Kirsty Cochrane's article argues the view that Ransome in the S&A novels came to be "in complete control of a new form of narrative" that, among other things involved "an ironic contextual interplay of visual and verbal motifs". Of all 'academic' papers on AR, this is the one that I have found most revealing: I am grateful to Dr. Cochrane for her permission to place it on the Web.
Motive and Motif in Swallows and Amazons and Pigeon Post
by Kirsty Cochrane
When, in 1929, at the age of 45, Arthur Ransome began writing the novel which was to win him lasting fame and friends he had already been a professional writer all his adult life. Literature of pirates, boats and boys had shaped his mind during childhood and was an enduring passion throughout his life. Ransome became the first writer in the history of children's literature to understand and accept what is serious in early life, and to adopt without condescension and with scarcely a fluctuation in perspective the point of view of child characters. He developed ideas about narrative during his work as a literary critic before the First World War. Becoming then a political journalist, he missed the force of the Modernist movement, and as a novelist came to develop an idiosyncratic narrative method which incorporated visual as well as verbal motifs unto a unified design. In looking at some origins of this narrative technique and comparing his motifs and motives in Swallows and Amazons (1930) and the greatest novel of his mature art, Pigeon Post (1936), it seems appropriate to use Ransome's own critical terminology.
This is not particularly complex. But he was of course a knowledgeable and sophisticated literary critic. The art of story-telling and the nature of creativity fascinated him; indeed he believed "the tales men tell" reveal the story of man.1 He thought of narrative on a scale from realism to fantasy. He was surprised by the careful dispassionate planning behind some of Poe's fantastic effects, and considered him therefore the true artist, keeping "a kind of tender watchfulness over the original intention".2 He approved of the Ruskin school of criticism which had chosen to compare painters "more or less favourably by their fidelity to ... external and observable nature".3 He admired Prosper Merimée's expository constructions and conversational story-telling.4 He is highly observant of fluctuations in a writer's point of view.5 Such observations are perhaps only to be expected from a professional writer and reviewer. But Ransome also offered the Georgian literary world an innovative concept of "literature in general" as a "combination of kinetic with potential speech".6
The notion seems to run parallel with his idea of a narrative continuum between realism and decoration. Purely potential speech is music. Purely kinetic speech is "prose without atmosphere ... It says things". Purely potential speech is music. Thus, in a ballad, the words may be purely kinetic, but the melody to which they are sung gives shanties a quality of potential speech. The powerful effect of potentiality in Swallows and Amazons derives in part, we may feel, from the fragments of literature (including sung ballads) which the narrative contains and which frame it as epigraphs, While appearing "kinetic", Ransome's beautifully lucid narration therefore gains and holds resonances which accumulate and re-echo within the work itself, within the series of which it is the starting-place and axis, and within the reader's mind and life.
Despite his masterly understanding of what narrative could be, Ransome approached the task of writing a book "about childhood" with extreme trepidation. It would mean too much. To fail would be to lose, to invalidate, part of himself.7 Few books are so charged with subterranean areas of self as Swallows and Amazons. Few induce such possessiveness in their devotees. Indeed, few such books read by children can have so influenced generations in habits of mind and literary taste. This seminal novel is a richly complex literary work. The comparison with Pigeon Post which follows touches on only two of the narrative elements they share: plot and motif.
Consider the plots of these novels. They share many similarities, principally in using quest, that high subject of traditional story. It is the habit of narrative to continue while the quest is in operation, and narrative closure coincides with the end of a quest. How is this true of Swallows and Amazons? First there is the Walkers' quest for a desired place, the longed-for island; once the place is achieved, desire is fulfilled and a condition of stasis emerges, which has no narrative future in it. The island can be enjoyed ad infinitum, a state unnatural to narrative, but nonetheless desired by many readers of Ransome who have wanted precisely that to happen, and the story simply to coexist domestically with the reader's life. Amongst Ransome's fan-mail was the request: "Please write another book exactly like the last with the same people and the same places and all the same things happening."8 What a challenge! Yet the writer, like many of us, was expressing a wish that that benign life, made so real by the author's cunning art, should go on existing without interruption; paying a supreme compliment to the reality of Ransome's created world. The child who made that request was expressing a sense of fulfilment as well as desire. However, Ransome's work on Merimée led him to appreciate the value of plot, and we would not expect him to let stasis occur; nor does he. The initial quest achieved, a narrative complication succeeds, identifiable as another familiar structure of traditional story, a "distortion of what will be made straight",9 in the form of the Houseboat Man's misinterpretation of John; this in turn is succeeded by and runs parallel with a subordinate theme of quest-within-the-quest, for the stolen treasure of the Houseboat Man now known as Nancy's and Peggy's Uncle Jim and the allies' Captain Flint; a treasure itself re-identified as the book he has been wasting his summer irascibly writing. Ironically, "Never any of you start writing books" is the only overtly didactic utterance this novel offers.10 These two developments of plot, interruptions of the achieved and smoothly running domestic island life, are themselves enveloped by yet another quest, a more personal and implicit one, the fulfilment of the Amazons' desire to reinstate Captain Flint as an active substitute parent and participant in their Lives. Thus we see that from the Walkers' point of view, enjoyment of the initial quest-motive of independent life on the island has been displaced by a distortion in the form of the spurious treasure theme and by their vicarious but willing adoption of the Amazons' quest to reform Captain Flint.
