Contemporary Reviews of Swallows and Amazons

This list is, of course, not exhaustive. There was, for example, a review in the Daily Herald which I have so far been unable to trace in the microfilm records of the British Newspaper Library at Colindale. Also, I suspect that there were other reviews in the USA. All help would be welcome!


Manchester Guardian, 21st July 1930. (Malcolm Muggeridge)

Arthur Ransome met Malcolm Muggeridge in Cairo in 1929, and was impressed by someone who he seems to have felt was a younger version of himself: "The feel of the fellow is thoroughly simple, eager and pleasant, and free from any kind of intellectual cockiness while at the same time he is extremely clever and has crammed a lot of experience into his 26 years" (Brogan Life p. 308). On the basis of Ransome's recommendation Muggeridge joined the staff of the Manchester Guardian: thus this review (which appeared on the day of publication of Swallows and Amazons) is in one sense a graceful gesture of thanks, while at the same time it says a number of perceptive things about the book and takes also some well-judged side-swipes at John Galsworthy, A.A. Milne, the Swiss Family Robinson, and Montessori-trained teachers.

Children's books are probably the most difficult to write; they are certainly the most difficult to review. For children alone can properly judge their worth, and children, very wisely, never review. An adult has to refer back to his own childhood and ask himself: Would I have enjoyed such a book then? The answer, in the case of "Swallows and Amazons" is very definitely Yes. Moreover, the book is entirely charming quite apart from its qualities as child literature. This is rare; for generally speaking, nothing makes drearier reading than the conscious juvenility of adults. There is something elephantine and clumsy about it, like Gladstone capering on all fours, or a bishop playing Santa Claus. Mr. Ransome has the same magical power that Lewis Carroll had of being the child in terms of himself. He never talks down: never finds it necessary to be patronizing or sentimental. And sentimentality is the most terrible pitfall that besets those who venture into the world of play. For just as Mr. Galsworthy delights Europe through the medium of Tauchnitz by showing it English ladies and gentlemen that exactly correspond to Europe's idea of English ladies and gentlemen, so your writer of children's books delights Montessori teachers and other moulders of the very young by showing them precisely their idea of children – an idea that bears about the same relation to real children as window-boxes do to gardens. For instance, Christopher Robin. Captain John and Mate Susan and Able-seaman Titty are not at all like Christopher Robin. They are children. And the story of their adventures on a little island in the middle of an English lake is thrilling just because it is not fabulous. Unlike "Swiss Family Robinson," where the miraculous satisfaction of the family's slightest need strikes the most sanguine child as vaguely ridiculous and not at all convincing, the explorers in "Swallows and Amazons" are supplied with milk by a farmer only thinly disguised as one of the less hostile natives, and buy their lemonade over the counter – a fact which does not at all prevent it from becoming vitriolic grog. That is to say, the book is the very stuff of play. It is make-believe such as all children have indulged in: even children who have not been so fortunate as to have a lake and a boat and an island but only a backyard among the semis of suburbia.

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Scotsman, 28th July, 1930. (Anonymous)

A bizarre review. It is difficult to understand how the anonymous reviewer came to the conclusion thar '... the children are not really sailing, but playing at being sailors while all the time they are in the garden at home, ...'. Was it that (s)he refused to believe that children so young could be trusted to sail and camp and have adventures by themselves? Or was the review based on a hurried misreading of the last sentence of Malcolm Muggeridge's review in the Guardian?

