In 1929, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), a journalist and war correspondent who was on the books of MI6, turned his hand to writing adventure stories for children. The result was Swallows and Amazons and eleven more wonderful books followed, spanning in publication the turbulent years from 1930 to 1947. They changed the course of children’s literature and have never been out of print since. In them, Ransome creates a world of escape so close to reality that it is utterly believable, a world in which things always turn out right in the end.
Yet Swallows, Amazons and Coots shows that, to be properly appreciated today, the novels must be read as products of their era, inextricably bound up with Ransome’s life and times as he bore witness to the end of Empire and the dark days of the Second World War. In the first critical book devoted wholly to the series, Julian Lovelock explores each novel in turn, offering an erudite assessment of Ransome’s creative process and narrative technique, and highlighting his contradictory politics, his defence of rural England, and his reflections on colonialism and the place of women in society. Thus Lovelock demonstrates convincingly that, despite first appearances, the novels challenge as much as reinforce the pervading attitudes of their time.
Written with a lightness of touch and enlivened by Ransome’s own illustrations, Swallows, Amazons and Coots is both fresh and nostalgic. It will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the world of Swallows and Amazons, and there is plenty here to challenge both the student and the Ransome enthusiast.
List of Illustrations
Foreword by Sophie Neville
Introduction: ‘The Romantic Transfiguration of Fact’
1. Swallows and Amazons: Explorers, Pirates and Savages
2. Swallowdale: ‘Things Will Go Onward the Same’
3. Peter Duck: Ransome and the Art of Metafiction
4. Winter Holiday: Enter the Callums
5. Coot Club: ‘In the Cider Press’
6. Pigeon Post: The Unlikely Mystery of Squashy Hat
7. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea: Confronting Reality
8. Secret Water: Growing Up and Apart
9. The Big Six: In the Shadow of War
10. Missee Lee: Nancy and the Twenty-Two Gong Taicoon
11. The Picts and the Martyrs: ‘Imitation and Rehash’?
12. Great Northern?: Not Quite a Grand Finale
Afterword: A Sense of Endings
Endorsements and Reviews
Lovelock’s thesis – that Ransome’s novels challenge as much as reinforce the prevailing attitudes of their time – is insightful. [Swallows Amazons and Coots] offers persuasive politicized readings of many of these books; excellent chapters on Coot Club (1934) and The Big Six (1940) demonstrate Ransome’s championing of the ordinary, an endangered (now extinct) rural way of life. … Lovelock is a lifelong Ransome fan and fellow amateur sailing enthusiast, and his book exudes companionable delight.
Charlotte Jones, in Times Literary Supplement, 23 December 2016
Lest we forget, what Rowling did for magicians in the noughties, Arthur Ransome did for sailing holidays in the 1930s and ’40s. In this charming but exacting study, Lovelock brings vividly alive the world of Swallows and Amazons and the intriguing character of its creator. Here is a real ‘spot in time’ of English culture. Lovelock presents the first serious study of the whole oeuvre, an apparently lost world of the certainties of Empire and the patriarchal family.
Stefan Hawlin, Professor in English Literature, University of Buckingham
An admirable introduction for newcomers to the Swallows and Amazons novels, written with detailed and expert knowledge. Julian Lovelock clearly has a deep affection and admiration for Ransome’s writing, and places the books in a rich and complex context. This is an elegant and leisurely guide through the books in the company of an amiable and well-informed companion.
Peter Hunt, Professor Emeritus in Children’s Literature at Cardiff University and co-author of How Did Long John Silver Lose His Leg? (2013)
This is a splendid and timely book. Julian Lovelock restores Arthur Ransome to his rightful place on one of the peaks of children’s fiction. Perhaps even more importantly, he reminds us, by way of a plainly and grippingly told tale, of the pleasure to be had when, returning as an adult to books treasured in childhood, we are seized once again by Ransome’s moral strength, his technical command whether of seafaring, copper-mining, birdlore or Arctic exploration, and the cordial power of his story-telling.
Fred Inglis, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Sheffield
There is always more in life than meets the eye. The delightful and unique Arthur Ransome stories from Swallows and Amazons to Great Northern? have captivated us over the years. But now we learn, thanks to this fascinating book, that there are more aspects and depths to the stories than we ever imagined. In no way does this diminish them – on the contrary. By giving us a more profound understanding of the author, the adventures and exploits of his characters take on an extra depth and dimension. These are stories for children that no adult should miss.
Virginia McKenna, OBE
This multifaceted approach to Ransome’s work results in a volume that is both critical and sensitive, offering food for thought to enthusiasts and critics alike. … Overall, Swallows, Amazons and Coots provides an important addition to Ransome scholarship, filling a gap left by previous studies with discussion that is both comprehensive and penetrating.
Jen Harrison, in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol 42, No 2
There are all sorts of insights. … A book to enjoy, argue with, and be inspired by.
Peter Willis, The Nancy Blackett Shop, 27 November 2016
Offers a fascinating insight into Ransome the writer … Today’s Internet-savvy reader is left in no doubt that Ransome is a shining light for our time.
Anne Gaelan, at https://annegaelan16.wordpress.com, December 2017