The subject of the book could be said to be on the one hand a Rousseauian demonstration of independence achieved through responsible self-development in skills which themselves are passages to independence, such as sailing and domestic management; and on the other hand the nature of children's imagination and play. About this subject, Ransome says: "the children ... have no firm dividing line between make-believe and reality ... I and they slipped in and out of grown up "native" life and in and out of the "real" life of the explorers and pirates half a dozen times in a chapter ... I was enjoying my own childhood over again, all the best bits of it and all the bits that might have been ever so much better if only something or other had been different."11 The child Titty Altounyan, writing in happy and polite receipt of the novel, understood this. "I wish we had such lovely adventures as the Walkers had".12 She knew what sort of plot the author would like best for fiction too. "Make it with a treasure or something hidden somewhere - on an island of course so there will be something about boats in it - and let the Swallows (that is if you are going to write about them again) find it after a LOT of adventures. And let everyone make a discovery of some sort".13.
However, Pigeon Post gives us Ransome's greatest plot. As in Swallows and Amazons, the story is again a quest, but this time in a form traditional to treasure-seeking narratives, a quest for that desired and fabled substance, gold. But, in a variation of traditional motive, gold here is sought not as a substance to make oneself and one's companions rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but for its certain effect as catalyst to getting Captain Flint home in his proper role not just for the Amazons, but now for them all, as friend, adult sharer and celebrator of their "real life".
This motive, essentially the same as that which occupied the Amazons in the first novel, provides an acceptable moral impetus for the prospectors' search for gold, allowing it to be both urgent and altruistic. The urgency of the search is perceived and felt more by the senior allies than the younger ones, who include the Callums, whose chief desire is still not to let down the others but to be found valuable and worthy members of the team effort. Finding water becomes a condition for finding gold. The quest theme allows for a strong sense of holding in suspense things which will be resolved. Will Titty have courage to prove herself a dowser? Will there be water where the hazel twig fell? Is Dick's science trustworthy? Is the golden metal indeed gold? Is the missing inhabitant of the hutch an armadillo? Again as in Swallows and Amazons, a crucial part of the plot stems from a distortion of something that will be made straight, once again a mistaking of personal identity, but this time not only one, but several: the identity of the golden metal being mined, the identity of Timothy, and the identity of those responsible for the fire. This last, which shows the prospectors unfairly blamed, echoes Captain Flint's mistaken view of John in Swallows and Amazons. In Pigeon Post the prospectors while culturally different from the native Mrs. Tyson who blames them, demonstrate adult social graces of tact and judgement to ignore these hurts and deal with the immediate practical hazard, the very real fell fire which threatens the whole community whether "native" or not, with courage and resourceful intelligence.
Whereas at the end of Swallows and Amazons a process of socialising and a sense of social justice had allowed the Swallows, Crusoe-like, to share their island idyll with outsiders to their family, of their own age and culture, by the end of Pigeon Post a sense of community responsibility had crossed the boundaries of age, class and culture. Moreover Ransome here has control of a much more complex cast list: eight children and six adults, each distinctly individual, enough to drive a lesser writer mad. In this later novel there is much less of a gap between the adult and child world. Nancy and her mother, Nancy and Squashy Hat, Dick and Captain Flint meet as person to person, in the same way as Dick and Titty, Titty and Dorothea do, with no sense of the adults condescending to or playing along with an imaginative fantasy. Although some "native" adults mistakenly identified the miners' activities as "play" or "game",14 they themselves know they are engaged in serious work in a world where time is not infinite. Essentially they have become participants in an adult world, which Nancy and the younger characters occasionally still enhance with fragments of the imaginative realities of their former life; but they understand these very well to be fictions; although Dorothea, writer of romance, finds it sometimes privately hard to tell. Surely the notion of a rival prospector is an imaginative fiction devised by Nancy to make things more interesting? Yes, surely that must be so. But when we see that rival with lumps of quartz and miners' maps, fantasy seems to take a leap into the real world, disturbingly unbalancing our sense of actuality. At such moments the mining company finds itself on the threshold of an adult world. On this threshold, and in Nancy's case able but not willing to enter it on its own terms, technical inexperience and wilful misjudgement are certainly theirs. In contrast, in Swallows and Amazons adults happily played adopted roles in the children's world of Robinson Crusoe and pirates.
