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chesilbeach

Cumbria - Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

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CUMBRIA
 
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
 
Synopsis:
It is the wholesome story of four young children, John, Susan, Titty and Roger, who set out in their boat (the Swallow of the title) to an island of adventure. All seems well until they encounter their enemy. At first they are angry at the invasion of their peaceful haven by these Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, who claim ownership of the land. But in time a truce is called and the Swallows and Amazons become firm friends. Camping under open skies, swimming in clear water, fishing, exploring and making discoveries is the stuff of dreams which serves to make this so charming a tale. The author manages to capture the innocence of a time when all this was real and possible. Swallows and Amazons will transport children to a fantastical place where they can play safely and roam freely, without an adult in sight.

Alternative:
The Maid of Buttermere by Melvyn Bragg (link to book discussion thread)

Other Cumbria books:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Edited by chesilbeach

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Review: This was one of the few books that passed me by in childhood, I'm not quite sure why but I wish I'd read it then because I found it hard to disengage my adult brain. I was all the time thinking .. 'they shouldn't really be left to fend for themselves .. what on earth is their mother thinking? ... surely that's not safe .. what if they drown? ... oh crikey they've got matches' etc etc etc :blush2: When they went to meet with the charcoal burners and one of the men took them inside his tent I was nearly having a fit. Also my adult self couldn't quite get over how well behaved these children were and how well they got on together. No squabbling or punching to speak of, they were all very responsible and little Roger, who was seven, seemed to take it all in his stride when he was told that he wasn't quite old enough to do such and such or go so and so, surely he should have been prostrate on the floor, beetroot faced, kicking and screaming? Once, after learning that he couldn't go on a particular jaunt, he was told that he could lend them his torch and apparently that was just as good! These children weren't born they were sent directly from heaven :D And so was the mother, she fell in with all their games, was happy to speak in gobbledygook (her being a native and all) and didn't moan at them once about catching chills or ruining clothes (though, she wasn't negligent .. she seemed to trust to their own good sense ohmy.gif) Perhaps it's not so much that I've grown up, perhaps it's that times have changed and maybe the world was a much more simpler, safer place back when Arthur wrote these stories (1930's.) Certainly his stories are very reminiscent of Enid's who was writing at around the same time. Sensible children, enjoying the outdoor life with an adventure or two thrown in and lashings and lashings of food. It was only every time I came to the name 'Titty' that I became ten again :giggle2: .. I can't imagine that it was ever a good idea to name her that but if it was, it certainly isn't now. I was happier to call them by their crew names ... Captain John, Master Mate (Susan) Able-Seaman (Titty) and Ship's Boy (Roger).

I've only ever been to the Lake District once but it was glorious and it stuck in my memory so it was easy to visualise the landscape in which these stories are set. The four siblings set sail for 'Wild Cat Island' where they are to spend a few days camping but straight away notice that the island shows signs of previous habitation. Naturally this makes them a bit wary and they've every right to be because it's not long before they have their first confrontation with the crew of the Amazon ... the indomitable Captain Nancy Blackett and her sister Peggy. I loved Nancy, she seemed to immerse herself in the role of pirate whole heartedly and her speech was littered with salty expressions such as ... 'hang on to the mainsheet you son of a sea-cook' ... 'we've done them fairly brown' and lots of timber shivering and calling people 'galoots'. She and Peggy seemed like such good fun and though the Swallows and Amazons are sworn enemies to start with (and war is declared) they soon become allies in their quest to lay siege to Captain Flint (who is really Nancy and Peggy's Uncle Jim.)

I absolutely adored all the little illustrations and maps, they really bought the story to life. I wasn't a very outdoorsy sort of child, far too frightened of my own shadow for that but these books are just perfect for encouraging children to explore the great outdoors and take part in pursuits such as sailing, camping, hiking and fishing .. far better than sitting in front of a computer/TV screen. Whether todays children would find the stories too tame and dated I don't know, they seem to be still enjoying 'The Famous Five' which is encouraging.

The more I read of the story, the more I enjoyed it but I wish I had read it as a child. 7/10

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I grew up reading the Swallows and Amazons series: they were, in fact, the first set of books I can recall collecting for myself with my own money, saving up to buy them all second-hand for 2/6d each! Whilst I didn't lead quite the life they did, my childhood did range through the local Surrey woods, playing out for hours on end well beyond the bounds of home, with a whole host of friends, as well as my two (younger) brothers. 

