Midnight feasts & exciting adventures — why we'll always love boarding school stories

Haven't we all wanted to attend boarding school?

My parents were part of the "clean your plate" club for the longest time. So, I was usually told to finish all my food, or I'd be sent to a boarding school to learn how to do that. This is a standard Indian parenting tactic. Boarding school threats have long been used to trick children into being more disciplined and obedient. 

Unbeknownst to my parents, I had a very different idea of boarding schools in my head.

Scrumptious suppers all around

The moment I had the freedom and wisdom to pick out my own books from the limited catalogue in my neighbourhood library, I devoured Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St. Clare's series. 

Boarding schools became a kind of safe space for me. They represented all things fun and fantastic. Adventures with friends, midnight feasts, mysteries, lacrosse1, and French lessons2. I grew very attached to the idea of being able to live alone and, more importantly, with friends, without the supervision of parents. 

For years as I read and reread those books, I fantasised about going to a boarding school and living that sweet, free life. But, of course, in my head, I was always in England, feasting on scones and drinking ginger ale until the bell for bedtime rang.

Every week, as I borrowed a new book to find out what Darell Rivers got up to at Malory Towers, I was envious. Their school life seemed to be so much more thrilling than mine — my run-of-the-mill evening birthday party paled in comparison to their torch-lit midnight birthday feasts.

When I first went to the UK3, I was thrilled that I could finally sample everything my favourite characters had been feasting on throughout my childhood. 

Now, anyone who had anything other than British food knew what lay in store for me. But, for those who haven't had the misfortune, I'm here to disappoint you with the news that British food sounds better than it tastes.

To her credit, I haven't come across a single writer or critic who could describe food the way Enid Blyton did. She had me (and countless other readers) drooling over juicy, ripe tomatoes (???), sardines, and even boiled eggs — boiled is the last way I like my eggs. 

"Writing during the War years, Blyton also had the innate ability to make food as innocuous as boiled eggs — dipped in a screw of salt — a luxury in an era of rationing, delicious." — Deepa Alexander, for The Hindu.

Thankfully, ginger ale lived up to the way I'd imagined it in my childhood. 

Why boarding school books are evergreen

Deliciously written food aside, I kept returning to boarding school books because of the way the characters created a little family of their own. Early on, I realised I loved reading about found families. Boarding schools were a perfect representation that you could always find people who loved you (and vice versa) even in a new setting. 

As a child, I didn't make friends very easily. There were few children my age where I lived, and school was no picnic either. So the idea of a boarding school was doubly appealing — I would have friends to play with during and after school. 

When grew older and chose my new favourite books, I realised that I continued falling for the boarding school fantasy. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson brought an added joy to my boarding school dreams — magic and monsters. 

Suddenly, boarding schools were portals to new worlds, real adventures, and still so much fun. Even if the magic and monsters weren't real, I felt like a part of their chosen family as I read each book, dreaming of the way I'd interact with them — I "sorted" myself into a house, took quizzes to find out my godly parent, and just, generally wanted a magical experience. 

From a literary perspective, these boarding school books captured children and fledgling teenagers perfectly. The awkwardness of the initial meeting, the slow slope of friendship, the palpable tension and drama during problems, and finally, the indomitable certainty that this friendship was now for life — family, even. 

Bringing childhood dreams to life

My love for boarding school books has far from waned since childhood. In fact, one of my favourite series in recent memory — Murder Most Unladylike is a cross between Malory Towers and Agatha Christie's books. It follows two young girls who pay no heed to the patriarchy and dismissive way adults treat them as they solve murder after murder. The author, herself a fan of boarding school books, shares her perspective on the fundamental aspects of boarding school books —

"....whether your characters are solving crimes or learning how to levitate, there are certain elements that must always feature: bad food (leading to midnight feasts), cold sports fields (leading to hockey matches), hymn-singing and note-passing, Latin, prep and detention. And, most importantly, the kind of intense you-against-the-world friendship that's a huge part of what makes boarding school life bearable."

Whether it's studying at a boarding school for thieves or staying at a year-long summer camp for demigods, creating a home away from home has always been a fascinating thing to read about. 

I never studied at a boarding school, but I certainly lived vicariously through these books. When I was discussing this article with a friend, we thought back to how we liked to read about these adventures because it offered a break from our ordinary, mundane lives. Boarding school books are perfect pieces of escapist literature that have continued to attract readers across all ages — no wonder there are continuously growing lists on Goodreads!

Now that I'm far past the age of attending a boarding, I'm a little sad that I'll never experience the joy of sneaking in food for midnight feasts and getting up to shenanigans with my friends. But there are definitely upsides to being an adult. I can take every single aspect that I love about (the idea of) boarding schools and recreate versions of them.

Sleepovers with friends, late-night dinners, having whatever exotic-sounding food those characters had, I can do it all.

After all, 9 am meetings and French lessons hurt the same amount after a midnight feast.


Please take a moment to tell me what you thought about this issue! Apple's new policies now make my open rates redundant, so this is the only way I can measure your interactions with this newsletter!

💜 Liked it - 😶 No thoughts - ❌ Didn't like it

You can also support me and keep the newsletter going with a coffee!


Reader's Corner 💭

Turns out, self-care isn't the cure for burnout. WBK. Arundhati shared a fascinating TED Talk about what causes burnout and how to recognize it. This also includes transcripts, if, like me, you prefer to consume information by reading over listening. 


Stuff to check out 💌

  • Everyone and their mother in India has already watched this film, and for good reason. Taare Zameen Par follows an 8-year-old in a boarding school. Keep some tissues handy.

  • My friend and I have been loving Drive & Listen — you can listen to radio stations from around the world. As I write this, I'm listening to what's playing on the radio in Seoul, South Korea.

  • Let's be real. So many of us are running on fumes right now. Unfortunately, we've all gotta work to earn our existence. But here's how five-minute joy breaks can help you get through rough workdays. 

  • Here's a valuable thread from Reddit about Life Pro Tips (LPTs) that have made lives better. 

  • The best song you’ll listen to this weekend — My Universe (Coldplay x BTS)

  • Don't want to sleep tonight? Here are some terrifying tales from another Reddit thread for a No Sleep Saturday. 

  • Someone, please tell life to stop —

  • Finally, here's your reminder: 

If you liked this edition, please hit the 🖤 at the top of this email or right under this — it helps more readers find my newsletter!

See you next week!


If you make a purchase on Amazon using the links in this post, I’ll get a small commission at no cost to you that I will most definitely use to buy more books. 

1

With nary a sporting bone in my body — truly the dreams of youth and innocence.

2

I did study French for four years but still managed to horrify the French with my piss-poor skills when I visited in 2018.

3

Funnily enough, while researching for this article, I realised Malory Towers was set at the Cornish seaside — fairly close to where I went to University later in life.