On Malory Towers, fandom, fanfiction, et al.

Recent search terms for this blog included references to Sir Humphrey but also “pamela cox” malory towers bill clarissa bedrooms (all in one). I have documented elsewhere the fact that Bill and Clarissa allegedly sleep in separate bedrooms in the sequels, where they are living together, horsey-spinster-style, so I presume it was a fruitful search for whoever was looking.

And then I also got an email from someone wanting to know what I thought of the ‘homosexual fandom’, particularly asking whether I felt that people writing Bill/Clarissa fic were just lucky that the copyright holders hadn’t clamped down on them yet.

Well. No. There’s been a lot of fairly crazy discussion about fanfiction in the last few months, and indeed there always has been, but – dude! Fanfiction is a terrific thing. It’s about engaging with and commenting on the existing text – it’s sort of like postcolonial literature but infinitely more interesting. And why exactly should Bill/Clarissa be a less valid concept to play around with than anything else? There’s Malory Towers pro fic, those mad German sequels, in which Darrell goes all Matron-y – which if you ask me is a far crazier reading of and response to the text (in which the girls leave the school to go off and have careers, and not just traditional caring/nurturing ones either) than suggesting that Bill and Clarissa might have been having a bit of a thing down in the stables. We don’t know that they weren’t, and the only reasons to think that it’s ‘wrong’ to contemplate such a thing usually involve some variation of ‘well, Enid Blyton clearly never intended such a thing!’ and ‘these are children’s books!’

Fanfiction is not an editorial introduction nor is it an author biography. It is commentary. Criticism. A response. A reflection. It is not included in the original text. It may well influence a reading of the original text, but like criticism you can choose whether or not to read it – it’s not like you’re going to be tricked into reading it, as though Blyton fanfic writers are lurking around every corner thrusting sheets of schoolgirl porn into the hands of unsuspecting children. Fanfiction, much more so than anything you’ll find in a bookshop, is extraordinarily good at warnings and markers to indicate potentially unwanted content. And it also knows the difference between ‘sexual content’ and ‘homoerotic content’, which apparently anti-fanfic types don’t. I’m sure there’s a Venn diagram out there somewhere that conveys this.

About clairehennessy

Writer (mostly YA fiction), creative writing teacher, tea drinker, book junkie. View all posts by clairehennessy

10 responses to “On Malory Towers, fandom, fanfiction, et al.

  • Elizabeth

    Wait, Bill is a girl? Really? (This is what I get for not looking things up on Wikipedia the second I first hear about them.)

    I looked on GraphJam for a fanfic Venn diagram for you, but didn’t see one. I did like this one, though.

    • clairehennessy

      Bill is short for Wilhemina. She prefers to be called Bill because she’s so tomboyish and has six or possibly seven brothers and they were all raised together and she has a wide, freckled, boyish face. Classic Blyton trope!

      Where is Sisko on that graph? *sad* (Though what is there is very true.)

  • Margaret

    I really like this description of fanfiction. I think it’s about the most awesome description of it I’ve ever heard.

    And yeah, I don’t see why the copywright holders should be expected to clamp down on Bill/Clarissa fanfiction any more than anything else. It doesn’t surprise me though. Some people seem to be of the opinion that any hint of a relationship between two women or two men is “adult content”. I think if I were an author and people started writing fanfiction of my work, there’d be plenty of things that would be far more likely to bother me if I came across them than characters having a same-sex relationship. Like turning strong, career focussed female characters into people who care about nothing but getting the attention of the guy they’ve a crush on.

    Darrell as Matron is something I really can’t imagine. Mary-Lou now, I could imagine as Matron. But if they wanted to bring Darrell back, it would have made more sense to make her become an English teacher or something. Not even sure that that would work, but at least it would fit with her studying English at university.

    In the Chalet School, they were always having “old girls” coming back as members of staff and there’s a Dimsie book I haven’t read called Dimsie goes back which I guess would be something like that, so I guess they are following in that tradition. But still it sounds really weird.

    I haven’t actually read any Malory Towers fanfiction. I must go and check it out sometime. I’m a little doubtful of how much I’d find that would be true to the time period and have actual storylines, instead of just pairing people up. Not that there’s anything wrong with just pairing people up. Just not what I’d want to read.

    • clairehennessy

      Thanks muchly, Margaret!

      Mmm, indeed. Same-sex relationships are ‘adult’ whereas opposite-sex relationships are so totally embedded in society that they’re never even considered as a thing.

      I could see Darrell as an English teacher, absolutely! With a sort of twinkle in her eye and too stern to have tricks played upon her but generally a good sport, and she’d be so supportive of the girls… Matron, on the other hand, is not a role for her. I can see why it might have been appealing to have a follow-on with some of the old girls back, a la Chalet School, but more thought could have gone into it, surely!

      Much of it is very fitting for the time period, I’ve found – I’m sure there’s some truly dreadful stuff out there as there always is, but in general it’s fairly true to the source text. With extra girlish snuggling.

  • ladychristinadesouza

    Have you considered starting your own Blyton site?

    http://enidblyton.net/ and http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/ are both good resources

  • Sarah

    I love ALL of this post but especially this bit:

    Fanfiction, much more so than anything you’ll find in a bookshop, is extraordinarily good at warnings and markers to indicate potentially unwanted content.

    Because it is so very true – even moreso than ever, in recent years. If there’s one thing Fandom has learned how to do, it’s make sure there are warnings plastered all over anything that might not be child-friendly.

    (Also, I love that it is always homosexual fandom and not gay fandom. I only ever seem to see the word ‘homosexual’ used in that disapproving moral-outrage context.)

    • clairehennessy

      Why thank you! And yep – fanfiction is so, so, so careful about labelling things. And not just for kids, but for adults – do we ever see novels in bookshops with little stickers saying ‘might be triggering’?

      I am often reminded of Alan Shore of Boston Legal delightfulness who points out to the judge that ‘ho-mo-sexual’ is actually one word. And yes. It goes hand-in-hand with moral outrage, but, you know, not in a homosexual way or anything.

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