 

The fact is that society's whole perception of risk, of danger, has changed dramatically over the last 30 or so years, much to the detriment of the children on the receiving end. The increasing prevalence of the car has certainly had some influence. There is no doubt in my mind that most children I now teach display wide-ranging dysfunctionality, increasing year on year, largely due to the over-protective society, dare I say paranoid/neurotic society, they are growing up in.  Socialisation, communication skills, motor skills, development of self-responsibility, risk assessment skills - all have suffered massively because parents keep their children locked up where they can see them, and have taken over the structuring of their lives minute by minute, encouraged by a society which has no understanding of risk itself (it is thus, for instance, actually riskier to drive to work than to cycle, whatever our perceptions, because we only factor in the short term, immediately visible, risks).  Yes, Ransome idealised the children's lives in his books, but they are completely recognisable to me, and underline how in some vita human areas, we are going backwards, not forwards.

 

BTW, I've visited most of the S&A sites, including swimming out to Wild Cat Island and camping in the most likely site for Swallowdale- they are all highly recognisable, even if the overall geography is slightly different!

Edited by willoyd

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I read this as a child, so it was a revisit for me, and I remember loving it although many of the salient details had escaped me. My Grandad used to sail on Lake Windemere in Cumbria, and I remember going with him as a small child before he sold the boat, so this also has some ties for me. 

 

I agree with Willoyd on society's concept of risk - I grew up in the 1990s and certainly would not have been allowed to camp with my 7-year-old brother and use matches alone on an island! :D But I think today's kids have even more restrictions than I did sadly so I wonder what my own kids will be able to experience outside the computer screen. 

 

This bit of poppyshake's review:  Also my adult self couldn't quite get over how well behaved these children were and how well they got on together. No squabbling or punching to speak of, they were all very responsible and little Roger, who was seven, seemed to take it all in his stride when he was told that he wasn't quite old enough to do such and such or go so and so, surely he should have been prostrate on the floor, beetroot faced, kicking and screaming? Once, after learning that he couldn't go on a particular jaunt, he was told that he could lend them his torch and apparently that was just as good! 

 

made me laugh, because I agree it seemed a bit odd! Especially because the older two had so much authority over the younger two. 

 

I liked Nancy, she seemed like the girl I was a kid - always wanted to do what the boys did, and do it better. (I was crap at sailing though). 

 

I found Susan much more annoying and thought it was a bit sexist in parts (although probably typical of 1929!). Susan does ALL the cooking and seems to do a lot of the washing up too - and be far too keen on clean pots and pans! Her memories of the island when they leave are of cooking and keeping camp for a large family - while John and Roger (and admittedly Titty) dream of adventure. The girls all say they can come back and stay forever, but John and Roger will go to sea just like Dad. Grr. Nancy was good though, I liked her a lot. 

 

(I realise that this annoys me probably more than it should because I grew up as the only girl surrounded by four boys on every holiday, and if there was a job like that to do we were all told to pitch in, whereas I was told I could do exactly what the boys did. We were obsessed with Just William at the time and used to put on plays scripted by ourselves but using the characters. The boys were told I had to have a go at playing William - the main character - as well regardless of gender!)

 

Willoyd - I never read Swallowdale - I read what I could as a kid from bookshops, gifts and a limited school library selection, I could never go and hunt out books I wanted although I remember desperately wishing to read the sequel. I might go and hunt it out as an adult! :D

Edited by Alexi

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Willoyd - I never read Swallowdale - I read what I could as a kid from bookshops, gifts and a limited school library selection, I could never go and hunt out books I wanted although I remember desperately wishing to read the sequel. I might go and hunt it out as an adult! :D

Worth finding.  We have the complete set, and both (OH and I) love them.  I agree that they are a bit anachronistic nowadays, but that's simply because of the way society has changed. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and can relate closely to the experiences here - although I wasn't as skilled - including the gender differences and expectations! As for the children's behaviour - I recognise that as well. Yes we did fight (three boys!), but we equally deferred to our 'seniors', even when the margin was only a few years, and equally took on that sort of responsibility when we were those 'seniors', even if only younger teens. It may seem odd, but my childhood relates far more closely to the lifestyles in these books thanto most of what I see children experiencing today. Comes of being in my fifties I suppose!  I much prefer the gender changes though - just need more of them now!

Edited by willoyd

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I've never read this, but the description rather reminds me of the Boxcar Children.  I rather like stories like that.