Mr. Arthur Ransome's book for children is sure of a ready and hearty welcome among those young readers to whom it appeals with such an engaging play of child-like fancy and humorous invention in the imagination of adventurers at sea. Appropriately illustrated with maps and decorative drawings in black and white, it sets out a fantastically conceived and ingeniously developed story about two families of children who are supposed to sail out for overseas in a couple of small boats to an imaginary "Wild Cat Island" and there go through a number of adventures, and come home again, safe and sound, after having passed unscathed through perils which, transparently fictitious though they be, form a narrative throughout keenly interesting to follow, in constant wonder about what is going to happen next. The tale owes its charm to the fact that the children are not really sailing, but playing at being sailors while all the time they are in the garden at home, and is written with so enticing and uncommon a skill in reflecting the children's own ideas of storms, savages, pirates, battles at sea and ashore on the island, treasure-hunting, camping out, and making startling or reassuring discoveries – ideas founded on the stories that had been read or told to them by their seniors, such as "Robinson Crusoe" and "Treasure Island," and the tales in the nursery literature about fishermen and sea-going adventurers of all degrees of skill in navigation – that it cannot but prove entertaining, and in its deftly managed blending of sober fact and fascinating child-like fantasy and playful fun, thrilling not only to young readers fond of the sea, but also to older readers who remember how they enjoyed sea stories when they themselves were young.

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The Observer, 29th July, 1930. (Mary Crosbie)

An interesting review, particularly in what it says about the sustaining effect on the story of Titty's literary imagination, and with a marvellous last sentence

A batch of children's books and the recent cold weather almost persuade one that there will be skating in the misnamed "summer" holidays. But why should the publishers' output of children's books be lumped together at Christmas? "Swallows and Amazons" by Arthur Ransome is quite distinctly a summer book, and one of the best that has come my way for a long time. The children in it are solid children, with two parents, a home and schools. They have solid, satisfactory names – John Walker, Susan Walker, Titty and Roger. They want what we all wanted, to sail to an island of their very own, and having chosen their parents with uncommon shrewdness, they were allowed to do what they wanted. It was Titty, the only bookish member of the family, who cherished the little promontory "Darien," and one feels that Titty alone was articulate enough to express the romance of their adventure, and perhaps that she tuned the others to the right pitch. The grown-up reader has one doubt – aren't they too consistent in their make-believe? It seems as if there should have been moments when they forgot to be Ship's Master John, Mate Susan and Able-seaman Titty. For it is a longish game and never, throughout its altogether entrancing career, do they drop their play-acting. Probably children will not make even this objection. They will only enjoy, envy and, if possible, imitate, It is a richly circumstantial tale, informative, eventful and unsurprised.

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New Statesman, 2nd August, 1930. ('Proteus')

It is difficult to avoid the impression that 'Proteus' did not get much further than the first two or three chapters of the book, and lost interest equally rapidly in writing his review.

The novel-reader must cast off some of his days and be aged anything from ten to twelve years to get the most enjoyment out of Swallows and Amazons. The outward aspect of the book. with its attractive map-wrapper, may raise an expectation that the children in it are psychologically studied for adult reading. But the child-reader will be delighted to find nothing so uninteresting to him as child-psychology, and the things that do interest him treated on a real and serious plane. The ideal reader certainly should not be too old for make-believe about a miniature desert island – well in reach of both the mainland and an understandingly nautical mother – but old enough to appreciate some practical advice to desert-islanders about boats, tents and camp-fire cooking. Thus:

Susan had got the sail ready. On the gaff there was a strop (which is really a loop) that hooked on a hook on one side of an iron ring called the traveller, because it moved up and down the mast. The halyard ran from the traveller up to the top of the mast, through a sheave (which is a hole with a little wheel in it) and then down again. John hooked the strop, etc.
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Yorkshire Post, 6th August, 1930. (Anonymous)

One of the few reviews to offer even mild criticism of Swallows and Amazons, the anonymous reviewer drawing attention to the slow opening of the book and the amount of nautical knowledge assumed in the reader.