In such ways Swallows and Amazons can be seen to have narrative motives of play, in contrast to Pigeon Post's narrative motives of work. Swallows and Amazons is a study of childhood, while Pigeon Post is an exploration of the boundaries of childhood. The phrase "work and play" comes off the tongue automatically in that order. It is an adult order. The proper order for these Ransome novels should be "play and work". The distinction between work and play is helpfully made by Keith Thomas. Sir Keith says:
When we say that children prefer play to work we mean only that they like to spend their time doing serious things which adults regard as trivial and frivolous. As a modern student of psychology put it, "play is merely the name we give to the child's activities." It is not trivial to the child. In Montaigne's words, "children's playes are not sportes and should be deemed as their most serious actions."15
Ransome's point of view consistently understands this. The adoption of a narrative stance is always an attribute of a novelist's written style, but for Ransome it came to be also an important feature of his style of illustration. Before this and his use of visual motifs can be discussed, I want to consider a little further his use of verbal motifs.
A sense of Swallows and Amazons as a story orally told is clear; sometimes the teller appears in the first person: "All this happened much quicker than I can tell it",16 or offers an omniscient "She was wrong".17 In Swallows and Amazons, stages of plot are marked by motifs of "story" and "food". As an example of what I mean, let me elaborate on food, which interests us all.
Food is anticipated as life on the island is still potential. Arrival is confirmed by a good meal of eggs and rice pudding and brown bread and seed cake and apples. Their stay on the island is measured by trips to fetch the milk. The Captain Flint complication is juxtaposed with a birthday feast for the baby sister, The Captain Flint resolution is celebrated by a magnificent feast including strawberry ices, bath buns, parkin, rock cakes, ginger-nuts, chocolate biscuits, a cake and ices with two little ships in pink and white. When they sail back to land "Salt Beef" is one of their songs of retrospection, Food here is used as a structural device; as appropriate to a novel about childhood the food mentioned most is milk, with bread a close runner-up. Evgenia Ransome had vetoed porridge for the Walkers' island life: "bread and milk - no porridge" was her pencilled-in suggestion.18 In this novel we are in an early world of desires fuelled by food and story. Our sense of the truth and poignancy of this is reinforced by Titty's feeling that time on the island is "for ever". Mrs. Dixon says:"But perhaps you'll be coming again next year."When we're grown up, the Swallows tell each other, we'll live on the island all the year round. Always. Always. Always. Yet this is fabulation, Titty, hearing the charcoal-burners' axes, says "They'll still be here when we're gone."20
"Every year. For ever and ever," said Titty.
"Aye," said Mrs. Dixon, "we all think that when we're young."19
The subject in Pigeon Post is not the desire for independence, and play which rehearses and to some extent enacts later life, as essentially is the case in Swsallows and Amazons, but work as a part of life, and the specific work, mining, is a co-operative and sociable endeavour, which reinforces bonds of community and a high sense of mutual responsibility. Work, story, food, fire, water, gold, are structural motifs here. Let us consider work and food, Pigeon Post develops a dramatic and often comic contrast of attitudes to the protagonists' work. To Mrs. Tyson, farmer, bothered by drought, shortage of water, the danger of fire, and the isolation of her house (with no telephone), their activities on the High Topps are remote and irrelevant "play", for which the packed lunches and domestic propinquity she provides to their camp are a fit accompaniment. To the mining expedition, its life of rations, rosters of shift-duty, and physically arduous work kept up at a great pace for a good cause, hacking at the rock-face, digging a well, building a charcoal-burning mound and a blast-furnace. It takes time and strength and care to make a charcoal-mound. No-one can use that pestle for more than a few minutes at a time. They sweat. Yet the co-operative will is strong, and the pace of work is maintained. Do not say this is child's play. This is adult work, and what is won in a race against time is more than precious metal. When the gold dust disappears and the crucible is found broken it seems they have failed and their hard work is wasted. Yet their endeavour is not wasted; the copper proves its value by engaging Captain Flint's eager enthusiasm, and so confirming human relationships.
