Home School Book Review
, May 22, 2012
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What did kids do to amuse and entertain themselves before television, video games, computers, and smart phones? They played outside and used their imagination. That’s exactly what Captain John Walker, his sister Mate Susan, their sister Able-seaman Titty, and brother the Boy Roger do. Their father, probably in the Royal Navy, is on a ship at Malta but under orders for Hong-King, so for their summer vacation their mother has rented a cottage on a farm at Holly Howe located next to a huge lake. They also have a baby sister, Vicky, who is taken care of by a nurse. The children have been taught how to sail, and they have use of the farm’s sailboat, the Swallow. While out on the lake, they find an island where they receive permission to camp.
During the course of their adventure, they meet up with the Blacketts, Captain Nancy (real name Ruth) and sister Mate Peggy, who have their own pirate sailboat, the Amazon, along with the girls’ uncle James Taylor who lives on a houseboat near the island and becomes “Captain Flint” to the children. The Swallows and the Amazons declare war on each other with victory going to the side who can take the others’ ship, then together they declare war on Captain Flint. Who will win? How will a burglary at Captain Flint’s houseboat affect their relationship? And what will they do when a huge storm comes up over Wild Cat Island? The book had its beginning long before when as a child author Arthur Mitchell Ransome, with his brother and sisters, spent most of their holidays on a farm at the south end of Coniston and played on the nearby lake, but it was further inspired by a summer in which Ransome taught the children of his friends, the Altounyans, to sail. In fact, three of the Altounyan children's names are adopted directly for the Walker family.
Swallows and Amazons, a paean to children’s make-believe play and exploring their surrounding world, is a very pleasant story that involves the great outdoors, boats, fishing, and camping, with rich characterization, vivid descriptions, wholesome reading, and old-fashioned ideals. It includes a good deal of everyday Lakeland life in the early twentieth century, from the local farmers to charcoal burners working in the woods. Seldom have I ever come to the end of a book and felt sorry that it was over. If you read it and reach the same conclusion, you’re in luck! Ransome wrote eleven more books in the “Swallows and Amazons Forever” series: Swallowdale (1931); Peter Duck (1932); Winter Holiday (1933); Coot Club (1934); Pigeon Post (1936); We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea (1937); Secret Water (1939); The Big Six (1940); Missee Lee (1941); The Picts And The Martyrs: or Not Welcome At All (1943); and Great Northern? (1947). A thirteenth book, Coots in the North, was left incomplete at the time of Ransome's 1967 death and published in an unfinished form in 1988 with some other short works. In subsequent adventures in the series, the children progressively grow older, change their usual roles, and become explorers or miners.