A Good Book for Children

Mr. Arthur Ransome is rather a long time getting off the slips, to use a nautical expression appropriate to "Swallows and Amazons" (Cape, 7s 6d) but when he does get going he launches into a really first-class yarn for boys and girls. Who were the Amazons? A pirate crew, Captain Nancy and Mate Peggy Blackett. And the Swallows? A band of adventurers, landed from their sailing boat on a desert island. Captain John, Mate Susan, Able Seaman Titty, Boy Roger. The tale of the struggle for mastery between Amazons and Swallows, attack, counter-attack, surrender of the Amazons, and final alliance, and then of the grand combined offensive against the pirate ship in Houseboat Bay, should satisfy the most exacting lover of thrills.

What though the Amazons and Swallows were merely a party of children on holiday by a lakeside, allowed to camp by themselves on Wild Cat Island for a blissful week, Boy Roger only seven and the others but a few years older? What though the pirate was really Uncle Jim on his houseboat, trying to write a book; and the stolen treasure tracked down so cleverly by Able Seaman Titty only his typewriter and manuscript burgled by mistake by stupid burglars: the "natives" only mothers and similar grown-ups, the "savages" only charcoal burners in the forest: the real world, as these children knew, was the world of their imagination, and they fitted their adventures to their wish.

A most delectable book, written, perhaps with a little too much detail, a trifle too consciously for sailors and their progeny, nurtured since birth on seafaring terms, with rather too much technicality for landlubbers – slacking up of the stern warps, grabbing of the gaff, fastening of flag halyards with a clove hitch, and the rest of it. But still, a very excellent book indeed.

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Belfast Newsletter, 7th August, 1930. (Anonymous)

Mr. Arthur Ransome, whose "Rod and Line" charmed Waltonians last year, supplements the success of that attractive series of essays with the present alluring phantasy about children for children. An intense understanding of nature characterised his fishing sketches. In "Swallows and Amazons" he manifests a rare and delicate comprehension of child psychology. His story is a winsome record of children's nautical rivalry. A make-believe war flares up between two families over proprietorship of a little island in a little lake. The peace of the realm of "Let's pretend" is shattered by war between the desperate ten-year-olds of the crews of the Swallow and the Amazon, until the passing of summer ends the entrancing game. The lure of piracy, treasure-hunting and savagery will capture every kiddy between seven and seventy. A very lovable book, fit to rank among children's classics. Mr. Stephen Spurrier deftly supports the delectable game of make-believe with his mysterious skull and crossbone maps. They are appropriate charts of an arena of dark and dangerous adventure!

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Daily Telegraph, 8th August, 1930. (S.P.B. Mais)

A Good Holiday Book

Mr. Ransome's "SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS" is decidedly one of the books to take away on our holidays, for I can see it being read aloud on a thousand sandy beaches and as a special treat in bed to inspire further ideas for the morrow's adventures. Mr. Ransome's delightful children show how easy it is with a touch of the right sort of imagination to capture all the thrills of "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe" without going further afield than the next cove. All you need is a boat, a parrot, a black spot, a sea-chest (preferably covered with foreign labels), molasses, a smattering of seamanship and nautical language, a thunderstorm, and an enemy. The enemy is most important.

Mix these ingredients judiciously as Mr. Ransome does and you get as fine a setting for voyages of discovery as ever inspired a Jason or a Raleigh. Mr. Ransome is specially satisfactory because he never strains after effect. He tells his tale with the stark simplicity of a Defoe, and each of the adventures is within the reach of everyone who has retained his or her faculty of "make-believe". Watch the effect of the first hundred pages on your own children. If they want no more, send for a doctor.

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Time and Tide, 9th August, 1930. (Mary Agnes Hamilton, M.P.)

'Molly' Hamilton, wife of the journalist Francis Hirst, and Labour M.P. for Blackburn 1929-31, was a good friend of Arthur Ransome, who wrote of her:

I never knew anyone with such eagerness in self-sacrifice. To have the friendship of Molly Hamilton was like having an army at one's back. (Autobiography, p. 223).