In this narrative of work, there is no authorial intrusion of a first-person narrator into the text, and no framing of the text through reference in epigraphs to external literature. The mining expedition is itself an adult reality, not a rehearsal for it. There is still literary enrichment, but it is created by the characters themselves, and includes some of Dorothea's juvenilia (her "work") and Titty's appreciative literary criticism of it. Story-telling is a structural motif, and fulfils something of the place that food did in the first book. In a sense, the search for gold is a story they are enacting. Point of view is consistently with the younger characters, Titty, Roger, Dick, Dorothea. They accept the overt agenda imposed by the "elders". This effect was hard won by Ransome, who revised over and over again to achieve it. Fourteen months into writing the book he was still bothered by it. "The main thing to concentrate on is viewpoint of Titty and Roger. Dick next ... Dot in the near background. The elders almost aloof as gods."21 It was an effort of revision to get it right. Very occasionally, as when the fire starts, the reader is alerted to a scene that none of the characters see. This is the only alteration of perspective we experience, and the omniscience here is necessary for dramatic irony, so that we can be sure , as no one else is, that none of the expedition is responsible for the fire. Unlike Swallows and Amazons, there is no cadence of "for ever" in this narrative. The sense of time is that of the adult world of progress, deadlines and change.
In this novel the function of food has changed. This thematic shift from play to work in Pigeon Post highlights the theme of cultural conflict, rather than marking achieved stages of quest. There is a great decline in the number of references to milk and a great increase in the mention of tea. Mutton, cold beef, salad, macaroni cheese, porridge, prune juice, are the typical foods of tame confinement at Beckfoot or in Mrs. Tyson's orchard. Minced pemmican, often in the form of fried cannon balls, is a mark of expeditionary independence. Sandwiches become rather neutral food, belonging either to the picnicking notions of the "natives" or the proper rations for scouts and miners; Slater Bob, the professional, eats his bread and cheese. But the greatest thing cooked in this book is the charcoal.
By the time we come to Pigeon Post, the author's illustrations have become an integral part of the novels, confirming point of view, interweaving important motifs and creating dramatic ironies of their own. The techniques with which they are used developed out of Ransome's experience of illustrations commissioned for the first editions of Swallows and Amazons, a story which will now be recalled. His disappointment with those artists led within two years of first publication to his doing his own drawings for new editions of the first two novels and then to create the familiar unified volumes of what Ransome insisted was "one book".22 What it led to, in short, was the creation of a unique literary form, which uses an interplay of verbal and visual motifs to create a vastly complicated narrative texture.
Ransome was not an artist, though he came from an ambience of writers and artist. In an autobiographical essay he spoke of his association as a young adult with the Collingwoods at Coniston, "A delightful family of writers and artists ... The eldest of the children was about my own age, and there we painted and wrote and sailed and camped on an island... ."23 Notice that painting comes before writing in this list. Ransome's mother painted: his maternal grandfather came back from New South Wales with some good water-colours. Ransome had had plenty of practice and example, in the school of Ruskin, which emphasised verisimilitude, accuracy of perspective, line, and relation of objects. Although he knew very well his limitations in drawing people, especially face-on, sketchbooks from 1904-8 show some attractive drawings of young women and wild-flower studies of botanical accuracy. He had early developed a habit of drawing, and his observation was careful. Eventually he came to make a virtue of his sometimes charmingly ham-fisted execution.
He knew what he didn't like, and complained bitterly about the portfolio of drawings by Stephen Spurrier for Swallows and Amazons. His editor at Cape, Wren Howard, not altogether surprised at this reaction, didn't believe any artist's illustrations would please this author.24 Spurrier's attractively stylish maps for the endpapers were retained in the first edition and future ones by Jonathan Cape, along with the heralding pirate device for the title-page, and map of Wild Cat Island.
Although Spurrier is capable of a fine stirring blazon as a decorator of text, his style in illustrating characters and events25 is marked by period sentimentality, which tends to suggest fragility in the child characters and places them firmly as small beings indulged by superior adults: quite the opposite of Ransome's tone, intention and achievement in the Swallows and Amazons".