 

I read somewhere that the difference is raising children from a perspective of strength and courage versus one of weakness and fear.  I have to say I agree.  People live up to the expectations placed upon them.  If you assume they won't understand, they can't handle themselves, they have no common sense, everything is too dangerous, that they couldn't possibly do it so it better be done for them, and you can't possibly let them fail so it's best not to let them do anything, then of course they're going to become lazy entitled weaklings.  If you believe that they are strong capable individuals with a good head on their shoulders and the capacity to learn and  overcome adversity and then give them opportunities for realizing that themselves, then they will respond to that as well.  I do agree that times are radically different, though, but it makes me wonder if we as a society should be raising children to be stronger instead of sheltering them more and more.  Hmm...just thinking aloud, but this is what goes through my head every time I read a book like that.

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I haven't read the other comments in this thread yet - I shall do so in the morning!

 

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'Swallows and Amazons for ever!'

 

The Walker children - also known as Captain John, Mate Susan, Able-Seaman Titty, and Ship's Boy Roger - set sail on the Swallow and head for Wild Cat Island. There they camp under open skies, swim in clear water and go fishing for their dinner. But their days are disturbed by the Blackett sisters, the fierce Amazon pirates. The Swallows and Amazons decide to battle it out, and so begins a summer of unforgettable discoveries and incredible adventures.

 

I’m normally a bit meticulous about writing my reviews in order, but I’m making an exception for this one because it’s going round and round in my head, which is why I have found myself getting up at 4.30am to get some thoughts down so that I can hopefully go back to sleep!  In view of the early hour I hope you will forgive any omissions (or rubbish!) that I've written.

 

Swallows and Amazons, first published in 1930, is a tale of thrilling adventures on the High Seas Lake in Cumbria that is, in reality, a cross between Lake Windermere and Coniston Water.  In it we follow John, Susan, Titty (short for Letitia, I presume, and a rather unfortunate moniker these days! :giggle2: ) and Roger – the Swallows of the title, named after their boat.  They are on holiday and, after father (who is away at sea) gives his written permission for them to go camping (“Bettter drowned than duffers if not duffers won't drown") on an island in the middle of the lake, they set off with make-shift tents and beds made from sacks stuffed with straw and plenty of tinned provisions and set up camp on Wild Cat Island.   Soon they are at war with the Amazons (two girls, Ruth, known as Nancy, and her sister Peggy) but eventually they realise that if they are to defeat the enemy, retired pirate Captain Flint who lives on a houseboat moored nearby, they will have to band together and pool their sailing knowledge…

 

This book put me in mind of my own childhood where, although I didn’t stay out overnight, I did go off with my friend Sarah for the entire day.  We would take a picnic and drink, 10p for an ice-cream and 2p for an emergency phone call and head off to Higham Marshes (or even further afield) on our bikes.  We had such freedom and obviously there were no such things as mobile phones so our Mums hadn’t a clue where we were all day long! 

 

My own children were never ones to spend all day sitting in front of the TV – they’d much rather be out and about and had quite a bit of freedom too.  They started venturing further afield when they were in the latter years of primary school and it wasn’t unheard of for me to ring one of them at 3pm to make sure they were okay and to ask where they were only to be told “I’m fine, Mum – I’m up a tree on the batch”! 

 

Of course, I wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing them to camp out (apart from in our back garden!), let alone sail off to an island for days at a time, and this is where the story fell down for me a little.  It seems incredible to me that Roger, who was, I believe, only seven years old, would be allowed to go off with his older siblings in a boat without a life jacket when he couldn’t even swim!  And I wondered at the wisdom of mother, who gave him a knife on the condition that he learnt to swim (he managed three strokes on his back, and this, apparently was enough!).  I also question the reality of four siblings spending this length of time together (well, any length really!) without as much as a single row.  It just didn’t seem very realistic to me.   As I read, I made comparisons to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – they often quarrelled and I’m pretty certain I recall George slapping a fair few people!  The Walker children didn’t even have a cross word with each other!

 

I realise that, at this stage, my review probably makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the story at all.  That isn’t the case though, it just took a bit of suspension of disbelief, and I did get past the issues I had and very much enjoyed the adventure.  I know that had I read this as a child I would have loved it and would probably have read the other books featuring these children.   What with this and The Lake District Murder by John Bude which I read a few weeks ago, I’ve definitely had a good visit to Cumbria!  It’s an area that I love as I have family there and so have been visiting it regularly since I was a baby – another reason I wish I’d read this when I was a child.  I’m not sure what today’s children make of it but I’m glad I read it. 

