The first title in Arthur Ransome's classic series, originally published in 1930: for children, for grownups, for anyone captivated by the world of adventure and imagination. Swallows and Amazons introduces the lovable Walker family, the camp on Wild Cat island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett.
Arthur Michell Ransome (January 18, 1884 – June 3, 1967) was an English author and journalist. He was educated in Windermere and Rugby.
In 1902, Ransome abandoned a chemistry degree to become a publisher's office boy in London. He used this precarious existence to practice writing, producing several minor works before Bohemia in London (1907), a study of London's artistic scene and his first significant book.
An interest in folklore, together with a desire to escape an unhappy first marriage, led Ransome to St. Petersburg, where he was ideally placed to observe and report on the Russian Revolution. He knew many of the leading Bolsheviks, including Lenin, Radek, Trotsky and the latter's secretary, Evgenia Shvelpina. These contacts led to persistent but unproven accusations that he "spied" for both the Bolsheviks and Britain.
Ransome married Evgenia and returned to England in 1924. Settling in the Lake District, he spent the late 1920s as a foreign correspondent and highly-respected angling columnist for the Manchester Guardian, before settling down to write Swallows and Amazons and its successors.
Today Ransome is best known for his Swallows and Amazons series of novels, (1931 - 1947). All remain in print and have been widely translated.
Arthur Ransome died in June 1967 and is buried at Rusland in the Lake District.
The Swallow's crew is made up of four sibling children giving the freedom to adventure during their Summer holiday in the Lake District in 1920s England, they sail(!), boat, trek, build etc. as well as battle, truce and have not necessarily all-good interactions with the adults. It is as it says on the tin, this is no coming of age drama, it's literally what the Swallow and Amazon boat crews get up to, most playing in an around the lakes... yet Ransome wrote and plotted it so well, you get drawn into their universe!
Oh, and it's intelligent, funny and poignant at times. Another huge plus is Ransome has the girls doing just as much boys, with very little, if any gender specific characterisations. It always annoys me when some readers excuse a writer's gender bias, racism, ignorance etc. because 'that's what it was like back then'; because 'back then' there were people who did believe in equality and wrote thus! Sorry for the digression, this modern classic is worth adding to your must-read-before-I-die list, this was my first time reading, and on completion can see how powerful a read this was for children in the mid-2oth Century, although I should stress I don't know whether modern kids would get much from this now. 8 out of 12., Four Star read.
Recently watched the 1974 British film adaption of the 1930 novel Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, which in turn, prompted me to read the book.
How wonderful to see kids being allowed to experience life in a way that they’re no longer able to do, sailing to a small island on a lake, setting up camp, the simple joy of the outdoors. Fun and engaging for children and adults alike.
"BETTER DROWNDED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN."""
I think it's unfair that Swallows and Amazons books are classified as children's. This has got no age limit! I - not having read any books from Swallows and Amazons series before - found this to be a fantastic read that is full of adventure as well as humor. when I started reading this, I had some doubt as to whether it would seem an uninteresting read or at least not really suited for adults. Well... it didn't need more than a few pages to clear all it away. This book will keep you laughing till you cry.
The four cheerful and active siblings of swallows, and the amazons quickly became personal favorites of mine. At times, it felt somewhat similar to Tom Sawyer, and other times, like one of those Famous Five stories, but still unique in its own way. I assure you, if you did give this a try - regardless of your age - you'll soon looking for the next book of the series. And you wouldn't be disappointed either, for there are 11 books more!
"Allawallacallacacuklacaowlacaculla," said Titty. "That means that we can't possibly tell you because you're a native... a nice native of course." "Burroborromjeeboomding," said Mother. "That means that I don't care where she is so long as she is all right."
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.
Swallows and Amazons, despite it being a popular old-fashioned children's book that almost every adult in England would have read, has never been on my radar and I don't think I'd ever even heard of it before. I imagine it's because some people think that Titty would make me laugh (there was a titter, but I am English).
There's not a lot I can really say about this book, despite nearly giving it five stars. It was just written so well and simply that I could not find many faults. The flow of the book was almost perfect and we went from one day on Wild Cat Island with the children to the next with ease. All the elements were pretty simple, but it just worked.
The plot and writing may have been very simple but they were very effective. It is a book to be read at ease. It will not challenge your mind and it probably won't make you think (except about the atrocious manner in which we fear leaving our children alone for even five minutes, not because we are uptight but because it is easier to be a monster now) and it definitely won't tax you mentally. It is simply a great adventure novel for children.
A small note on why it was not five stars (because I know how precious we find them and seriously we take ratings) and that's because it simply did not give me the five star feeling. I've felt it before and I'll feel it again, but it wasn't here.
