Swallows and Amazons
by Arthur Ransome
This 1929 novel spawned like a fish. Its first offspring were a series of books, twelve completed and one unfinished, featuring such titles as Coot Club, Pigeon Post, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, and The Picts and the Martyrs: Or Not Welcome At All. It also spawned a whole genre of "school holidays" adventures in which British kids get up to all kinds of exciting things between terms. For example, the successful 1937 novel The Far-Distant Oxus was written by two teenage fans of this series. Who ever said that fanfic would get you nowhere?
Based in part on the author's own childhood outings in England's Lake District, and in part on the adventures of some young friends when he retired there later in life, Swallows and Amazons draws an irresistable picture of the fantasy world inhabited by six daring and active children. Who wouldn't envy them their ability to sail up and down a fictional lake, jointly based on Britain's Windermere and Coniston Water? Who wouldn't thrill to a two-week campout on an uninhabited island, combining fishing and swimming with make-believe games about explorers, pirates, marooned sailors, and naval battles? Who wouldn't enjoy a visit to a coal-burner's hut, an adventure with real live burglars and their buried loot, a nighttime cutting-out expedition, and hand-to-hand combat on the deck of the dread Captain Flint's retirement yacht?
Well, some of us probably wouldn't have enjoyed those things, when we were pudgy, bookish children with a horror of biting insects. But then again, some of us can also look back fondly on our own real-life sailing adventures (few and brief as they may have been) and will agree that such a summer holiday is greatly to be envied. With Arthur Ransome's aid, we can read ourselves into the charming fantasy of the Walker and Blackett children. It's a remarkable fantasy, where adults are "natives" and adult concerns are a silly conceit that we humor from time to time, and where a make-believe world of sailors and pirates is the "reality" to which we must return for our sanity's sake.
It's got the charms of a little boy named Roger, first seen running zig-zag up a field, pretending to be a ship tacking into the wind; a slightly-less-little girl named Titty (I kid you not) whose unexpected daring saves the day more than once; a motherly sister named Susan, who sometimes seems more old-fashioned than their sisterly mother; a physically impressive specimen in older brother John, who knows all about climbing trees and swimming around whole islands, and who can't wait to join the Navy like his father; not to mention the Blackett sisters, a chatty child called Peggy and a "ruthless" virago called Nancy. By the end of the book you will have stopped asking yourself why you couldn't have siblings and childhood friends like them. You'll have made up your mind that you do.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 10+
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