She helped AR at various times in the writing of the S&A series: she saw an early draft of Swallows and Amazons and told him that she liked it: offered him the loan of her flat in the Adelphi to finish Swallowdale while she was on a lecture-tour in America: and made a number of constructive criticisms of We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, most of which Ransome accepted. It was at her suggestion, for example, that the account of Jim Brading's accident was deferred, leaving the reader in the dark just as much as the Swallows as to what had happened.

Molly Hamilton reviewed Swallows and Amazons twice in the course of 1930, the second, equally enthusiastic, review appearing in the Winter number of Now and Then, an occasional publication of Jonathan Cape.

Young Adventurers

There is a small, a very small number of books designed for children which can be enjoyed by both children and grown-ups. Brer Rabbit, The Jungle Book, and Old Peter's Russian Tales are ones that spring to my mind: that fill the Bill, for me. Generally speaking, I dislike children's books most when they are meant for grown-ups. Mr. Ransome's new tale is not meant for grown-ups, but if I am any guide, lots of them will, nevertheless, like it a great deal. The only tinge of sadness that crosses my perfect enjoyment (I have read it twice already, by the way) is that born of the fact that I can't, now, enjoy the thrill open to the younger reader, who will, after reading, proceed to master the craft of sailing and set forth on wondrous and perilous adventures like John and Susan, Titty and Roger. They certainly will do that – and parents will send them forth to it, determined not to fall behind the mother and father of this delightful troupe of sea-men. Sea-men, one says – but the honours go to Able seaman Titty and to the dashing young ladies who manned the ship Amazon; enemies and rivals, at first; later sworn allies in the great campaign against Captain Flint, the master of the house-boat, owner of the parrot, and possessor of the treasure stolen from him – a theft of which Swallows are most unjustly suspected.

The action is genuinely exciting: with very real skill, Mr. Ransome has devised a mimic war whose incidents move with an absorbing tension. Even more attractive – at all events to the older reader – are the actors. Admirably characterized, the four Swallows do definitely belong to one family and at the same time stand out, perfectly individualized. They are more like one another than any one of them is like either of the Amazons, and that distinction, most delicately established, is held, right to the end. At the same time, they are quite distinct persons – the actions and speeches of Susan, for example, could never be confused with those of Titty. Titty, of course, is the star part; her experiences, alone on the island, like her heroic capture of the Amazons' boat, at a moment when it looks as though the battle between the two crews was helplessly lost, by Swallows (this reader, at any rate, is shamelessly on the side of Swallows), are the high points in the story; it is Titty, again, who finds the treasure on Cormorant Island, and restoring it to Captain Flint seals the friendship with which the great war on the house-boat closes. Titty is a delicious little person, and one hopes, greatly, to meet her again.

The other element that will fascinate both children and adults – the former unconsciously, the latter consciously – is the atmosphere of the book. The romance of a lake, fringed with trees, dotted with islands, steeps the whole book. It is nowhere set down in so many words; yet it pervades the whole atmosphere. One sees the sky and feels the breeze, the more acutely that they are, somehow, suggested, but never described. With the result that to read Swallows and Amazons is perfect escape from the here and now: in that sense a holiday, in itself.

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Dundee Courier and Advertiser, 15th August, 1930. (Anonymous)

Young Adventurers

There is a Peter Pannish air about "Swallows and Amazons" by Arthur Ransome (London: Jonathan Cape, 7s 6d).

This story of young people who take possession of an island in a lake, and find that other adventurers have a prior claim, has charm and pleasant thrill, and the glamour which attracts old and young.

Delicious whimsicality, and the basic practicality which goes to make likelihood out of the unlikely, are here in such a story as comes but once in a long while.

