Arthur Ransome - Shastrix Books

Arthur Ransome

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Coots in the North and other stories

Coots in the North and other stories

Arthur Ransome

3rd February 2013

The beginnings of the thirteenth Swallows and Amazons novel is collected along with a few other short or incomplete works by Arthur Ransome, which makes this much more than just some disconnected scenes from a work in progress.

Coots in the North would have seen the Death & Glories travel from the Norfolk Broads to the Lake District, and the text contains the opening of this story, which though unpolished shows the usual Ransome style and really pulls the reader into the story, which makes it more of a shame that it then stops, with the remaining portions of narrative only adding a few extra scenes. It's an interesting insight into the author's writing process, while also a disappointment that there is no more.

The other stories are equally interesting, though having not read Ransome's work outside his most famous series I may not appreciate all of it fully. The tone is very familiar, and I found the sections that open this collection the most interesting - the opening chapters of a potential book about a fisherman's life, and a later chapter from the same presented in the first person. Both stand alone quite well as short stories, and have encouraged me that now I've finished re-reading the Ransome books I've kept since a child to look out for some of his other stories.

I think I've appreciated this book much more as an adult than I did when I read it as a child, and perhaps the grown reader is the best audience for it. It evokes memories of reading about the lakes as a child, and of wanting to become a writer myself in order to complete the story!

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Great Northern?

Great Northern?

Arthur Ransome

26th September 2012

Great Northern?, the last complete story in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, is a much better adventure than I remembered from childhood. The three groups of siblings are sailing the Sea Bear off the Scottish coast with Captain Flint (whether this is meant to be real or another story made up by the children is unclear, but personally I favour the former position) when Dick makes a remarkable discovery - but then must protect it from danger.

This novel focusses heavily on Dick, but with good chunks of the narrative with Roger and several of the other characters. If anything, it is the mates - Peggy and Susan - who receive the least attention, a problem they have suffered from throughout the series. The plot deals with an interesting conflict between two different sides to science and presents quite a lot of educational and philosophical information to its young target audience.

My memory from childhood was that this was one of the weakest of the series, and my recollections of what was going to happen slightly shaded my experience of re-reading. Yet this time I thought it stronger, and once I got past one particularly awkward scene I relaxed and found it to be quite a good adventure. Maybe not the finale that I think the series deserved but certainly better than many other children's books.

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The Picts and the Martyrs

The Picts and the Martyrs

Arthur Ransome

29th July 2012

The eleventh of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books is the only one of the series to feature the Amazons without the Swallows, taking place early in the summer holidays. Dick and Dorothea are visiting the Amazon pirates to take delivery of a boat of their own, but an unscheduled visit from the Amazons' great-aunt disrupts their plans.

It's a good new situation for the characters to find themselves in, and the use of the D's as main characters allows Ransome to write about them learning at the same time as his readers - by showing rather than telling, which is what would have to happen if he used his more experienced characters.

Although compared to some of the earlier adventures, the plot seems quite tame, it's still an exciting tale of children left to their own devices that is still approachable for modern children. It's probably one of the best of the later books in the series, and makes a number of references back to earlier adventures.

Another good story that I've enjoyed revisiting. Ransome's tales deserve to remain well-loved children's classics for many years to come.

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Missee Lee

Missee Lee

Arthur Ransome

3rd June 2012

I said in my review of Secret Water, an earlier book in the Swallows and Amazons series, that it was probably the weakest in the series, but now I'm not so sure. Missee Lee is written as a story that the children have made up about themselves visiting the far east and being captured by pirates. This structure, though only made explicit in a single line introduction, is similar to that of Peter Duck, yet I felt this story was less substantial.

I remember reading this as a child and not finding it the most enjoyable entry in the series, and looking back I can understand why. A large proportion of the middle of the book is spent on learning Latin - far more than seems necessary - which is quite unapproachable for a modern-day reader not schooled in this ancient language. Perhaps to a mid-twentieth century audience, for whom the book was written, these parts may have come across as familiar in-jokes, but today they are just incomprehensible.

There are also a number of words which would be considered politically incorrect today, and the way that all the Chinese characters speak could easily be taken as racism if imitated by children reading the book today.

There is remarkably little sailing for the series in this book, and it stands out to me as a bit of an oddity, not quite fitting in as Peter Duck did. I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone unless they wanted to complete the series.

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The Big Six

The Big Six

Arthur Ransome

6th April 2012

The Big Six is Arthur Ransome's foray into writing a crime story for his Swallows and Amazons series, although neither of those groups even gets a name check. Instead this story sees Dick and Dorothea return to the Norfolk Broads - setting of the earlier story Coot Club - to reunite with Tom Dudgeon and the Death and Glories, who find themselves accused of a series of misdemeanours.

As an adult reader, I must admit that I found the story to progress a little slowly in places. The resolution seemed quite transparent (although that may be partly down to my dry sketchy memories from a previous reading some fifteen years ago). To a younger audience less familiar with the typical structure of a crime story though perhaps this might be less so.

The interesting thing about this book, amongst the series, is in its focus on Joe, Bill and Pete, the Death and Glories, who are three working class children - at odds with the middle-class background of the children that usually featured in Ransome's stories. This enables the author to have a play with dialect and accent and inject a little more local flavour. It almost seems that the trio are more approachable from a modern standpoint, as they don't have cooks to provide endless jugs of tea and plates of sandwiches.

So yes, I did enjoy this book again. I think more than I did as a child as I remember feeling that the two stories set in the Broads were weaker than the Lake District tales.

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Secret Water

Secret Water

Arthur Ransome

21st February 2012

Secret Water is, in my opinion, the weakest of the Swallows and Amazons series. It follows on directly from 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea', but the plot is very different. The Swallows are 'marooned' on an island with a blank map, and tasked by their father with exploring the surrounding area and mapping it out.

While the book does have its good points - featuring Bridget for the first time adds a new dynamic to the group - a lot of it just doesn't seem to work, and I think this is probably why it's the least memorable from when I read the series as a child. Some characters seem included without enough for them to do, and of the new characters only one seems to really have much by way of depth. Unlike many of the other books, this one doesn't seem to focus on any particular character, and I think this spreads the plot too thinly.

Some aspects of the plot are new and interesting, but all in all it seems like a pretty dull holiday for the children compared to their previous adventures, and the various elements don't entirely fit together well. The ending in particular feels quite rushed, and it almost seems like Ransome reached his word count and just wrapped things up without any real climax.

Overall then, it's an unusual low point for what is otherwise an excellent series. I didn't connect with it so well as the 'lakes' books in the series, and look forward to re-reading the last of those in the near future.

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We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea

Arthur Ransome

7th January 2012

The only one of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons novels to feature solely the Swallows, 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea' sees the four siblings do just that, as bad weather accidentally washes them out of the harbour.

I've enjoyed reading this one again - other than the basic premise I barely remembered anything about the story from reading it as a child, something which seems to be true of all the later books in the series, perhaps suggesting that I didn't re-read them the first time round. John comes across as the main character of the story, and I find it really interesting how well Ransome manages to spread the stories around the large group of characters he has created, with each focussing on a different individual or group.

The adventure is thrilling and richly described, and next to no knowledge of sailing is required to appreciate the realistic dangers that the children face. That said though, there are things to criticise in this book. It's the first time I've noticed any overt sexism in the series, with the two Walker girls variously being sea-sick, headachy, worrysome and nurses. John and Roger by comparison seem to be confident, headstrong and knowledgeable about sailing and engineering.

Overall though I feel it's a deserving entry in the series and certainly the peak of realism and threat. Even though the story only covers a few days it doesn't feel as if anything is dragged out, and I still think these are some of the greatest children's stories ever written.

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Other reviewed books

Pigeon Post
Coot Club
Winter Holiday
Peter Duck
Swallowdale
Swallows and Amazons

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Swallows and Amazons for Ever!

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