EBD portrays a very different kind of disabled character in her depiction of
Naomi Elton, a central figure in "Trials for the Chalet School". Naomi is a
sixteen year old girl who has a crooked shoulder and walks with a stick as a
result of an accident some years earlier. Allied with this, the reader is
told as the book opens, "her mind has become slightly warped", although it
is not clear exactly how it is warped.
When Naomi appears in the second chapter, the first thing we are told, apart
from her deformity, is that she has a beautiful face, with "cloudy fair hair
framing perfect features". Her voice is musical, but "there was a hardness
about it", while the "perfectly cut mouth was set in thin lines and there
was a crooked twist to the smile which accompanied the words". As she
meets the other girls, it quickly becomes clear that she gets pleasure out
of making them uncomfortable. She refers to herself frequently as 'a
cripple', remarking that she can not carry much herself, and that "Being a
cripple means that one is able to do so little of that sort of thing". The
girls are uneasy with such comments, not knowing what to say, and Naomi is
well aware of this fact: "Naomi knew it quite well and her eyes gleamed as
she saw their discomfort". When Mary-Lou rushes to help her, she rejects
the assistance: "Thank you but I can manage for myself. I am not entirely
helpless", a rebuke that causes even the dauntless Mary-Lou to blush.
Clearly Naomi's deformity goes deeper than her physical difficulty.
A significant factor is then revealed; Naomi is an agnostic, who has never
been baptized and is to attend C of E prayers for this term and then "decide
for herself" which to attend. She is described as a "young pagan", who
"didn't believe in it"; as prayers go on, some hint is given as to why this
is the case. Sensing the devotion of the other girls, and realizing that
they really did believe, "for the first time, she was moved to wonder what
it was like to be so sure of help and comfort". The fact that help and
comfort are what she focuses on, indicate that these are what she lacks, and
this is surely because of the accident which left her body twisted. Such
circumstances make it hard for Naomi to believe in a merciful god. Her real
problem then is not her physical condition, but rather a spiritual one, in
that her experiences have caused a lack of faith.
This is emphasized as the book continues. There are glimmerings of Naomi's
spiritual growth in the first half of the term, firstly as she laughs aloud,
for the first time, on hearing the story of Con's howler over Daniel in the
Lion's den ; secondly when she offers to help type letters during the
scarlet fever epidemic. This, we are told is "the first time almost in her
life, certainly since her accident", that she was moved to help someone in
difficulties. The real development comes, however, at half term.
On the half term trip for the seniors, Naomi and Mary-Lou have a
philosophical discussion one afternoon, in which Naomi explains her
religious feelings, as she talks about her accident.
"Before it happened I was as straight as anyone. I was keen on dancing and
my people promised me I should have my chance to train as a ballet
dancer..Dreadful? You can't begin to know how dreadful. Because my parents
died in the same fire. I lost my father and my mother and my power to dance
all at once. Do you wonder.that I don't believe in God? Or if He really is
there, then He just doesn't care?" 
The issue is set out clearly here. EBD is not only addressing deformity, or
the question of living with disability, she is also trying to address the
question of how to cope spiritually with misfortune.  Naomi's dilemma is
a vehicle for her to explore this idea, and to set forth some kind of answer
During the course of this conversation, Naomi's behaviour towards others is
also discussed. Mary-Lou asks her why she always goes around as if 'you
always had your arm up to protect your head against having your ears boxed',
to which Naomi explains that she hates being pitied and stared at. Mary-Lou
's answer - and presumably EBD's -is to declare that no one would do that if
she behaved naturally, and that people "are awfully given to taking you as
you think of yourself. Of course if that's your idea of yourself, you can't
very well expect them to think differently". Naomi accepts this in silence,
and the implication is that Mary-Lou is right and she does pity herself, an
attitude which seems to be connected to her lack of faith in god. Because
she feels sorry for herself she resents her situation, and therefore cannot
or will not believe - and therefore is unable to receive the consolation
faith would bring her. This had already been indicated earlier, when
Mary-Lou mused to herself:
"She has a big load to carry with her lameness and apparently, she hasn't
anything to fall back on but herself".
In EBD's world, for a disabled person, faith, although possibly harder to
achieve, is even more necessary, and a greater comfort than it is to someone
without handicap. In order for Naomi to achieve 'salvation', she must be
cured spiritually as well as physically, and the two issues are intertwined.
Naomi agrees that if a cure were to be found for her lameness and deformity,
she would believe in God.
It appears a chapter later, however, that the influence of Mary-Lou and co.
has had effect and that the 'conversion' has already taken place. On the
last day of the holiday, the Chalet party is caught by an avalanche, and
take shelter in a hut, in which they are trapped for twenty-four hours.
Mary-Lou heroically saves Naomi by pulling her into the hut as they dash for
it in the snowfall, and strains her back in the process, although EBD does
not emphasise this point unduly ; rather, this episode is a chance for
Naomi to reveal her growing - although wrongly conceived - faith, and to
have her misunderstandings corrected. Naomi admits to being afraid -
"terribly afraid", and the root of her fear is that the avalanche is God's
means of punishing her, presumably for her lack of faith. Mary-Lou
dismisses that at once, for if it were so then God would be punishing
everyone else as well, and that would be unfair: "God's never unfair, let me
tell you" she insists, and once again her certainty seems to impress Naomi
who doesn't sleep, "turning over in her mind what the Head Girl had said to
her during that eventful weekend".
No more is said of Naomi's religious doubts, but from her question to
Mary-Lou it seems that after her first conversation with the Head Girl, she
already does believe in God enough to fear him; the next stage is rather to
love him, and 'truly believe' as the other girls do. This will be followed
by the fulfilment of her wish to be physically cured, (despite the fact that
she had laid this down as a precondition for true belief).
From half term onwards, the impression that Naomi is on the road to
spiritual reformation is maintained. It is Naomi who comes up with the
punishment meted out to the middles who are behind the Lost Property prank
. She is much applauded for this, and as she undresses that night she
"realised she was beginning to feel one with the others", something that had
not happened for several years, and that is attributed to Mary-Lou's
straight talking. Uplifted by this fact, she decides to talk to Dr. Maynard
to see if anything could be done for her, and then, dramatically, she "very
solemnly prayed that this new happiness which seemed to be coming to her
might help her for the future to be like other girls in some things if not
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