This was a book that I never took to as a child. The sailing, the fantasy of being an explorer, making camps on islands or lake shores were appealing, but maybe too alien and unreal for an inner city child who occasionally got to go out on the row boats in London parks, or maybe it was simply the kind of childhood that I would have wanted as a child cooped up in a flat with no garden and cruelly forbidden from thundering down the stairs - like an elephant as my mother would have it, despite her lack of acquaintance with domesticated elephants, but didn't have - safer to leave the book on the shelf rather than feel disappointed.
However there was a time when I had a compass that I carried about whenever I could and a big ungainly multi-functional penknife that I insisted on using to eat with. The age when simple tools (or perhaps ridiculously impractical tools) like that are exciting is the age that this book was written for.
It is a wholesome story of children having boat related adventures in the English Lake District in the circa 1930. Children camp out on island, make friends and war with other children as well as having difficulties that are resolved with the adult world. Sadly the political adventures of Arthur Randsome's earlier life in newly Bolshevik Russia don't play a part but you can't have everything, well certainly not in 1930.
Reading as an adult I felt there was enough humour for any grown up to enjoy while reading it aloud for the younger non-reader, the technical vocabulary might be stretching (that's not necessarily a bad thing, but worried adults may wish to prepare themselves in advance of any questions). On the plus side gender is less of an issue than one might fear given its vintage, the girls handle boats and make camp too, take the lead in searching for buried treasure, save the day, win the battle on a couple of occasions and also play at being Robinson Crusoe. The earnestness of the children is a delight.
They sail around in boats and have jolly good fun.
I am amazed how little I remember about this book, which I know I read when I was about nine. Some of the things I read then I can recall in fair detail, and for many others there are still key scenes or plot elements that stay sharp. This one: total blank. Sorry, Mr. Ransome. Maybe aliens have operated on my brain.
I feel like I heard about this book throughout my childhood [I believe that the author wrote the introduction to one of my favorite childhood books, The Far-Distant Oxus, which was heavily influenced by this book], but I never came across a copy. I finally got around to reading it...
I do wish I'd read it as a child, and I hope that kids today are reading it (although they probably aren't). It's the sort of book that just doesn't seem to get published today.
Four young siblings ask permission to camp out on an island in a lake during their summer vacation. They do so, meet a couple of other children, and play at piracy... It's an ode to imagination and summer idylls - but what's striking about it is its clear intention to inspire. I liked all the details that make the reader feel fully equipped to do all the things the characters are shown doing. The author accomplishes this without ever being patronizing or detracting from the flow of the story.
These are very, very good children. They are responsible, thoughtful and obedient (I thought they could've had a little bit more mischief or... something. I think the goody-goody aspect is why this didn't quite make it up to 5 stars). But most of all, they are self-reliant and capable. Their parents recognize that for children to learn, you have to let them off a leash and supervise from a distance. There is none of the gender bias that one might expect from a book published in 1930. (OK, except for the mother asking the absent (military) father's permission before giving her blessing to the expedition - but getting both parents' approval for a major undertaking isn't that unreasonable.)
No, not every child has the luxury of having this kind of summer vacation... but every child can dream about having their own boat to play pirates with - and every child can be inspired by the practical skills that these kids incorporate into their adventures. The book doesn't even feel dated... with one exception: tent technology sure has progressed since the 1930s (even since the 1970s!)
Remember the first time I read this book, it was in reading class when I was about 10 years old...40 years ago! Man how time flies. I distinctly remember about thirty in the class, mixed boys and girls and how exited we were to have our turn to read a paragraph. I remember the story was used a lot when I was in primary school. We went to Botley camp in Somerset and there must of been 80 children from different schools and only 6 teachers to look after us. Oh! The nostalgia. We actually reenacted the story and dressed up, made bows and arrows, split into two huge groups and had sooooo! Much fun. How the teachers pulled it off was a miracle. I suppose forty years ago life was more romantic and innocent back then. 👍🐯
Oh! And at the end of the day we had a huge fire and barbecue. Everybody sat around the fire singing camp songs...that is camp as in camping out in the woods songs not this modern take on the English language. He! He! 🐯👍
I wrote a review of this and it disappeared. It was a good review, too, nicely scathing about the tedium and the kids playing with matches and ending with a reference to Heart of Darkness as a metaphor for British colonialism.
That it disappeared only solidifies in my mind the idea that it was the finest review I've ever written, or ever will write.
