Showing posts with label author: arthur ransome. Show all posts
Showing posts with label author: arthur ransome. Show all posts

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Old School Sunday: The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome (1943)

The Picts and the Martyrs. by Arthur Ransome. 1943. Jonathan Cape. 320 pages. ISBN: 9780224606417

Dick and Dorothea have just arrived for a visit at Beckfoot with Nancy and Peggy when the unthinkable happens. Nancy and Peggy’s Great Aunt Maria turns up, determined to look after the Blackett girls while their mother is away. To avoid upsetting the Great Aunt, Dick and Dorothea hide themselves away in a nearby shed, calling themselves “picts” and keeping out of sight. In the meantime, Nancy implicates many adults in her plot to keep the visitors secret including Cook, the mailman, and Timothy.

The absence of the Swallows for the entire story was a disappointment for me in this book, as it is the second to last in the series, and I only have one more chance to spend any time with those characters. My personal feelings aside, though, I really appreciate that Ransome chose to explore a different dynamic in this story. I like the way he pairs the two quietest and least troublesome characters, Dick and Dorothea, with the wild, opinionated Amazon pirates, and forces them to conspire to keep a secret. I really enjoyed seeing how seriously Dick and Dorothea took their role as picts, and it made me laugh to see the usually mouthy Nancy behaving herself primly for the benefit of the great aunt. This book provides a lot of insight into the unlikely friendship between these two pairs of kids and gives Dick and Dorothea the opportunity to be something more than resident nerds.

There is less sailing in this book than in many of the others, which I also saw as a plus because it provides more room for character development. Since the reader spends most of the story with the D’s, these two characters come much more strongly to life than in other books where all the characters are present. The lack of a sailing-oriented plot also provides other opportunities for adventure, including a late-night break-in at Beckfoot and an all-out manhunt when the great aunt eventually goes missing. There were many wonderfully suspenseful moments that kept me on the edge of my seat as my husband read the book aloud to me, and many chapters where I groaned as I realized I’d be left waiting to find out what happened until the next day.

The Picts and the Martyrs ranks high on my list of favorites in the Swallows and Amazons series, right beside Winter Holiday. Though I will be sad to finish the series, I’m glad to have one more book to go - Great Northern?

I own a copy of The Picts and the Martyrs

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Old School Sunday: Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome (1941)

Missee Lee. by Arthur Ransome. 1941. Jonathan Cape. 336 pages. ISBN: 9780224606400

Missee Lee is the tenth book in the Swallows and Amazons series, and like Peter Duck, it is a deviation from the normal progression of the series. Whereas most of the time, Ransome’s characters have real-world adventures, this story is based on their imaginings about sailing to China. In this story, Captain Flint takes Nancy, Peggy, John, Susan, Titty, and Roger with him in the Wild Cat on a voyage around the world. Gibber the monkey accidentally sets the ship on fire, and when they finally escape in Swallow and Amazon, Captain Flint and his crew mistakenly wash up on the shore among Chinese pirates who inhabit the Three Islands. Captain Flint is immediately held for ransom, and the kids are also treated as prisoners. It is only when Miss Lee, the most powerful taicoon on the Three Islands, takes them in as her students that they see any hope of ever escaping and making it home to England once more.

As I mentioned in my Peter Duck review a little over a year ago, I find it jarring to read these stories that don’t actually take place within the overall arc of the entire Swallows and Amazons series. I am not good at suspending my disbelief, and I am not fond of the adventure genre once it ventures beyond the boundaries of the characters’ own backyards. That said, though, I enjoyed Missee Lee more than Peter Duck, and I found it easier to get lost in the world of the story.

Obviously, there are some issues with outdated and offensive portrayals of Chinese culture in this book, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. The characters in the story - and especially Miss Lee herself - speak in stereotypical broken English, where the “L” sound is substituted for every “R.” The portrayal of Chinese culture in general also demonstrates a lack of understanding of Chinese society - which is probably an accurate representation of how English children might have viewed China in the early 1940s. Despite these problems, though, I was surprised to find that the overall story is much more progressive than I’d imagined. The most powerful character in the entire book is a female pirate, and she is not only revered and feared by her people, but she is also really smart, well-read and much more sensitive to the plight of her prisoners than either of the leaders of the other two islands. I thought it was very telling that the Walkers and Blacketts, as the authors of the story, would make this sort of character the heroine, and I liked that Ransome incorporated references to school and British life that would easily have come to the minds of the characters as they were inventing the tale of Missee Lee. In Peter Duck, I felt as though I didn’t know the characters quite well enough to have fun imagining them in new and far-off places. This time, the characters felt like old friends and I got a kick out of seeing Captain Flint caged like a monkey and Roger rising to the head of the Latin class in Miss Lee’s makeshift school.