An illustration of Titty and Roger pearl fishing is a decorative, bubbly composition, not suggesting the reality of the water and swimming so much as the fantasy of the concept. An illustration of "packing the Swallow" shows the children as rather fey creatures, with rather too many curls in their hair for the kind of practical people they are. Their hair-styles place them too firmly in their time, rather than suggesting anonymous characters of multiple-generation origin; their arms are weak; the box is not truly heavy; the mother is Olympian, and very young. The charcoal burners, ragged, baggy and wrinkled, offer a touch of period grotesquerie. These pictures are all very well in themselves, for a different book, but the artist hasn't understood Ransome's tone, as his titles suggest (Ransome's own title for this scene is "The Serpent"). Nor can he have understood the writer's sense of these characters as somehow participating in several generations of shared life, expressing delight in "the lake and the island that had been their playground, as it had been ours, and that of our parents before us."26 But this was not the grounds of Ransome's disapproval. How could it be? Full of trepidation at the reception of the book, could he have been aware of how extraordinary an achievement it was? His expressed criticism is on practical grounds. The pictures didn't look like the real places. Details were wrong. Thus, on the picture of the houseboat, he writes: "The ASS has forgotten the mast", and "What on earth is Captain Flint doing." What indeed, louring on the cabin roof like some great gorilla. Titty Altounyan wrote to Ransome "What a pity that man drew so badly."27 Clearly the author's disappointment had been widely broadcast and ardently expressed. Two years later, after Ransome had been staying in Aleppo and was now in total control of his own books, she asks how his drawings are getting on, and adds "By the way, I do hope you haven't been compelled to fish for a bally artist." Perhaps remembering his horror at Spurrier's houseboat, her own sketch of her sister's oar getting stuck is cut short with the cheerfully apprehensive explanation "I don't dare draw any more of the boat."28
Clifford Webb was commissioned to illustrate the second edition of Swallows and Amazons, and this was a happier association of artist and text, although the Ransomes and Webb never got on. "An Ass. But he can draw well. The dullest deadest coxcomb ever in this place ..."29 Ransome thought the drawings were "mostly very good".30 He had done his best to show Webb the right places, even getting Oscar Gnosspelius to bring him Dora Altounyan's picture of the charcoal burners.31
Webb reproduced accurately the relationship of hills and water, the relative size of people and places, such as the charcoal-burner's hut or the Light-House tree.32 He could create atmosphere. as Hugh Brogan has pointed out in relation to "The Amazon River at Dusk"33; but point of view is not consistent from one picture to another. "The Attack on the Houseboat" is very successful; we see what the characters see, the flag with the elephant on it, Captain Flint, their destination, the relationship of the houseboat to the comfortably wooded shore, and the characters who have observed these things are properly in the foreground, larger figures than the distant Houseboat Man. Titty and Roger looking at Cormorant Island is very successful; the full-sized figures in the foreground are not of any one period of fashion in dress or manner, nor are they dwarfed by any adult sense of scale; the little island which is Titty's "really desert island", about which she is fabulating on the facing page, is there before her and us in its real shape and size as she whets her brother's appetite. However, although "The Lighthouse Tree" is accurate in its sense of water and rock face, and in the sense of the tree's dominance, the characters have become anonymous little children, and the tree is hardly to be identified as the Scots Pine it is.
Some of Webb's tailpieces are attractive commentaries on the characters' state of mind and purposes. The galleon which concludes Chapter II, "Making Ready", is a nice reminder of their expectations of a voyage of discovery like Drake's. The tailpiece to the chapter about the dire letter from Captain Flint ends with a flower design. These look rather like buttercups, but botanists consulted are unable to identify them. No flowers are mentioned in the text. This is purely irrelevant decoration, an extra-textual notion out of a different sort of mind from the author's. To make such "adornments of the text" is to make no useful counterpointing of verbal and visual experience.
Clearly what Ransome sought to create for his readers was a unified experience of narrative carried out by a careful design of both words and images. To say as Hugh Brogan does in his splendid biography of Ransome that his purpose in using his own illustrations was to make the books "feel more entirely his own" is to suggest only part of what was involved; it emphasises his possessiveness but scarcely recognises his narrative design and achievement. Ransome struggled over his drawings as he did over his writing, and was unnecessarily embarrassed at taking photographs to help get them right.34 He knew very will the effects he wanted; accuracy of attitudes, accuracy in the relative placing of people and objects, accurate technical detail in relevant objects depicted, accurate perspective and proportion in relation to characters and landscape, and consistent point of view. He persisted despite often damning criticism from his wife:Showed Genia one of my pictures (contrary to previous resolve). She said 1. All legs awful. 2. All figures very comic. 3. What on earth I could see good in the only one I thought passable she could not understand. I was just about squashed flat again. I simply MUST not show her sketches for pictures.35Was he indeed in his illustrations merely "telling the story in pictures", as he had advised Pamela Whitlock to do?36 To use his own theoretical terms, are the illustrations merely "kinetic", or do they contribute to the "potential"?
