Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons (Swallows and Amazons, #1)Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays. 

Swallows and Amazons was an interesting, but rather weird, book. It was entertaining, but also racist and really sexist. However, what can you expect from a book published in 1930? Swallows and Amazons is the quintessential British adventure tale...camping, sailing, fishing, etc. Four children set off to explore an island on their summer holiday and have all sorts of experiences. They call themselves the Swallows, after the name of their boat. The Walker children (a.k.a. the Swallows) encounter the two Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, and form an uneasy truce (punctuated by battles). There are lots of other characters who play the roles of "natives" and "savages" in their little game. See what I mean about the racism? The word native isn't inherently so, but the word savage certainly is. They're constantly talking about how the savages probably have eaten thousands of people. These so-called "savages" are indeed natives; natives of the area. The kids are just there for the summer.

I ended up enjoying Swallows and Amazons, but it was kind of difficult to relate to. Sure, we can all relish the excitement of adventure and exploration, but many aspects of the book felt so alien to me. John, the captain of the Swallow, is probably around twelve or thirteen, if that. The youngest of the crew is seven and doesn't know how to swim. Their mother just lets them sail off and camp out on an island for a seemingly indefinite period of time. And she says, "Oh, come back and check in every few days." Now, admittedly the place they're in isn't actually that dangerous whatever the kids may believe, but still, it felt strange, compared to our sheltered modern times. It might actually be a good thing, but that sort of thing doesn't happen now. I could hardly believe that the book was set in 1929; it felt like it was set in some timeless, idyllic place. But I suppose the years before World War II were idyllic in some sense.

You're probably wondering about the sexism. Well, the older girl's name is Susan, and her duties consist mainly of cooking their meals. Oh, and washing all of the dishes. She does have a helper, but it's the other girl of the family. While the girls are washing up, the boys get to do all the fun stuff. I might be being a bit unfair. Susan and Titty (yes, that's her name) get to do lots of interesting things as well. But every single meal is made by them. Which, as I said, was probably pretty typical of that period, but it was still annoying...It's kind of like Gone With the Wind; you just have to deal with the racism/sexism, get past it, and still enjoy the book. Putting aside the fact that the boys never do any menial work, Swallows and Amazons is a really good British adventure story. Incidentally, I love how I connect completely unrelated books with each other all the time. Swallows and Amazons, Gone With the Wind, really? The books have almost nothing in common. But I managed to find something. I also managed to get really hooked by this one; I couldn't wait to read more. I may try some of the subsequent books in the series.

Read Swallows and Amazons:
  • if you like adventure stories
  • if you like British fiction
351 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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