This is a superficially simple tale about four siblings spending a week camping on a small island. They meet two local sisters and play pirates with them. I'm sure if I had read it as a child myself I would have loved the concept. As an adult I found it a little hard to get into at first. Not much happens actionwise in the first half of the book. The kids set up camp and we get a lot of useful information about boating. However, as the days pass and the characters' personalities became more developed, I found myself really liking them and enjoying their immersion in their imaginations. They are mature and resourceful in ways that are believable for their ages, and sometimes make mistakes. I particularly liked how well the kids get along, something siblings hardly ever seem to do in contemporary stories for children.
Many readers do seem to have both very much enjoyed Arthur Ransome's 1930 Swallows and Amazons and also tend to possess nostalgic remembrances of the novel from their own childhoods. But for me, yes indeed and also most frustratingly and annoyingly, my first personal encounter with Swallows and Amazons and as an older reader (in my fifties) has not at all been the pleasure for which I had been hoping but rather a totally and utterly forgettable, annoyingly tedious long and massively yawn-inducing reading slog.
Now I am actually NOT someone who has general and usual reading issues and reservations with textual descriptions (and even with a given novel containing many illustrative representations and in fact also minutely detailed ones). However and yes indeed, what is being described to and for me as a reader must also and equally be rendered, must be penned engagingly and also (usually) without the over-use of topic or theme specific jargon. And no, the almost endless seeming sailing and boating vocabulary found rather en masse in Swallows and Amazons (and right from the beginning of Arthur Ransome's featured narrative) has indeed been bothering and frustrating me so very much that in order to actually be able and willing to complete Swallows and Amazons and not be tempted to abandon it as yet another did not finish book, I indeed needed to constantly be skimming as my massive irritation with this sailing jargon and also the rather incessant repetition of it really did increase exponentially the more I was reading.
Furthermore but importantly, for a novel that is supposed to be depicting and showing imaginative adventure, discovery and two groups of children joyfully playing at being pirates at sea, for the first two-hundred pages or so of Swallows and Amazons (at least in my humble opinion), surprisingly very little bona fide action and adventure actually even takes place (and also, that in Swallows and Amazons in particular the characters of both Susan and Roger Walker are overly stereotyped, this has really and truly been and continues to be a major bone of contention for me, with Susan appearing as primarily and simply a typical "mother" figure whose only real and important role seems to be managing the cooking, taking care of the Walkers' home away from home and Roger generally being shown by Arthur Ransome as someone with really no defining personality traits at all except that he is still really quite young and prior to the arrival of Victoria, the baby of the Walker family).
Combined with the fact that I have also felt majorly uncomfortable with how throughout Swallows and Amazons both the Walker and the Blackett siblings are so often playing at, pretending to be encountering and sometimes even fighting with so-called natives and savages (a sign of the times perhaps, but it still does make me rather cringe to hear John Walker kind of even if just in jest be denigrating the Dixons as native savages, as there is in my opinion also a sense of British upper middle class superiority to and disdain for farmers, for the peasantry present in and with John's attitude), I really did not end up at all finding Swallows and Amazons either enjoyable to read or in any manner engaging, and as such only a one star reading experience for me (albeit that I am still glad to finally have read Swallows and Amazons and to be able to now point out and make the justified claim that no, Swallows and Amazons definitely has not been a novel to and for my reading tastes).
I grew up reading Enid Blyton -- The Famous Five, the Adventure books, the boarding school stories -- and I loved the plucky, rosy-cheeked English children with their tinned pineapple and potted meat sandwiches, camping in farmers' fields or on rocky wind-swept islands, and getting involved with amusing and/or villainous foreigners who were scorned or pitied for not being English. I was too young at the time to notice or be bothered by all the casual racism and misogyny which makes Blyton mostly unreadable now.
I never read Arthur Ransome until a few years ago, but gosh would I have loved it back then. The Swallows and Amazons books are like Enid Blyton's adventures written by a much better writer, starring funnier kids, with parents that aren't appallingly neglectful. Really excellent.
This is the first book in the Swallows and Amazons series.
The Swallows are four siblings with a whole summer of adventures ahead of them. They receive permission form their parents to sail to a nearby island, at the centre of a lake bordering their summer home, and make camp there. They do just that, leaving the 'natives' far behind as they explore the uninhabited and unexplored natural world before them.
The movie adaptation for this novel was one of my childhood favourites but I had not ever read the original, until now. It entirely lived up to my nostalgic memories of this storyline, as the adaptation proved to be a very close one.
The book that truly made me fall in love with books. How I longed to be part of that little gang with freedom, boats, picnics, adventures etc. I vividly recall passing my 11+ exam (those of you of a certain age will understand) and my parents buying me a 'proper' typewriter. How I adored that machine! I used to sit at my 'desk' typing out great chunks of this book. No idea quite why I did so, but I can only assume it was bound up with my love for it.