 

I’m sure I have marked a couple of things in my book that I haven't referred to here so I may come back to this in the light of day and add some more, but for now I’m going back to bed – hopefully to catch up with some sleep!  :D

 

3½/5

 

Edit - the other thing I was going to mention was the completely unbelievable policeman, Sammy!  I guess he was meant to be a comedic element but it is just so unrealistic!  I suppose this is because I'm reading it through adult eyes!  :)

Edited by Janet

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Of course, I wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing them to camp out (apart from in our back garden!), let alone sail off to an island for days at a time, and this is where the story fell down for me a little.  It seems incredible to me that Roger, who was, I believe, only seven years old, would be allowed to go off with his older siblings in a boat without a life jacket when he couldn’t even swim!  And I wondered at the wisdom of mother, who gave him a knife on the condition that he learnt to swim (he managed three strokes on his back, and this, apparently was enough!).  I also question the reality of four siblings spending this length of time together (well, any length really!) without as much as a single row.  It just didn’t seem very realistic to me.   As I read, I made comparisons to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – they often quarrelled and I’m pretty certain I recall George slapping a fair few people!  The Walker children didn’t even have a cross word with each other!

I think you may be filtering this book through the eyes of a modern-day parent. When I was in my early teens, my two brothers and I often went off on our own overnight camping in the Surrey hills; I was the oldest and put 'in charge'. My youngest brother was not much older than Roger. Whilst at home we would argue a lot, on these trips we hardly ever did; I think it was the being in the confines of home with adults around that created that atmosphere. On our own away from them, we had to get on, and we did!

 

Ubiquitous use of life jackets, buoyancy aids etc. is quite a modern phenomenon - I can never quite get over seeing them being worn by so many people on the canals now, whilst when we went on them in the mid-70s, nobody wore such safety equipment, even after my middle brother fell in! Equally, I have had a penknife from a very early age, and remember proudly acquiring my first 'sheath knife' (a fairly wicked blade, a good 4+" long) when I joined the scouts, so that would be when I was 11.

 

For me as a child of the sixties and seventies, Swallows and Amazons was absolutely believable: whilst I never quite did what the S+A children did - I lived in rather tamer Surrey - everything they did was only a relatively small step beyond what we did ourselves. There was no need for suspension of belief - it was far too real for that. Sadly, many of these freedoms are now curtailed, at an all too obvious, growing and disturbing cost.

Edited by willoyd

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I'm still not getting on well with the audiobook.  I think I might have to read it myself as then the children's voices might not sound so earnest in my head!  At the moment, it's all very dated - even the narrator seems to have a very old fashioned RP delivery.  I think the problem is that I'm finding it hard to associate myself with these characters at all, but I will persevere. :yes:

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In the end, I gave up on the audiobook after a couple of chapters, and went back to the book instead.  The old fashioned style of the narrator did nothing for the book, and when I started reading for myself, I enjoyed the book much, much more.

 

The story and its style took me back to being a young child, reading adventure stories of years gone by, and I ended up enjoying it with reservations.  It's obviously dated, back in a time when children would be allowed to camp on an island on their own, albeit on a lake within sight of the mother and with daily check-ins with the local farm, and left to their own devices for the summer.  There are some irritating attitudes to the role of the girls (and by extension, women) in that their role will be to grow up to be good housewives, and within their own groups, the children are a bit too good to be believed. They have their own hierarchy based on their roles on the boats, which made the audio version seem very earnest, but faded a little when I read it for myself.

 

Like my adult feelings have changed for my childhood favourite, Enid Blyton, I have the same modern day sensibilities that make me question my younger self - the privileged upper middle class children, the role of boys versus the girls, and there's also a whiff of the simple local working class folk that I find a bit off too, but I can imagine that as a child, I would have loved the book.  I won't be going on to read any more of the series, but I'm glad I've read this one for the challenge.

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Interesting comments - I haven't read this book, but did read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was a child, and loved the adventure side and sheer escapism, but with regard to the comments about women's expectations etc - that was the norm at the time the book was written, in fact when I was at primary school I can remember female teachers giving up their job if they got married!  Sounds very odd now, but at the time we didn't think anything of it, as it was how things were.  And people coming back to work after having a baby was virtually unknown!

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