Missee Lee was an enjoyable escapist read, and I don’t recommend skipping it if you’re reading the entire series. I think it is easier to appreciate the story if you’ve read at least a few titles about these characters beforehand, but even the uninitiated will enjoy all the excitement, suspense, and action of this satisfying and fun read.

I own a copy of Missee Lee

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Old School Sunday: The Big Six by Arthur Ransome (1940)

The Big Six. by Arthur Ransome. 1940. 367 pages. ISBN: 9781567921199

In the eight books of the Swallows and Amazons series published prior to The Big Six, Arthur Ransome’s wonderful characters have imagined themselves in a whole host of situations. Sometimes they are sailors; at other times, they’re miners, at still other times, they’re explorers. This time around, the Death and Glories (Joe, Bill, and Pete) and Tom Dudgeon as well as Dick and Dorothea, fancy themselves detectives, and they’re not too far off from becoming the real thing. Someone has been casting off boats, and almost everyone believes it is the Death and Glories. They have been in the vicinity of each boat set adrift, and Mr. Tedder, the local policeman is sure he will be able to prove it was them and disband the Coot Club. Dorothea, with her wild imagination, and Dick, with his new interest in photography team up to help their friends prove their innocence and catch the real culprit.

While I will always love the Swallows the most of all of Ransome’s characters, I really grew to love the Death and Glories in this book. In their first appearance, back in Coot Club, the three boys seemed very much like one entity, with very few obvious details to differentiate one from another. In this book, the three boys’ individual personalities are much more pronounced, and I enjoyed seeing the ways they related to one another. I also enjoyed seeing Dick and Dorothea in leadership roles in this story. In all the previous books they have been in, it seems like they have always taken their cues from someone else - namely Nancy, Tom, or Mrs. Barrable. To see them as heroes in this book was a nice change of pace. I also thought it was neat to introduce a mystery element into a sailing story, and I didn’t miss the technical sailing jargon that seems to permeate most of Ransome’s other writing.

I am now just three books away from completing this series, and The Big Six is definitely among my favorites of all the books. At some points, the repetition of the evidence and the lack of action is a bit tedious, but for the most part, the fresh dialogue keeps things moving, and the slow revelations about the different clues help to build suspense so that the reader doesn’t know the outcome of the mystery until the absolute last second. Though the reader can easily guess early on who the true criminal is, it is still entertaining to see the kids solve the mystery and prove their case even when none of the adults around them could manage. Just like all the other Swallows and Amazons books, this one celebrates what kids can do on their own and proves that they should be taken just as seriously as adults.

I own a copy of The Big Six


For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Old School Sunday: Secret Water by Arthur Ransome

Secret Water. by Arthur Ransome. 1939. Jonathan Cape. 376 pages. ISBN: 9780224606387

After the real-life adventure of the Walkers in We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea, it was hard for me to imagine how Arthur Ransome could continue to write exciting stories about these characters. After all, was not their journey to Holland on their own in a borrowed boat a final exam of sorts, the challenge toward which all their make-believe had been building? Thankfully, Ransome has a bigger imagination than I do, and his eighth book in the Swallows and Amazons series is just as engaging as any of the others. Though the Walkers more or less mastered sailing in the last book, in Secret Water, they become true explorers. Their father drops them off on an island with a blank map, announces they are marooned, and leaves them there with one assignment: to explore uncharted territory and complete the map. Not long after, the Walkers are joined by the Blacketts, as well as a new group of “savages”, the Eels, who serve as guides among the islands and teach the Swallows and Amazons all about human sacrifice.

There are a number of things about Secret Water that demonstrate the development of the characters, especially since the first book. Bridget, who was once known as baby “Vicky” is now a member of the expedition. She’s about four years old, and she constantly reminds her siblings that she is old enough to participate in the same things they do. I think most authors tend to portray youngest siblings like Bridget as annoying tag-alongs who hold everything up and make messes, but Bridget is a formidable little girl, and she has her share of shining moments. Roger and Titty, previously the youngest members of the expedition, are now old enough to venture off on their own and take responsibility for themselves and for Bridget. The spirit of imagination and make-believe is most alive in them this time around, though Nancy also gets excited, especially when it comes time to have a corroboree with the Eels.

