Good always will out, and bad girls are either reformed or (rarely) expelled. EBD seems to treat her characters with love, and invests them with excellent qualities. Even if you didn't identify with Joey, or Mary-Lou, or Len, there were plenty of other characters to take an interest in, and see how they progress through their schooldays.

For me, a lot of the exoticism of the settings is because they are so distinctly of their time, and so distinctly different to my life when I first started reading them, and now.

Author:  Abi [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 6:16 pm ]
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I agree with all the above points. I also find the Chalet School books more interestingly written than the Blyton ones, for example. EBD's vocabulary is much wider than Blyton's; her characters have more distinct voices; even her sentence structure is more complex and varied than Blyton's , which all makes for a far more interesting read.

Apart from that, as everyone else has said, it's a lot to do with the fact that we really get to know these people and see them in all (or nearly all!) aspects of life, not just at school. The characters are more complex, rather than stereotypical as many of Blyton's have a tendency to be.

Author:  Loryat [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 6:25 pm ]
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Agree with everything above, especially the points about Antonia Forest. Though I think it's a bit unfair to compare the brilliant Kingscote novels with CS, as I would argue that CS are school stories while Anonia Forest's scool stories just happen to be set in a school.

I think for me the main difference is just that EBD is a much better writer than most school story authors, and the length of the series.

Author:  Zoomzoom [ Fri Sep 12, 2008 7:27 am ]
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I have also just re read the Mallory Towers series by Enid Blyton as an adult. I came to the conclusion that they were fine for me as a child and were very simply written and easy to read. As a teenage and an adult I found them very dull and childish and am happy to ignore them..

Now the CS series are a different matter and they have stayed with me from childhood to adulthood. I am still reading them and I want to read the books missing from my collection. I have been collecting the series since I was 12 and as I am reaching my 50's it's quite a long time to stick with a set of books .

So far these are the only books to do this, other books have been read and cast aside but not the CS, they take me into a different world far removed from my own and I actually want to read the next book in the series.

For me these books are unique and nothing will ever equal them..


Author:  jennifer [ Fri Sep 12, 2008 8:34 am ]
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I think one of the key reasons that the CS remains readable well into adulthood is the fact that the perspective of the staff is included, as well as the students. Rather than being faceless authoritarian stereotypes, the staff are people, with opinions and feelings of their own. So when you read the books as an adult, you have that adult perspective their, as well as the child one.

I also agree that the sheer length of the series is a plus (quality of the later Swiss books notwithstanding) which lets us see many of the characters grow up and start families of their own.

Re exoticness - for me, British boarding school stories are exotic, so it's hard to say.

Author:  JayB [ Fri Sep 12, 2008 9:41 am ]
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Something which I've come to appreciate more over time is the sense of period one gets from reading the Tyrol and War books. As far as EBD was concerned of course she was writing contemporary fiction, so she didn't need to attempt to create a 'period' feel. But from a 21st century perspective she succeeded very well at creating a sense of what it was like in Austria in the 20s/30s or in England in the war years.

Author:  Mez [ Fri Sep 12, 2008 11:10 pm ]
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Sense of period for the war books, now that JayB has mentioned it and reminded me, is probably one of the main factors for me. When rereading from the beginning I do feel a sense of apprehension as I know this ideal world will come crashing down around them, and for some of the characters there will be no happy ending (Luigia). I think you can see the war being foreshadowed from Exploits onwards with the arrival of Thekla and the discussion about Nazism (I hope I've id'ed the right book!).

Author:  JayB [ Sat Sep 13, 2008 10:54 am ]
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I think you can see the war being foreshadowed from Exploits onwards with the arrival of Thekla and the discussion about Nazism

Yes. And it's amazingly prescient of EBD, since at the time of writing Exploits she didn't know the Anschluss and the War were going to happen. I think, although we tend to think of the CS as existing in its own cosy universe, it was much more tied in to real world events than many other school stories, at least until the return to Switzerland.

Angela Brazil wrote some books with a WWI or WWII setting, but Malory Towers or St Clare's could probably take place at any time from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Author:  Mel [ Sat Sep 13, 2008 11:32 am ]
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Yes I think it's the sense of place that appeals to me. Certainly not the plots, as the constant accidents begin to jar quite early on. She also subtly makes the school change to fit the environment. At first in Tyrol, rather quaint, very Continental and in an idyllic setting; briefly in Guernsey with the threat of war. At Plas Howells, it becomes an esteemed British boarding school, set in the traditional grand mansion with again the war in the background. A change on the island, with plenty of island activities, birds, regattas, seaside etc to give it a new flavour. When the school moves to its final home it is modern, stylish uniform, skiing, excursions and definitely an exclusive school with the finishing branch close by.

Author:  tiernsee [ Thu Sep 25, 2008 12:00 pm ]
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I too recently purchased the boxed set of Malory Towers, and was disappointed when I re-read them. I read far more Enid Blyton as a child than I did EBD and now looking back the main difference for me is the style of writing. Blyton's school books are children's books, sentence structure is simple, the characters are one dimensional and the school year is covered in one book, so are very superficial.

EBD's books are just better written (well, ignoring the later ones). I remember having to get a dictionary to understand some of the words (insouciance springs to mind), the characters felt more rounded and because the stories, on the whole, only covered a term did not seem so rushed or superficial.

As an adult I still get exceptional enjoyment out of re-reading the Chalet School books, the Malory Towers boxed set I have put on my 3 year old daughter's bookcase for her to grow into!

Author:  Susan [ Thu Sep 25, 2008 2:22 pm ]
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I too just bought a set of Malory Towers, I never kept my Blytons - think my sister had them and they got binned or passed to cousins when she had finished with them.

Oddly enough whilst I was reading them (first time in over 40 years) I was comparing them to CS. They are much shallower in plot and character development than CS and whilst everything works out in CS land there are a few pitfalls along the way, accidents happen and not everyone impoves in one term (Thekla for example) but in MT problems are solved very quickly. Also in CS the staff are shown as adults and we see them grow and change with the school, at MT the staff are staff and don't really interact with the girls out of school. The CS throughout the series keeps the perspective on mixed ages but MT the forms never seem to mix.

I love the changing locations and growing up in the sixties Austria and Switzerland seemed so exotic.

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