Full-page illustrations in Swallows and Amazons are notably active. The frontispiece to the book is a picture which anticipates the close future; we see Roger running to learn the contents of the telegram that will allow them to embark. We see them making ship's papers, we see them sailing away at the start of the voyage, we see John splicing a rope and Titty hauling a log of firewood, we see Roger catching his shark, we see the Amazons carrying up the puncheon, and so on. We are in the present continuous mode of events. Once near the end we see something just on the point of happening, with Titty, Nancy and John slipping out of the tent in the storm while Susan is still saying "You'll only get wet" on the facing page. But we never have full-page pictures that anticipate a distant future or retrospect. They are visual representations of things happening at that very moment, and they provide a point of view which is always that of a close observer just behind the protagonists. It is never a perspective which condescends.
This theme of "for ever" is reinforced not only by the continuous present moment of the child's world, which the full-page illustrations reinforce, but by the Swallows and Amazons motto which anticipates the story on the title-page and closes it as the final tail-piece. As title it is promising and perplexing; as tail it seems to affirm a promise, that there will be a "next year" for these people in this place. The motto and design has a present reality that the purely heraldic wordless pirates of Spurrier's design did not. The visual motif cements a verbal motif, and adds a sense of future potential to the narrative.
There are twenty-three separate tail-piece motifs in this book (do not fear, I shall not detail them all!) The most common is of children enjoying their environment, sailing. Few are repeated, and those that are show common domestic objects used, such as the pot-au-feu and the lantern. The visual motifs may illustrate things done at a moment exactly contemporary with the verbal text, or foreshadow things to come, or reflect on things past, or reverberate ambiguously forwards and backwards in the text. Normal expectation in illustration is to be contemporary, and in this way we are shown Roger jumping ashore with the painter just at the moment we are told about it. A candle-lantern, mentioned in the preceding text, is shown after the children are fast asleep; we then know exactly what sort of lantern is keeping them company. But tail-pieces may also anticipate future events, such as a cormorant about to swallow an elver appearing after the decision "tomorrow we'll fish", and anticipating Cormorant Island; or show things that happened next which are not overtly mentioned in the text, such as the Amazon sailing away from the island. When a still-folded letter in a stick is shown after the chapter in which Captain Flint's upsetting letter has been read, we are reminded of the shock and unfairness of its contents, and re-live that moment in retrospect. Titty on Cormorant Island with the telescope is a contemporary illustration of events but also a foreshadowing of her future adventures. One motif provides a fine example of dramatic irony. A duck and drake are shown after the Swallow's unsuccessful expedition to the enemy's boathouse; the Swallows had heard a duck quacking, but we know it was no duck but a private signal from an Amazon. Visually we are shown what the Swallows imagined was the truth, and can smile or wince at their mistake. To displace this motif from its narrative context as the Puffin edition has done by inserting it at the end of Chapter III, where Roger should be seen jumping ashore with the painter, is an irresponsible failure to recognise the total validity of words and images in Ransome's text, his "kind of tender watchfulness over the original intention". By no means can his careful arrangement of visual motifs be considered merely as "graces" to the text.37 Without them, or with them misplaced, our experience of the narrative is impoverished.