My daughter Arwen always loved this book, and I found her a copy from 1939 this year for Christmas. So of course I read it.
It's among the most charming childrens' books I've ever read. It has a marvelous blending of real life and imagination (and I'm sure it was an inspiration to CS Lewis for his Narnia books. Though they soon go off into a purely imaginative land, they begin in a world where a wardrobe can be a doorway to another world.) Swallows and Amazons is like that, about the way that children can wrap a cloak of imagination around their activities.
But the book (and, I imagine, its sequels) are also immensely practical, filled with cleverly inserted information about sailing technique, how to camp out, and how to be resourceful.
Up there with Anne of Green Gables as one of the great childrens' books of all time, I think.
UPDATE: Well, it's been nearly a year and we're nearing the end of the series. Still going strong and finding the books just as wonderful! Because of these books, Logan started taking wilderness awareness classes, got a pocket knife for his birthday, and basically began taking an interest in physical and outdoor things more. We've read many, many books, but I imagine these will be a big part of his memories of childhood reading. And I must put in a plug for the Brilliance Audio versions read by Alison Larkin. We've listened to all of these books in the car and she's got a wonderful reading style and does amazing, but not over-the-top, accents. We own all the paper books, but I am so glad we went with the audio books for this series. They really give the flavor of the "Yawkshuh" environment. Next goal: To visit England so we can see the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads!
Logan doesn't give many things 5 stars, but he really thought this story was something special. It has almost all the ingredients he likes: A group of friends/siblings has an adventure, with all the comradery and loyalty that entails; there's danger but not TOO much danger; and through independence and self-reliance kids manage on their own. It reminded him of Swiss Family Robinson, which he has listened to at least twice, except with kids. He's almost 10 and I think would like to be able to have the independence that these kids, who range in age from 7 to about 13, have. They spend several nights without adults on a "desert island" in the middle of a lake, sailing back and forth to the mainland every morning to collect milk and eggs, cooking over an open fire, and generally getting along without supervision and constant advice. I wish he could too. But he'd need a group of kids and I doubt very much that in this day of fear and anxiety that I could find any other parents willing to let their kids try that out. This book has inspired him to want to learn some survival skills and maybe together, we could try "roughing it" in the approved Swallows and Amazons way.
That's something I really like about these books. In a review of a different book, Eric Linklater wrote, "It is perhaps, Mr. Ransome's happiest gift to dress all his invention in good workmanlike clothes. He makes a tale of adventure a handbook to adventure." Yep, this series is like a guide book on camping and sailing. Ransome doesn't just say, "They made camp." He describes every detail from erecting the tents, to ensuring the fire stays going all night, to how they made their beds. And yet it's effortless, not boring or teacherly. We learned what "leading lights" are, so you can navigate into a harbor at night. We learned how to mark a trail. We learned that when you scrape the scales from a pike, they pop everywhere and get in your hair. The level of detail is fascinating and I think one of the draws for Logan.
He liked all the characters, but his favorite was Titty (yes, Titty. You get used to it), who is the most imaginative and daring, without being as bossy as Nancy Blackett. The only thing this book was missing was a ship's cat. Can't wait to listen to the next book!
This book is somewhat magical - it takes you back to a time when not only childhood was more innocent and carefree but life and the world itself more wholesome and adventurous. If I could choose any decade in which to live, the 20s would probably be first or second choice and Swallows & Amazons is testament to that. The whole novel is a mix of childhood delight in the power of imagination and the timeless appeal of the great outdoors. I think a lot of its charm comes from the fact that this is not just a book written in the era of sailing boats and genuine global exploration, it is a book written from the child's perspective of these exciting things, thus romanticising it all the more. It's only when you think that the kids in the book would all be in their early 90s now that you realise those times aren't all that far away - there are people alive that will have grown up like this. Thereby making it all the more agonising that such antics just don't seem achieveable these days. Camping out alone on an island alone, in charge of a sailing boat and being allowed to charge about pretending to be pirates...fantastic.
This is a kid's book but lord knows how they're expected to get through 418 pages while keeping their attention span. In a way though the length is the only deviation from the fact that this isn't principally aimed at adults. For instance, in terms of the language, sentences are sometimes unintentionally humourous with their non-sequiters - it is isn't unusual for a chapter to end with a random utterance from a character like "'I'm tired', said John". I don't know if kids these days would 'get' the language and terms of reference so in a way, Swallows & Amazons has almost become a book that is best read by adults. I hasten to add though, that this is truly a shame because it is an absolutely splendid immersive experience.
