REVIEW: Swallows & Amazons #1-4 by Arthur Ransome

Swallows movie
The Swallows and Amazons book series all take place in 1930’s England, and all the characters are most often either on or near a book. It’s a children’s series that emphasizes the fun of the outdoors without being tiresome and focusing on outdoors survival (like some other books are). Very little is said about the actual living outdoors parts, confined only to mentions about building fires and setting up tents. All the food is provided by adults, and so the children are free to play and have fun. Imagination is a big part of the series, with each book having an adventure the protagonists go on, like finding the North Pole or beating pirates to treasure. They don’t really explore the Arctic, but it’s just as good as if they had.

Mr. Ransome’s writing is refreshingly modern, in that all the characters talk like I imagine 1930’s children talked (but with less slang) and every action makes sense (unlike some other 1930’s children’s books). He’s not overly sentimental or nostalgic, but you can clearly see the love he has for these places (and the ships). The endings are very matter-of-fact and not all all gushy and revolting, and the entire package is, I think, something to treasure.

Reading the S&A books actually calms me down (as well as making me wish I could sail). I’m sticking them in the same category as Noel Streatfeild and Diana Wynne Jones’ books– authors and books that I read when I feel sad or sick. They always make me feel better!

I’ve decided to talk about each book individually, so I can maybe discuss things with people in comments! 😀 But, uh, if you haven’t read the books already I’m going to warn that there are (tiny) SPOILERS. If you don’t want to know anything specific about the books before you read them (because you should read them), then don’t bother scrolling down (or clicking the jump). If you don’t care, or if you’ve already read the books, read on!

Swallows & AmazonsBook No. One: Swallows and Amazons
Oh, I love this book. I wasn’t expecting to, and in fact when I first got it from the library I was expecting to hate it and then, since I already had a copy of the second book, I’d have to get rid of it somehow (it was just that kind of week). But of course I was utterly wrong, and I’m surprised at how much I adore this book and this series.

All the characters are simply wonderful, and I even liked the unfortunately-named Titty, who can lean towards annoying with her flightiness. Reading the Swallows’ and Amazons’ adventures makes me want to go off to a small town in contact with water, get on a boat and sail around until I find an island to explore. (I can’t sail, live in a landlocked city, and this isn’t the 1930’s, but who cares!)

SwallowdaleBook No. Two: Swallowdale
Like a lot of book series I read, I’m never sure how good the second book is compared to the first one. When the first book is as good as Swallows and Amazons is, the second book normally always pales in comparison. And, I’ll be honest, at first it was a disappointment. But then the CRASH happened, where the Swallow loses her mast and gets a big hole in her side. The Swallows are stuck on land until Swallow is fixed, and this leads them to found Swallowdale in a valley.

That twist was a really good idea, and though the shipwreck was terrifying it was also well done, and this book is JUST as good as the first one.

Peter DuckBook No. Three: Peter Duck
I had a hard time with this book. Not because it was bad– in fact, I enjoyed it immensely!– but because it didn’t actually happen in the S&A universe. It’s actually a story the kids made up one winter, but because it’s written in the same style as the other books (i.e. like it actually DID happen), if I think about it too long my brain hurts.

But if I don’t think about it, it’s a fabulous book. I absolutely love the story, especially the new characters and the adventure through the ocean from England to an island in the tropics. It was exciting and adventuresome and it’s probably my favorite book of the series so far (besides the first book).

Winter HolidayBook No. Four: Winter Holiday
Here we’re introduced to two new characters, Dorothea and Dick Callum. At first I wasn’t sure about them, especially since the other children took a backseat and were mostly secondary to the D’s. However, I soon grew to like them, and I even came to the understanding tat they were probably stuck in there to give city kids a chance to have fun in the wilderness, too. I’m a city kid, and though I like reading about people living in the wilderness (or near about), it does get a bit tiring reading of their innate knowledge of where woodpeckers best like to roost, or something. it was actually very refreshing to see two people bumbling around– trying their best, of course, but not entirely as best as the non-city kids can do it. It was like I got to be a part of the story, instead of just viewing it.

Read: August/September 2009

Challenges: Seafaring Challenge II (#3-5)

Top image from the 1974 movie of Swallows and Amazons.

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Swallows & Amazons #1-4 by Arthur Ransome”

    1. The Swallows and Amazon series are some of my favourite books! Of the 4 you reviewed, I think that that Winter Holiday is my favourite – it has some wonderfully evocative writing, that somehow makes me feel great when I read it!

      For some reason, I don’t like the first – Swallows and Amazons – as much as some of the others, partly because it includes a real robbery, that is solved by the children, which seems a bit too much like other “the gang of children solve the mystery” genre stories!

      The ones in the series that I like better are the ones with more ‘ordinary’, believable stories (though the actual things that happen are pretty exciting at times). If I had to choose, then I’d probably say Winter Holiday was my favourite, closely followed by The Picts and the Martyrs.

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