Susan is still the mother figure, and she plays that role much more completely when Bridget is around than in the past. John, who has in the past been just as much a part of the make-believe as anyone else, seems more fatherly in this book and also more concerned with impressing his own father. While Nancy worries about blood oaths and sacrifices, and Roger and Titty imagine themselves as Israelites and Egyptians, John focuses on the task at hand. We can see the beginnings of manhood in John, and I wonder whether we’ll see as much of him in the rest of the books of the series. Surely at some point Susan and John will outgrow the games of their childhood. I keep wondering whether their coming of age will figure into any of the stories.

Secret Water is a great follow-up to the adventure of We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea. The story rewards the Walkers’ safe journey home with another, more controlled opportunity to explore their independence and we get to see just how much they all love, admire, and want to please their dad. The new characters - Don, the Mastodon, and Daisy, Dum, and Dee, the Eels - are a lot of fun, and again completely different from Dot, Dick, or any of the Walkers or Blacketts. I was also amazed that Ransome described things like changes in the tide and sailing routes in language that made it possible for me to imagine them and follow along.

As curious as I am about the four remaining books in the series, I am disappointed that I’m two-thirds of the way through it already. I’ve come to really love these characters, and I’ll be sad when I finish the last book. That said, though, I’ve heard that book nine, The Big Six, is a detective story, and I’m really eager to see what that will be like, so I know it won't be long before I jump right into the next one. 

The copy of Secret Water I read for this review is part of my personal household collection.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Old School Sunday: We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome. 1937. David R. Godine Publishers. 344 pages. ISBN: 9780224021234

In We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, the Walker children and their mother are waiting at Pin Mill for Daddy to arrive home when they meet a young sailor named Jim Brading. Jim promises to sail the kids around to a few of the nearby ports, giving Mrs. Walker his word that he will not take John, Susan, Titty, and Roger to sea. He doesn’t anticipate the fact that he will run out of petrol, or that a heavy fog will descend over his boat, The Goblin. Nor does he guess that the tide will turn and the Walkers will drift out to sea in his boat, heading for Holland with no captain and no idea how they will get home.

My big frustration with the last book, Pigeon Post, was that I had trouble buying into the make-believe adventures of the Walkers and the Blacketts. For the first time, imagined adventure didn’t seem like enough. I’m so glad that this seventh book in the series finally allows these characters to experience something real. I was a bit disappointed, at first, that the Blacketts do not appear in this book, but even their absence was somewhat refreshing. Without Nancy to call the shots, the other characters are forced into leadership roles, which provides a lot of really nice character development for both John and Susan. Even Titty and Roger show signs of growing up as the story progresses.

What really impressed me the most about We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea is that Ransome manages to keep things exciting for the duration of the book, despite the fact that 90% of it takes place on board the same boat. Weather, seasickness, and passing ships provide the required drama to propel the story forward even when all the characters are doing, essentially, is waiting to reach port and agonizing over what their mother will say when she learns they disobeyed. Ransome’s writing is never dull, and the ending of this story, when they finally find a way home, is one of the most satisfying endings of the entire series. It almost feels like a finale, and though I have started the next book and I’m enjoying it, I still think We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea could have served as the perfect conclusion to the Walkers’ stories. It is the perfect culmination of all their training as sailors and in some ways, the full realization of the fantasy constructed in Peter Duck.

I can’t name many authors whose writing is consistently wonderful over the course many books, but Ransome is such an author. I like the way his stories continue to expand upon the vast universe he has created, and I enjoy the way he tempers every moment of high stress and danger in his stories with a warm moment of comfort among family and friends. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea ranks high on my list of favorites in this series, right beside Swallowdale and Winter Holiday.

