Want to romp on an island?

Want to romp on an island?

Want to romp on an island?

Arthur Ransome. Swallows and Amazons. Puffin Books.

Arthur Ransome, in contrast, is famous for his lake stories. What's special about this author is that his books are about children and were written for children; and what's especially special is that, unlike many other classics, his books are actually quite enjoyable.

Swallows and Amazons was his first book, written in 1930. The setting is the Lake District of Scotland between the two World Wars. The book describes the adventures of the four Walker children, John, Susan, Roger, and Titty, and the two Blackett girls, Nancy and Peggy. Captain John and his crew sail a small boat named Swallow. Captain Nancy and Peggy sail another small boat named Amazon.

The events of the book take place during the school holidays. The Walker children, with permission from their parents, camp on an island in a lake. Along with the Blackett girls, they set upon a life of sailing, fishing, exploration, and adventure. The Walkers are sailors and the Blacketts, pirates.

Captain John is the oldest; he is in charge of the adventures. First-mate Susan is next; she looks after daily necessities and is a mother of sorts to the crew. Able seaman Titty is the most imaginative of the four children and the ship's boy Roger is, well, a young boy like all other young boys.

Captain Nancy's real name is Ruth, but she is quite 'ruthless', uses pirate language, and behaves like a tomboy. Her sister Peggy is milder but loyal to her captain. Captain Flint appears midway through the book. He is James Turner in real life, uncle to the Blackett girls. He plays an important role in their adventures, treating their fantasy life with a seriousness that grown-ups seldom show. What sets the book apart is not the plot which, though, entertaining, is quite simple.

Rather, it is the detail in the descriptions of how the children sail, camp, cook, fish, swim, and spend their holidays. Their fantasy life oozes with reality: like the sailors in days of yore, they don't eat canned meat, they eat pemmican; they don't drink ginger ale and lemonade, they drink grog. Notably, there is no nastiness anywhere in the book.

The book contains nostalgic line drawings created by the author, himself. The book has been made into a play, a television series, and even a movie. The book is the first in a series of many, but few of the rest quite captivate the reader as much as does Swallows and Amazons.