All in all, it makes one ache for not only the simpler times of childhood but the simpler times of the early 20th century. The fun had by the characters in this book is, I'll wager, a thousand times greater than any 'contemporary' young fiction. Must read.
There's a wonderful innocent charm of bygone summer holidays that is wonderfully captured in this 1930's adventure. As the four Walker children spend their time sailing and camping in the Lake District.
Borrowing a dinghy nicknamed 'Swallow' the group encounter the Blackett sisters and their own dighy 'Amazon'.
The playful wars that they participate in shows the fun imagination that children have, whilst the various nautical terms are well explained even for a novice like me!
Better drowned than duffers; if not duffers, won't drown...
In this first book of the series, the Walker children's father gives permission for them to spend the summer camping out and sailing in the Lake District of England. They expect to spend their time exploring, making maps, improving their sailing skills - and do not expect pirates or rivalry from others on the lake!
I recently tried to read this aloud to my nephew. I found that really did not work because there was too much nature and sailing, and that made it hard to share my affection for the book. I will wait until he is older and can read it to himself.
It's hard to comprehend now, when parents won't even let their kids play out in the front yard, that children at one time were allowed to roam free outdoors like this, sailing and camping and being resourceful, and letting their imaginations run wild. This a wonderful book that is too often forgotten and overlooked these days. Instead of buying marketing gimmicks like The Dangerous Book for Boys, do your kids a favor and let them read this.
Re-read 1/27/22: I may have mentioned before that I have abandoned the notion of listening to new books in audio form; I get impatient, and then I get distracted, and perfectly good books get abandoned. But I have enough crafty hobbies I need something to listen to as I sew or build or paint. I can't remember whether I went looking for this one, or if it was happenstance, but it made for some fun listening while I built a miniature dollhouse.
I don't think I'd ever paid attention to the date mentioned in the text. This is set in the Lake District in 1929, and somehow knowing that gave the story a poignancy it never had before. Roger, the youngest of the Walker children, is 7 when the story starts, and while the ages of the older three are never given, I have trouble picturing John and Susan as younger than about 14 (with Nancy Blackett comfortably around 16). But war is on the distant horizon, and in ten years...yeah, that puts Roger within spitting distance of enlistment. That wasn't something I wanted to think about. Ransome does that thing where time telescopes, because as I went on to The Picts & the Martyrs, which was published in 1943, the kids are all still within a year or two of the ages they were here. I found that surprisingly satisfying.
This was a fun trek down Memory Lane, as was reading my original review posted below. I'd almost forgotten the train caboose in the gully behind my house when I was 8.
Read (not for the first time) 3/19/12: I admit it: I want to go on adventures like these kids do. Sailing! Camping on an island! No adults! It's just like how we used to play in the abandoned train caboose behind the house, except they didn't have to go in for dinner and there were no spiders. I bet if there were spiders the Walker kids would have tamed them.
My husband read these books as a kid - I did not. He introduced them to me when we started dating, and we read them out loud together.
Now we have a 10 year old and we are enjoying reading the series out loud with her as well. She claims they're her favorite books (and to have unseated Harry Potter in that position is high praise from her indeed).
I do think they take a special kid or an adult with the right frame of mind to enjoy. Knowledge of sailing terminology is helpful. The plot doesn't move quickly, the "action" is more realistic than fantastic and it won't grab and keep the attention of a kid who needs a faster pace.
But the books are charming. The emphasize independence, friendship, imagination and kid adventure. They harken back to a day when kids could explore and run free without the watchful eye of a parent at all times. Were they still looked after? Sure, but not in the same way kids today are.
We have looked for other books with a similar sense of adventure and imagination and have not found anything else quite like these books. We've also looked for other books about kids and sailing and have not found any. So thank goodness for Arthur Ransome to have written this series. It's a favorite in my house.
Three and a half stars if I could... I first came across Swallows and Amazons as a child and really enjoyed it, as a result I believe I borrowed the other books in the series from the library as fast as I could read them! Reading it again as an adult was fun and brought back many fond memories of the four children and their adventures on Wild Cat Island. The book was published in 1930 and was inspired by the author Arthur Ransome teaching the children of his friends, the Altounyans to sail one summer. In fact, three of the names of our main protagonists were taken directly from that family. In the novel, the four oldest Walker children are staying with their mother, nurse and baby sister Vicky (known affectionately as “fat Vicky”) in a farm on the Lake District during the school holidays. The children are keen sailors, especially the eldest John and Susan and when the story begins, their father, who is away at sea has just given the children permission to camp upon one of the uninhabited islands so that they can play at being shipwrecked like the characters in their favourite books, Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.