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is part of my personal collection. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Old School Sunday: Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

Pigeon Post. by Arthur Ransome. 1936. David R. Godine Publisher. 382 pages. ISBN: 9780879238643

It’s summertime once again, and Nancy has a new project - prospecting for gold on High Topps. Unfortunately, there’s a drought going on, so the camping place she had in mind doesn’t have any water, and the whole team of prospectors is forced to stay at Mrs. Tyson’s farm, with Mrs. Tyson cooking the meals and supervising their every move. Nancy and her friends can’t stand not being able to do things for themselves, so they begin looking for ways to get out of this highly native situation. It looks hopeless at first, but then Titty takes up dowsing, Roger finds a hidden cave filled with gold, and Squashy Hat, a mysterious gentleman staying at another nearby farm seems to be up to something, making him the perfect enemy. Everything will be perfect, if only they can make a gold ingot to show Captain Flint when he returns from sea.

I had really high expectations for Pigeon Post, both because it’s an award winner, and because it once again brings together all three main groups of characters in the Ransome universe - the Swallows, the Amazons, and the Ds. Unfortunately, this book has the slowest start of any of the Swallows and Amazons series. I liked the introduction of the homing pigeons at the start of the story, and Dick’s ingenious system for alerting Mrs. Blackett when they arrive with messages, but I was confused by Titty’s weird reaction to her dowsing abilities. I liked seeing Nancy and company overcome the challenges presented by the drought, but I never for a second believed there could be gold, or that Squashy Hat could be looking for it. I spent the first three-quarters of the book waiting for it to get good, and finding it impossible to suspend my disbelief. This was the first time I couldn’t imagine along with the characters, and it really annoyed me to feel like the series had betrayed me by creating a situation where I couldn’t buy into the game.

Thankfully, after pages and pages of wishing for the good stuff, I was rewarded handsomely. The ending of this book is by far the most exciting of any in the series so far, and it puts the characters in the most danger they have ever been in. The entire last eighth of the book is so good it makes up for all the weirdness with the dowsing and the boring digging and smelting processes. Also, looking back on the book after finishing it, I also noticed some nice character development that has progressed over the course of the series. The fact that these characters who once could only dream of sleeping on Wild Cat Island can now build a well and a furnace shows that the characters are growing and maturing over time. This aging process is most obvious in Roger, who, for the first time, discovers the most important find of the whole summer - the cave containing the gold. While each book of the series is mostly self-contained, I love being able to see the picture and watching the kids grow up more and more with each book.

Besides Peter Duck, Pigeon Post is currently my least favorite of the series. I just didn’t get most of it, and if not for the great ending, I would have been disappointed that I wasted my time. I am very curious about the next book, We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, and I hope it promises more real, rather than imagined, adventure.

I borrowed Pigeon Post from my local public library.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Old School Sunday: Review: Coot Club by Arthur Ransome

Coot Club. by Arthur Ransome. 1934. David R. Godine Publisher. 352 pages. ISBN: 9780879237875

Coot Club is a story in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, but it’s the first one so far not to include a single Swallow or Amazon. This time, the only familiar characters are Dick and Dorothea Callum, first introduced as new friends of the Walkers and Blacketts in Winter Holiday. They are spending their Easter holidays with their mother’s former teacher, Mrs. Barrable, who lives in a boat called the Teasel on a river in Norfolk. Mrs. Barrable has a neighbor named Tom, who is a member of the coot club, devoted to the protection of coots and other birds nesting along the river. Tom’s friends and allies include twin girls, experienced sailors nicknamed Port and Starboard, and the Death and Glories, three rough-and-tumble little boys with a boat of their own. Though Mrs. Barrable expects to spend her holidays painting on a stationary Teasel, she soon finds herself on a sailing adventure, as Tom escapes some tourists he has upset, and Dick and Dorothea finally have a chance to prove themselves as real sailors.

Of all the Ransome books I’ve reviewed so far, this one is the hardest to summarize. So much happens, and there are just so many characters. That’s the remarkable thing about Ransome’s writing that I don’t think I have mentioned yet in my reviews - the sheer number of characters and Ransome’s ability to manage them all. The cast grows with each new story, but every personality is fresh and new, and I never have trouble keeping track of who is who. Not only that, but the characters are described so well, each of them seems almost like a real person, and I still think about the characters long after finishing each book. In this book, the reader really comes to sympathize with Tom, who goes to great lengths to escape the hullabaloos, the rude visitors whom Tom has so angered, and to love Mrs. Barrable, who, like Captain Flint, is more like a child than an adult.

