Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

So who, on reading this book, didn’t spend hours tacking round the garden? I did. Right arm up, left arm out – ready about. I was Captain Nancy. I didn’t let the fact that I had never sailed a boat in my life interfere with the enjoyment.

Here is another wonderful story of childhood self-sufficiency, the sort of thing that simply wouldn’t happen now, because any mother who let her children camp out on an island on their own for days at a time would probably be reported to social services for neglect. Conversely, how many children now would actually be able to manage to camp out like this, or even want to? No mobile signal, no wifi; the list is endless. When I read this book as a child, before there were any electronic considerations, camping on Wild Cat Island as the children do sounded idyllic, and later as an adult you can still revel in the children’s freedom, whilst thinking you’d never let yours do that, duffers or no duffers . . . . .

The delight of this book is that although it is a perfectly normal island, the imagination of the children creates a fabulous world of natives, pearl diving, treasure, and endless seas containing both active and retired pirates. It is a world where the everyday and the imaginary run usefully in parallel, as summed up by Captain Nancy: ” . . . . we’d have given you broadside for broadside till one of us sank – even if it had made us late for lunch.”

Finally, I know many people feel that Ransome’s line drawings add to the charm and simplicity of the books, but I was never that keen on them and found them too basic. I don’t think he can have been very confident in his ability to draw faces as nearly all the illustrations show the children from the back, the side, or too far away to see the faces properly. There is a beautiful and very detailed illustration of the parrot at the end of chapter 25 though!


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