The children are delighted at the opportunity and commandeer a vessel called the Swallow for getting to the island and for using during their stay. It is not long however, before their daydreams of pirates is realised as they spy another boat which bears the Jolly Roger flag and the name Amazon, which visits their island and attempt to claim it as their own. Luckily the “pirates” are two other children, Nancy and Peggy who are also keen sailors and become firm friends with the Walker children after a truce is agreed. The Amazon girls have an uncle whom all the children name “Captain Flint,” a nod to Treasure Island. The ex-sailor owns a houseboat on the lake with a green parrot he keeps for company as he has been practically disowned by Nancy and Peggy due to his recent lack of effort and nonchalance when it comes to sailing/pirating skills! The six children have a whale of a time on the island together and have many adventures as they live out their fantasy of being marooned by a shipwreck.
I think I probably enjoyed this book more as a child than an adult although it does rise head and shoulders above the disappointing Swiss Family Robinson which Chrissi and I reviewed for our Kid Lit choice last month. I remember loving the idea of camping out on an island which is completely uninhabited, making the possibilities for exploring and playing endless. Even though the book was written in 1930, it reads almost like a piece of modern fiction and I think would still be relevant and exciting for children today. Favourite part? The boat war between the Swallows and the Amazons which was both exciting and filled with suspense. Sometimes I found that all the references to sailing went slightly over my head and to be honest, I switched off slightly at any points where the detail seemed a bit technical. Apart from that, it was wonderful to read a book where you had a glimpse into the imagination of children which sadly in real life, disappears far too quickly.
This was one of those "feel good" books, perfect for a tumultuous time in my life.
Arthur Ransome wrote a sweet book here of his adventures of a short summer vacation living on an island in a lake off the English coast as children. I loved how his mother set it all up for the neighbors to keep watch on the kids without interfering. I'm a much more fearful mother and was wondering throughout the whole book if I could let my kids do what they did. I loved the make-believe. I loved their knowledge of seafaring terms and their experience with boats. And their confidence, but then most children are pretty confident in themselves when they want to do something.
The creativity of the Leading Lights in the trees was lovely. I learned much. It got me to thinking about a wonderful performance and talk about leading lights and the song Lead Kindly Light.
This is one of those books that isn't intense reading, but is rather enjoyable, easy to follow, and sweet.
Some quotes I enjoyed:
"'We are going to land on a desert island, to look for pirate treasure-- the treasure the pirates took from Captain Flint. There may be land crabs, or alligators, or enemies of all kinds. The treasure may be buried deep in dead men's bones. We may be all our lives finding it....'
'Susan said we weren't to be long.'"
"'We couldn't tell you yesterday, you know, because you weren't one of us, and when we saw that light we were in bed properly.'
'Were you? And where were you improperly?'
'On the lake.'"
"We are sick of natives. And we wanted to be allies at once, if only we hadn't promised to be home for lunch."
"We ought to sign it in blood," she said, "but pencil will do."
"They put in a guide-book some exercise logs and some papers for letters home. They also put in the ship's library.... ...Titty took Robinson Crusoe. 'It tells you what to do on an island,' she said." Essential...the library and Robinson Crusoe.
"What care I for a goose-feather bed, With the sheet turned down so bravely, O? For to-night I shall sleep in the cold open field Along with the wraggle-toggle gipsies, O!"
Oh well, this bears out the idea that it's always difficult to write about happiness. The summer days of imagination and adventure are told here so matter-of-factly that nothing impresses or moves the reader. Several times I was expecting something to happen and was disappointed, and the only time that a thing does happen was told in quite an anticlimactic fashion. Have I been reading too much sensational literature, do you think? What I liked was that the practical lessons about sailing, survival, etc. were blended right into the narrative, simply as the things kids do - or don't do and reap the consequences. No didactism, no sermons, and the Walkers have the best parents ever. Perhaps actual kids, bringing fresher imaginations to the task, would enjoy and appreciate this book better. I felt it didn't reach the mark set by books like Dandelion Wine, so sharply evocative that you feel like a child again even if the childhood they describe is nothing like what you had.
I first met this as an extract in a Ladybird book - I suppose I'd have been about 4 at the time, and this would have been one of the first "real" books I met. A few years later, I got the full thing from the library, and was hooked. I read and re-read the series for years, and when we finally managed a visit to the Lake District, spent a lot of time exploring maps and lakes to find Wildcat Island and the rest of the places in the books.
Now, revisiting it as an adult, I'm still delighted, enthralled, and impressed. I'd forgotten enough of the plot details that I was genuinely interested to find out what happens next, but since I was now reading it with adult critical faculties, could appreciate some aspects even more (and to some extent appreciate my own 1970s childhood even more).