In Pigeon Post visual narrative still relates to elemental aspects of human Life. Illustrations are used however in a more complex design than in Swallows and Amazons to create elaborate effects of narrative suspense and fulfilment, In Pigeon Post structural climaxes are episodes of potential failure, rather than gratification and success. "Desperation", "Disaster", are chapter-headings that indicate the tone of crisis. In the verbal text we are still shown and never told about emotions; we see them, or their outer signs, and understand them with the characters who observe or manifest them. This carefully-maintained point of view, a kind of kinetic spareness, is reinforced by the point of view of full-page illustrations. The frontispiece picture, "The Look-out", has a frame structure, and it looks into the distant future of the story. We are behind Nancy (or Peggy) as she sits on a branch of a Scots Pine, framed by it and oak, keeping watch over High Topps, while ordinary domestic activities go on below in Camp-might-have-been, paying no heed to her. Very often we are in this situation, behind observers of other characters who may be themselves unaware of being watched. Typical of this is "I know what she's doing", a caption which is Dick's exclamation as he and Titty come across Nancy desperately trying to get the hazel twig to work for her.38 We are with the observers. Titty's attitude of hand may suggest something of her inferred state of mind. Similar in composition is "Scouts at Dusk"39, with shadowy prospectors gazing at a lighted window where Squashy Hat is seen with map and lumps of quartz. There is a breathlessness of attitude in the observers. "The First Mug of Water"40 shows the author's preoccupation with point of view very well. The younger members of the company are in the foreground around the mug in typical attitudes (Roger with hands in pockets, Titty poised breathlessly, Dick turning with intelligent interest) while in the middle distance the elders keep on with the work of digging the well. Generally contemporary actions are illustrated. Sometimes the caption to an illustration provides additional verbal text rather than the recalling existing words, as when we see Titty looking at the string going into the black hole. " They've gone in!"41 is the caption, words, it must be, from Titty's experience at that moment: but the text on the left-hand facing page is interior monologue: "... it would be better to get Roger out before ever John or Susan, especially Susan, knew he had gone in." Where full-page pictures are displaced from the precipitating text, it is to suggest emotion: for instance, the picture "Forlorn Hope"42 (words nowhere used in the verbal text) shows Dick, central and somewhat dwarfed by Nancy's bicycle, setting out for more information (which he is just about to do). The picture is placed at a moment when he is looking again at the red mineralogy book and re-living the inexplicable loss of the gold-dust from the crucible. Ransome's alterations to wording and picture design work to emphasise an ironical perspective. The figure of Dick has been altered to show him crouching lower over the handlebars, to allow a sense of the steep slope of the track and his small stature compared with Nancy's bicycle. The wording in the caption is changed from "The forlorn hope", which relates to Dick himself, to simply "Forlorn Hope". This makes the illustration a more general ironical exclamation on the state of the expedition, The phrase, a borrowing from Dutch, first meant "a lost troop". Then its meanings came to include "a group of reckless bravoes engaged on a desperate enterprise", and "a picked band of men". From "a desperate enterprise", it came to mean also "hope against hope". The whole of this rich range of associations, mock-heroic and affectionate, is relevant here. Indeed, our viewpoint is that of the bedraggled tired mining camp, seeing Dick from the back; but it is also that of an observer of them all. But our perspective is always like this. We stand and move just behind the characters, not facing towards them or turning away from them in our viewing position, The pictures both reinforce and create narrative perspective.
There are fewer tail-piece motifs in Pigeon Post than in Swallows and Amazons, only ten, and they are used in rather more complicated ways to create a narrative structure that depends much more on irony than the earlier book did. Motifs used relate to articles of work or elements of puzzle in the story: petle-and-mortar, Miner's Way, pigeons, rucksack, Titty's well, divining-rod, hedghog, armadillo. Some re reiterated. The way these are used implies an intelligent creative reader who mus be willing to engage imagination in the task of working things out for himself. Ransome's technique demands an active participation of a sophisticated kind.
All the reiterated visual motifs in Pigeon Post reinforce plot imperatives, rather than daily activities, Changes made between typescript draft and final publication confirm this intention. A typescript draft43 of Chapter XXIV of Pigeon Post may ilustrate this process. Ransome's sketch on the upper right of the chapter's title page shows Titty at the entrance to the cave: this was developed for the chapter's full-page illustration. On the upper left is a torch shinin, perhaps showing the way. This was never used as an illustration. At the end of the draft chapter a motif of footsteps leading out of the page to the right is sketched. In the published book, however, reiteration of the motif of pestle-and-mortar is preferred. As a thing in itself the pestle-and-mortat is a purely inetic object, belonging to the proctical world. Through reiteration it has gained significance. Its use here offers a reminder of work being done elsewhere by the elders while these younger members of the party are in a dangerously wrong place. It recalls their duties and responsibilities, and reinforces the urgency of getting back before anyone seriously worries at missing them. The footprints sketched on the draft are the marks of Squashy's boots which Dick has just found to lead them out of danger. In themselves they are an attractive motif. But to use these footprints might suggest something too conventionally enticing, out of a different kind of novel, a traditional adventure story of danger and suspense. Ransome's preference as tail-piece for a repeated motif, whose meaning accumulates significance (or "potentiality") changes with context, and creates increased narrative momentum, rather than for a one-off "illustration", is one of the distinguishing features his technique has developed.