The story itself is exciting because it involves a true sailing trip, more similar to the imagined voyage of Peter Duck than to the short day excursions the Swallows and Amazons make in the other books. Kids become armchair travelers as they read, learning about the wildlife, bridges, and geography of the Norfolk Broads, while also adding some new sailing terminology to their vocabularies and worrying about the hullabaloos. It was also interesting to see the differences in Tom and his friends’ approach to sailing as compared with the approach of the Walkers or Blacketts. The Swallows and Amazons do a lot more pretending than do the Coots, but both groups are wary of adult involvement, and both have enemies real and imagined.

As always, the writing in this book is impeccable, and though I missed my beloved Walkers and Blacketts, it didn’t take long for me to delve into this new segment of Ransome’s world which he so carefully and wonderfully describes. I don’t know who is in the rest of the books in the second half of the series, but after finishing Coot Club, I know I wouldn’t mind running into any of its characters again.

I borrowed Coot Club from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Old School Sunday: Review: Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

Winter Holiday. by Arthur Ransome. 1933. David R. Godine Publisher. 350 pages. ISBN: 9780879236618

Winter Holiday is the fourth book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, and the first one not set during summer vacation. In this adventure, the Walker kids (John, Susan, Titty, and Roger) and the Blackett girls (Nancy and Peggy) are joined by a third set of siblings - Dick and Dorothea Callum, known as the D’s. This time, instead of sailing to Wild Cat Island or setting up camp in Swallowdale, these allied groups are preparing themselves for a trip to the North Pole. There is just one problem - Nancy, the usual leader of the group’s expeditions, has the mumps, and they must do without her spirited guidance.

The most impressive thing about this series is the way Ransome is consistently able to reinvent the Lake District setting to make it seem new for each adventure. What I particularly enjoy is the fact that each reinvention comes as a result of everyday events in the kids’ lives. In Swallows and Amazons, the two groups meet in the first place because they both discover the same island. In Swallowdale, they wreck the Swallow, which forces them to scout out a place to camp that can be reached on foot. Now, in Winter Holiday, it’s the winter weather that requires them to re-imagine their tropical paradise as the site of an arctic expedition. Ransome totally immerses the reader in each new world he creates, and this arctic setting is no exception. I was happy to start thinking of Wild Cat Island as Spitzbergen, and Captain Flint’s houseboat as The Fram, and I loved the way the kids adjusted their make-believe to suit the ice on the lake and the many skaters out on the water enjoying it.

Another wonderful aspect of this book is the shift in point of view from the previous stories. In the early books of the series, the reader sees almost everything from the perspective of the Walkers, as they learn from Nancy and Peggy how to become real sailors. By introducing Dick and Dorothea, city kids with no real camping or sailing experience, the reader gets to see the familiar world of the Swallows and Amazons through fresh new eyes. Dick’s scientific interests, especially in astronomy, and Dorothea’s tendency to romanticize everything and turn it into literature, also add further depth to the books, and provide more opportunities for more types of kids to connect with them. It’s also just exciting to see regular kids getting to do all the exciting things the Swallows and Amazons do. I think kids always get a kick out of living vicariously through fictitious people who are similar to them.

Finally, I think this book does a great job of really humanizing Susan. All along, she has been the best behaved child of them all, serving as surrogate mother and keeper of the peace. In Winter Holiday, though, we finally see her resolve waver a little bit, as even she is overcome by the fun of the arctic exploration. There is much more sneaking out at night and disregarding adult rules and warnings in this book than in the others, and it’s gratifying to see that Susan isn’t just a goody two shoes. It’s also nice to see minor rule-breaking that doesn’t result in disaster, and for which the kids always make amends.

After Peter Duck’s strange departure from Ransome’s normal storytelling style, I worried that Winter Holiday would be another disappointment, but I was wrong to be concerned. It was a truly great story, with all the wonderful description, character development, and suspense I have come to expect from Ransome’s excellent writing.

I borrowed Winter Holiday from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Old School Sunday: Review: Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome

Peter Duck. by Arthur Ransome. 1933; 1987. David R. Godine Publisher. 414 pages. ISBN: 9780879236601

This third installment in the Swallows and Amazons series is a bit of a deviation from the first two. Unlike Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale, it does not follow the Walkers and Blacketts on a real-life adventure. Instead, the story comes from their own imaginations, as they spin a tale about an old sailor, whom they name Peter Duck, and a treasure hunt in a real sailing ship christened The Wild Cat. Their imagined adventure includes many of the things involved in their make-believe in the other books, such as enemy ships, dangerous pirates, camping alone on an island, and steering a ship through a storm.

