Wednesday 30 April 2014

Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome

A while ago I wrote about how I planned to read the entire series of Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome this summer. Then I wrote about how I'd triumphantly finished Swallows and Amazons and how it was just as great as I expected, and I amazed everybody (myself included) by carrying straight on and ploughing my way through Swallowdale, the second book in the series. 

I thought I might have read Swallowdale as a child, but having read it now I don't think I ever have done. It's set in the summer holidays one year on from the events of Swallows and Amazons and features the same cast of characters as the previous book, but pretty much the whole book takes place in Swallowdale, a valley discovered by the crew of the Swallow after they have tragically wrecked their boat on a rock just offshore, meaning they have no means of returning to Wild Cat Island. While they are waiting for the boat to be mended, they move their camp to Swallowdale instead and commence great adventures, including mountain climbing, narrow escapes from terrifying Great Aunts and another encounter with the charcoal burners who live in wigwams and who also appear in the first book. 

You could call Swallowdale just more of the same, and it is in the same way that I'm expecting most of the series to be about kids having adventures in boats. Because that's what they are, and I personally have no problem with that. The only thing that really annoyed me about this one was how randomly everybody now calls the baby known as Vicky in Swallows and Amazons Bridget. Apparently, Bridget is her actual name and she was only called Vicky because she bore a resemblance to Queen Victoria, and come to think of it I might sort of vaguely remember this being mentioned like once in the first book, but still I was so confused. I was sat on the bus staring out the window going 'who the hell is Bridget?? Where's Vicky gone?!'. 

Aside from that, there was lots more adventuring and exploring and leaving trails for themselves as well as general survival and the discovery of a super awesome cave they then used as a larder and the arrival of Peter Duck! Helpfully I now know that Peter Duck is a figment of Titty's imagination, and a character who featured in a story which was told 'at Christmas'. I did miss the Amazons, who were unable to join in a lot of the adventures due to having to stay home wearing their best dresses and reciting poetry for their horrendous Great Aunt, who wouldn't even let Nancy be called Nancy! Consequently, getting them (and Captain Flint) away from the Great Aunt featured prominently through about three quarters of the book, and also added a really nice little time pressure onto everything, as it's difficult to do things properly when you have to worry about people being home by 5 for tea. 

As with Swallows and Amazons, lots of the geography of Swallowdale was inspired by things in the region where Ransome was living at the time. I just put it in as general interest (mostly for Katie, in case it helps inspire your holiday at all!) that Kanchenjunga, the mountain that they climb, was inspired by Old Man of Coniston, just in case you decide you have the need to climb a mountain, and if you do I want photos! 

If you haven't read Swallows and Amazons, I really want to know why not, and if you read it and like it, I would recommend you keep going. Especially if you're reading it to kids. Swallowdale was published in 1931, and to me, aside from the lack of electronics and general hysteria about the safety of children, it is wonderfully undated. I've just started Peter Duck, which the previously mentioned lovely Katie actually went out of her way to look for in bookshops where she lives and posted to me. How amazing is that?? I'm already loving it :-) 



    I'm glad to hear that the next book was more adventurous loveliness. There's something really nice about the freedom of older children's books, where big brothers and sisters were responsible and parents trusted their kids to explore and have fun and not get into too much trouble. It's wonderful. :)

    I'll definitely have to get me a replacement copy of S+A (it was from the same series as the picture of Swallowdale above, and it was basically dead by the time I'd finished reading and rereading it as a kid, completely yellow and falling apart) and start the series again. I'm actually GLAD to hear it's more of the same, because I'd be more disappointed if the tone changed completely from one book to the next. :)

  2. You're doing such a good job at convincing me to read these! I still really love childrens book series with adventures and stories and oh man, maybe I just want to read Little Women (the first half...) again and then some Enid Blyton. Or just, like, ALL THE CHILDREN'S BOOKS!

    1. Children's books are the best, just do it! :-D Or come round my house and I can lend you some. I have like.... 7 or 8 shelves of them and most are part of my collection. Benji (and baby) only have like 2 shelves between them :-p Obviously I will let them read my collection once they're old enough. I'm not that mean!