Let us consider finally the related motifs of the armadillo and hedgehog, Probably most adult readers of the telegram "Be kind to Timothy, give him the run of my room"44, would assume, as none of the characters, including Mrs. Blackett do, that Timothy is some stray friend of the sender. But Captain Flint is known to bring home exotic animals. Remember the parrot, and monkey. So it is not unnatural for Timothy, after proper research, to be assumed an armadillo. The armadillo motif is one of the most frequently recurring unifying structural images of the book. Kipling's "armadillo dilloing in his armour" is a shy creature. An armadillo is a mining, or rather burrowing animal. (Dante Gabriel Rossett had owned one in Hampstead which worked its way through into the next garden, to the annoyance of his neighbour Jane Welsh Carlyle). Ransome's armadillo relates to the quest to settle Captain Flint down; it would help to make him happy to have Timothy waiting for him at home in his hutch.
As a visual motif, the armadillo first appears as tailpiece to the first day all are together at Beckfoot; a charming animal, with weasel-like nose and small feet, on its way walking forward into the book. It follows a page on which Dorothea had just been imagining Captain Flint's lonely situation, "even his faithful armadillo sent on ahead."45 Thje creature is part of the future. As she romances, we scarcely remember the thin grey-flannelled stranger who had been seen hesitating outside the Beckfoot gate. The next visual reminder is the tailpiece to Chapter VI. This time we are shown Timothy's hutch, with "Welcome Home" decorating it. But so far only the hutch itself has been made; its decoration anticipates what will be put on it by Titty in the next chapter. The plain little armadillo, still pointing forwards, next forms a tailpiece to Chapter XI, on a page which mentions "the enemy" who had been watched at the farm the other side of the Dundale Road. He appears again similarly as tailpiece to Chapter XXI, where the enemy is mentioned as likely to come snooping into Golden Gulch. As tailpiece to the chapter "A run on blowpipes", we are shown his hutch surrounded by jungle greenery, anticipating his imminent arrival, freshly decorated by Titty and Peggy just while "the enemy" and Dick had found themselves successively buying blowpipes at the chemist's. The armadillo itself appears again, rather cheekily, still facing the same forward direction, when with charcoal-smeared faces everyone works on grimly at the blast-furnace despite Mrs. Tyson's extreme displeasure. In this case, he is an ironical reminder of another cause for disappointment, his own failure to arrive; yet here he is pictured in the flesh, and we are used to Ransome showing us that which is factually present. This he provides by his insistence at showing himself, a hint that his is indeed, somehow, already among them. Of course the juxtaposition of the armadillo representing Timothy in the form expected with work made doubly urgent by the presence of an unidentified rival prospector and time pressing on towards Captain Flint's arrival is highly ironical since this supposed enemy will of course very soon have his identity confirmed as Timothy himself, a friend and no armadillo The decorated welcoming hutch is the last image the novel leaves us with, a satisfying and entertaining reminder of a double mistake now happily resolved, with Captain Flint and Timothy both home. Verbally we leave on a positive note, as Captain Flint, enjoying the mistake as a huge joke (which Timothy in every sense has not seen) says "goodwill is what matters"46; and indeed we come to realise that the intention behind the mining expedition is what matters, rather than the finding of gold. The armadillo motif, continuous with the total narrative, is an extended ironical reminder of the series of mistakes which went into the fulfilment of the quest to settle Captain Flint.
The exotic armadillo, figure of fantasy, is itself contrasted with that friendly domestic animal, the hedgehog, who is really there in its own right in the woods above Tyson's. Seen first only by Titty, and identified in her interior monologue as "hedge-pig", she is pictured embedded in the text facing left47, going away from home in her search for water. Her quest fuels Titty's resolve. Long before the end of the human story, we notice that her need has been fulfilled by Titty's well. Later, appearing as tailpiece to the chapter in which the able-seamen are fighting the fire, she is once again facing backwards from the narrative direction, offering us a reminder of that fire means to creatures of the wood as well as to humans. Perhaps this is in Titty's mind, but she does not express it at this moment of crisis. We see the hedgehog and the characters do not. Not shown to us, but observed finally only by Titty, the hedgehog, a survivor sneezing in the ash drinking at the well after the fire, reminds us of the continuity of natural life here beyond the characters' purposes, recalls Titty's own successful conquest of fear, and remains a satisfying emblem, uniting recollections of her private emotional struggle and her resourcefulness and bravery in the fight against the fire.
With absolute fidelity to "external and observable nature", with careful attention to expository detail in building narrative "potential", Ransome shows himself to be, in his own words, "a true artist ... who is able ... to preserve an absolute unity between the nucleus and its elaboration".48 He is in complete control of a new form of narrative. The much-layered literary structure of Swallows and Amazons49 has given way to a narrative texture enhanced by an ironic contextual interplay of visual and verbal motifs.
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