I really was not crazy about this book when I first started reading it. I felt very distanced from the characters, after becoming so attached to them in the earlier books, and I found the separation of these imagined Walkers from the “real” ones to be very jarring. I was actually thankful for each footnote Nancy, Roger, and others provided, because it gave me a much-needed glimpse back into the “real” narrative. The latter half of the book did pick up quite a bit, and once I was invested in the excitement of the adventure I stopped worrying about the lack of continuity between this story and the ones before and just enjoyed seeing everything unfold and come together.

One thing I really like is the way Ransome maintains the sense of safety and security established by Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale. Though many truly dangerous situations arise in Peter Duck, the Walkers and Blacketts are never in the line of fire, so to speak. Allies and enemies created in their imaginations take a few bullets and blows, but the Swallows and Amazons themselves mostly enjoy the ride with few real problems. Instead, their focus is on the experience of living and working aboard a real ship, and on their imaginary friend, Peter Duck.

I’m glad I didn’t skip this book because the writing is quite lovely, but I’m also glad to be done and ready to move onto the next book, Winter Holiday.

I borrowed Peter Duck from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Old School Sunday: Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome

Swallowdale. by Arthur Ransome. 1931. Jonathan Cape. 448 pages. ISBN: 9780879235727

In this second book in the series, a year has passed since Swallows and Amazons, and the Walker children have returned to the Lake District for the summer holiday, excited to sail in Swallow, camp on Wildcat Island, and fight more wars with the Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy Blackett. There are some changes this year, though. For one thing, their younger sister Vicky has stopped resembling Queen Victoria, for whom she was nicknamed, and is now called Bridget. The family has also acquired a monkey, though he has not joined them on this trip, and a parrot, named Polly, who will serve as the ship’s parrot. They have also invented an imaginary explorer named Peter Duck, about whom Titty tells many exciting stories. What they are not prepared for, however, are the unexpected changes that impact their summer fun. The Blacketts have their great aunt staying with them, and she keeps the girls on such short leashes, they can hardly have any fun or free time at all. Then the Swallow suffers an unfortunate shipwreck, and the Swallows find themselves marooned on dry land while it gets fixed. But the Walker children are true explorers, and it doesn’t take long for them to settle a new camp, which they name Swallowdale, and to set out on a whole new set of adventures, including an ascent up the peak they call Kanchenjunga.

The first book in this series is so utterly brilliant, it would be impossible to top, but this sequel comes very close. Though at times early in the story Ransome’s thoughts seem somewhat disorganized, and his descriptions repetitive and lengthy, the story hardly suffers at all from these shortcomings. Rather, Ransome does a very good job of managing many story threads, and of breathing fresh life into the setting so thoroughly explored by Swallows and Amazons. I love the plotting of the story. Obviously, a new story in a familiar setting requires some changes, or the writing grows stale, but the way he chose to bring about those changes fits seamlessly into the overall narrative arc of the story and provides its own exciting shipwreck scene. Throughout the book, Ransome propels the story forward with one realistic and believable conflict after another, always resolving them happily but not without some anxiety on the part of characters and readers alike.

The characters also have a lot of room to grow during this story. Not only do we see a prim and proper side of the usually wild Blackett girls, we also see Roger beginning to mature and developing some exciting storylines of his own. Susan, too, develops beyond her role as mate, especially when she takes up native concerns on the behalf of her mother or another adult. The differences between outspoken and daring Nancy and the more cautious Swallows is also much more apparent in this book, and made me really consider how their friendship works, and why. I also thought the adult characters came to life much more strongly in this second book. Mrs. Walker and Captain Flint, in particular, developed personalities as people, not just as authority figures or family members.

This book, like its predecessor, empowers children to use their imaginations and explores the possibilities of a world where children can roam independently and look after themselves for certain lengths of time. Contemporary kids - especially in my urban community - probably haven’t done anything close to what John, Susan, Titty, and Roger do in these books, but I think every kid understands the desire for independence and relates to the power and enjoyment of imaginative play. These books appeal to all kids because they speak to their fundamental understanding of the world, and speak to their interests and concerns, instead of to the messages, lessons, and morals of adults.

Swallowdale was originally published in 1931, and the edition I read was published in the 1950’s by Jonathan Cape. Read my review of Swallows and Amazons here.

The edition of Swallowdale I read for this review came from my fiance's personal collection.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat