Arthur Ransome Connections
Admiral Taylor Rhodes, 1939 (originally printed in the U.S. Newsletter Signals from TARSUS in 1997)
How I Became the Admiral of the United States Branch of the Swallows, Amazons & D's
For the most part, I grew up in a small town in southeast Kansas in the thirties. Then, there was no television to turn a child's head. In its stead, I read voraciously. One day (I believe it was fairly early in the year of 1938), the librarian of the children's department of our local library handed me a copy of We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, and said she thought I might enjoy it. That was my introduction to Arthur Ransome and, I confess, that I was deep into the volume before I became interested in the story and its characters. But by the end of the tome, I wanted to read more.
I was the perfect age to be introduced to Swallows and Amazons, for I was 9 when the librarian first placed Mr. Ransome's most recent literary effort into my hands. By the summer of 1939, now age 10, I had read all his Swallows, Amazons & D's books published to date, and enjoyed them so much that I was moved to write to Mr. Ransome.
Some weeks later, while I was yet a few days from my eleventh birthday, a letter arrived from England; my first letter from another country. That was exciting enough. But you can image my astonishment when I opened the envelope to find one of Mr. Ransome's famous illuminated cards upon which was inscribed my official appointment to Admiral of the United States Branch of the Swallows, Amazons & D's, and a drawing of my official flag. That Mr. Ransome took the trouble to do a pen and ink sketch of my admiral's flag on the reverse of the card, I find, attests to his sincere interest in his young readers.
The text of Mr. Ransome's note follows:
Dear Taylor Myers,
Thank you for your very nice letter. I am glad you like the books.
You are hereby officially appointed Admiral of the United States Branch of the S's, A's and D's,
with the right to fly the skull & crossbones with one white shot in the top corner of the hoist (see over).
Given under my hand this first day of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine.
(You will note AR's salutation is to Taylor Myers. That was my name at the time. My mother remarried approximately two years after, and my new stepfather adopted me, thereby changing my legal name to Taylor Rhodes.)
Last spring, my wife and I visited the Lake Country for the first time, and my fond memories of AR's stories, made manifest by my proximity to many of their settings, prompted me to reflect on why these stories were so important to me. I list three factors that explain Mr. Ransome's significant to me:
First and foremost, Arthur Ransome was a wonderful storyteller. He never talked down to his readers and, as an additional compensation for me, he provided an introduction to some English customs and phrases.
Second, with the possible exception of We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, nothing fantastic, nor even especially extraordinary happens. Arthur Ransome's stories involve incidents of the magnitude that can and do happen to children everywhere and everyday.
Finally, over the years, I have come realize that the real spirit of the Ransome books is the simple truth that, with a little imagination, you can have a good time wherever you are. That is what John and Susan and Nancy and Titty and the rest did. Certainly, they were fortunate to visit the Lake District, but they used those superb surroundings a a springboard for their fancy, and therein lies the lesson for the day. I have been plopped, both as a child and adult, into some pretty dull situations. When I forgot to use my imagination, I was bored. When I remembered, what happened became memorable, also.
I never wrote another fan letter. To my way of thinking, how could I possibly top this one?
Taylor Rhodes, Adm., U.S.B.
Arthur Ransome's illustrated note cards with his writings on them are copyright to the
Arthur Ransome Literary Estate, and are used with permission of the owner of the card and the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate.
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