The distinction between the children's real lives and fantasy lives is expressed beautifully, right from the start, as Roger tacks up the field to his mother. They're concerned with real, practical things, like how to get a tent to stay up, and eggs not to stick to the pan, but at the same time have rich fantasy lives that for the most part they distinguish from the mundane with no trouble at all, even when swapping between the two mid-sentence: "...we'd have given you broadside for broadside until one of us sank, even if it had made us late for lunch," says Nancy.
A lot of reviews here put emphasis on the freedom the children had, and the risks they were allowed to take. That wasn't something that struck me as odd as a child in the 1970s, and doesn't much now, though I'm impressed by John's ability as a sailor. They had access to a boat, and a lake: I had a bike, and fields, and a town. No, I didn't stay out overnight alone at that age, but that was mainly due to lack of a tent, and anywhere sensible to use it. Away all day, completely alone? Yes, of course. Why not? Competent to look after myself, to do my own shopping, my own basic cooking, at eleven or so? Naturally. And, reading it again as an adult, I see how closely the local community were in fact keeping an eye on them. Reading it then, I missed it, just as the children did.
The practical details all show an author who's done all this, not just read about it. How to pack a small boat, how to set up a tent, the problems of wet ropes, uncooperative plant life, and food that never cooks at the speed you want it to. I don't know myself if the details of sailing are right, but there's no problem there with the intense flood of nautical terminology, each term is explained, either explicitly or by context.
It's a gentle, subtle book, compared with more modern things. The children are polite - they don't scream and shout about their feelings. They go red, and walk away. They tell themselves firmly that the reason they can't see down the telescope is from looking too hard, wipe their eyes, and refuse to consider the possibility of tears due to loneliness. They may be competent (mostly), but there's no Mary-Suism, they each have faults, and make mistakes. I liked them when I was five, I liked them when I was 12, and I like them now, with Titty still being my favourite. They may be decades before my time, and have a lot more money than I did, but they're my sort of people - the sort to whom being called a liar is the worst insult possible, and to be a "duffer" is a complete disgrace. Neither they nor I argue with the idea of "better drowned than duffers".
Se me atraganta la literatura juvenil actual. Soy de los primeros que no les hace clic la idea de que los muchachos que aprenden a leer hoy tengan que hacerlo –y emocionarse- entre una serie de distopías cutres y descafeinadas con protagonistas Mary Sues y triángulos amorosos bobos por un lado, o por el otro novelas hiperrealistas donde protagonistas infinitamente más sabios y sarcásticos que lo que su edad sugiere luchan contra todo tipo de estigmas sociales dignos de una novela naturalista.
Dado que crecí y me hice lector mucho antes de que esto fuera la tendencia en literatura juvenil, veo con buenos ojos, con nostalgia, con añoranza, la manera en que mi papá aprendió a leer. Su campeón fue Emilio Salgari, un titán cuasi-olvidado entre los grandes de la época dorada de los contadores de historias. Por aquel entonces los niños leían a Stevenson, a Dumas, a Wells, a Verne, a Conan Doyle. Las niñas leían a Hodgson Burnett, Alcott, Nesbit, Sewell. Novelas que en su momento fueron consideradas comerciales pero que ojos bien objetivos tienen prosas y tramas y caracterizaciones verdaderamente superiores.
Uno de los tardíos entre los escritores de literatura juvenil antigua fue Arthur Ransome. Su serie de doce libros de Las Andorinas y las Amazonas puso al distrito de los lagos (sí, el de Wordsworth) en el imaginario popular inglés como un lugar tranquilo y evocador, donde uno podía hacer su infancia.
La primera Historia de las Andorinas y las Amazonas presenta a los cuatro niños Walker y a las dos niñas Blackett en un inocente (y por un momento no tan inocente) verano idílico en uno de los lagos. Si bien la prosa es mucho más lenta y yo por compromisos tardé dos semanas en leer un libro que normalmente tomaría una, cuando uno concluye el libro y reflexiona sobre el viaje que ha vivido con los seis protagonistas, de verdad siente que ha dejado atrás a los amigos.
Esas últimas páginas me trajeron reminiscencias de los últimos días, antes de despedirse, de viajes y correrías con todo tipo de personas maravillosas. Y me sentí identificado con ellos. Con los Walker (las Andorinas) y las Blackett (Las Amazonas) hay pesca, hay natación, hay mucho campismo y sobre todo, hay navegación a vela. ¡Navegación a vela entre niños que no exceden los catorce años!
El ethos propio de esta época –el difícil periodo entreguerras y en este libro, el verano inmediato anterior a la gran depresión- pone en su pedestal el estoicismo inglés. Mediante la hoy extraña educación en exteriores –outdoorsmanship- y mediante la imaginación, el make believe, Ransome presenta una visión respetuosa, amena y cariñosa hacia la niñez y una oda al lugar donde creció. Hoy en día que vivo en un lugar donde puedo ir a una cascada, a un río o a un lago una vez por semana si así lo quiero me imagino qué habría sido de mí de haber vivido aquí a los siete, once, catorce años.
Y si bien uno puede brincar y decir que la novela es bastante obsoleta porque sus protagonistas son niños blancos como la nieve, de aparente buena posición económica, entonces no está poniendo atención. No creo que se trate de eso. Se trata de hacer carácter.
I wasn't expecting this to be as compelling as it was. Exotic to the point of being alien.
Four children are on vacation with their mother. They've asked permission to take a boat out to a nearby island, and their absentee father grants it. The swallows, named after their ship the Swallow, set out and soon encounter a houseboat with a cranky "pirate," and another child-captained ship, the Amazon. The two tomboys on it become friends and play-adversaries to the swallows over the seven days they spend on the island.
It sounds dull, but is oddly engrossing. These kids are competent to a point where modern people couldn't believe. They literally sail a boat to an island multiple times, and camp their on their own (of course, with occasional visits by the mother to check up on them.) They spend most of their time there on their own, fishing, cooking, playing a war-game or two, and doing something that a lot of adult hikers couldn't do. The way they talk about sailing and handling boats almost makes them seem to be too good to be true, but then you are reminded they are still kids with all the enthusiasm and forgetfulness children have. They have an autonomy few children would have today, but it's not an unrealistic autonomy. The children are resourceful, but still are children. It's an amazing feat of writing.
The mother of the children is a treasure, too. She's very droll and yet slips into the children's play-world when needed. She watches over them, and worries sometimes too, but never smothers. She'll think of things they need, but gives them room to make mistakes and take leadership first. She has some of the best scenes in the book, including a very poignant one. Titty, one of her daughters, is watching the camp when the other kids set off to mock-fight the Amazons. Her mother comes aboard, and at first the two play act Robinson Crusoe and Friday. But then the mother and Titty begin talking just as mother and daughter, with Titty talking about life on the island, and listening to her mother tell tales of her youth in Australia. It's a very tender moment, and done without the least bit of cloying prose or sugary emotion.
I can't give it five stars because it's really not an action-packed book. It's more about a love of sailing and a character story into the minds of four adventurous children and two piratical tomboys. There's not enough play-fighting or conflict, but a lot of camping, sailing, and idyllic life. It also may be impenetrable to anyone who doesn't love sailing and the sea a little bit as the sheer amount of nautical talk is staggering. Seriously, these kids could probably be in the coast guard.
Still a great book, but perhaps for the right kind of parent and child.
Like a fresh breeze, reading this delightful children's novel - first published in 1930 - had an invigorating effect, making me feel young and carefree again, with all of the summer holidays stretching before me - endless days of pleasure reading and outdoor fun to enjoy, and no wishes (so I imagined) save my own to consult. The story of the four Walker children - on holiday with their mother in the Lake District - their adventures sailing the Swallow and camping on Wild Cat Island, their friendship (and maritime rivalry) with those daring Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, and their eventual reconciliation with the piratical Captain Flint, unfolds at a leisurely pace. Despite the lack of rush - or perhaps, because of it? - I found Ransome's narrative absolutely absorbing, feeling almost as if I were sinking into another world, as I read it.
There were many things I enjoyed about Swallows and Amazons, from the attention Ransome gives to the details of sailing, which I didn't always really understand (having only been sailing once in my life, and that many years ago), but which added to the sense of this being a "real" adventure, to the mutual trust shown by the Swallows and their mother. I liked how the imaginative play - all the adults being "natives," Nancy and Peggy's Uncle Jim being a pirate - was seamlessly worked in with more practical concerns, like how to lay a fire correctly, or set up tents so they wouldn't collapse. The frequent use of the term "native," and the colonial mindset it represents, were a little problematic for me, but I didn't find its use vicious, and Ransom was writing, after all, in a time when Britain was still an empire.
Finally, although there were some traditional gender ideas here - Susan being the "little mother" who must cook and wash up after everyone - I really appreciated the fact that both boys and girls had important roles to play, in the adventuring. I loved Captain Nancy, and suspect that if I had read this as a girl, I would have identified most with her, although Titty's capture of the Amazon might have tempted me in her direction as well! Overall, this was just a charming story, and I came away from it with a desire to read the entire series.