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Times Literary Supplement, 28th August 1930 (Anonymous)

This story of two groups of children camping on a sufficiently desert island, sailing their own boats, making their own discoveries, living with all the intensity and energy of which youth is capable, is unusually inventive and lively, and, into the bargain, it is full of sound practical suggestion for other young campers and sailors. The book takes its name from the respective names of the gallant ships sailed by John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker, and by Nancy and Peggy Blackett, who were indeed young Amazons. To read of their busy and adventurous days is to envy them their good fortune and their sensible relatives, who had enough imagination and self-control to keep out of the serious business on the island. There was a houseboat in one of the small desert harbours that contained a parrot and uncle, but he was a most suitable uncle who could not fail to add excitement to the programme of war and peace, exploration, treasure hunting, pirate-chasing, storms and terrors that engaged all the resource and sagacity of the Swallows and the Amazons. Present-givers will do well to note this stirring tale for future use. It has body and weight, and should please children of either sort from the ages of 8 to 13.

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Church Times, 29th August, 1930. (Anonymous)

The opening sentence allows us to see with hindsight that on questions of mortality and immortality even the Church Times is fallible.

It is not probable that any of the books on our list this week will achieve immortality, but they are all interesting examples of the narrative novel.
  Swallows and Amazons is a tale which ought to appeal to all discerning children between the ages of seven and seventy. A gorgeous map of an inland sea is the first thing which catches the eye and stirs curiosity. It is dotted with mysterious islands, it contains native settlements and unexplored regions, and it is signed with the seal of the Jolly Roger. Later we discover that this delectable terrain is the product of youthful imagination; but it is a real country all the same, and real children explore it in real sailing boats.

The blending of the natural and the phantasmagoric is the outstanding feature of Mr. Ransome's charming story; imaginary pirates come into collision with real robbers, and practical instructions on sailing and camping are essential parts of these make-believe adventures. The sophisticated children of seventy, who read Swallows and Amazons, may be tempted to indulge in philosophical speculations as to the respective values of the real and the ideal, but they will enjoy it every bit as much as the matter-of-fact children of seven.

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News Chronicle, 8th September, 1930. (Sylvia Lynd).

Sylvia Lynd, wife of the critic and author Robert Lynd, was an old friend of Arthur Ransome, and one of the many young women to whom in his early days he proposed marriage. Brogan records that Ransome was particularly pleased with this generous review. The reference at the end of the third paragraph is to Hilaire Belloc's poem 'The Tiger':

Mothers of large families, who claim to common sense,
Will find a Tiger well repays the trouble and expense.

Children on Holiday

A good book for children is one of the rarest things in the world. A particularly dreadful kind of humour and an even more dreadful kind of "pretty fancy" are usually reserved for them.

In "Swallows and Amazons" Mr. Ransome has written a really delightful book – a book of open air and fact and fun which fulfils the stirring promise of its title. It contains the lore of sailing and the lore of fishing and the lore of camping. Fine weather and unspoiled country are implied in it without any tedious descriptions. The excitement of discovery and exploration of pirates and warfare makes its pages turn with increasing speed. It is written about real children for real children (and by real children I mean nice children. I belong to the Little Angel school of child fancier). For the children who sail the Swallow and the children who read about them psychoanalysts will announce in vain (as one did lately) "Schools and families waited upon daily."

Mr. Ransome tells the story of a summer holiday beside a lake. A family of children are permitted by their parents to sail a boat by themselves and make a camp on an island. It is true that there are five of them, and one of them is a baby who stays at home with its mother and nurse, and that their father is a sailor and is away on his destroyer at the time. But even so, Mr. and Mrs. Walker have a certain kinship, it seems to me, with the mothers of large families who own to common sense, and find a tiger well repay the trouble and expense.

In order that children shall have adventures worth reading about, however, they must have rather reckless parents, or else none. The latter is the usual convention, and it is pleasant not to have to regard the little Walkers as pathetic orphans, John is the eldest by a year or two, anything from twelve to fourteen years old – young, but not incredibly young – to sail a boat on his own responsibility. Everything in this book is delightfully credible. His sister Susan is old enough to be able to cut bread and butter, and is best at buttered eggs, though, as the farmer's wife points out, most people are best at boiled ones. Titty, the next one, is young enough to enjoy playing imaginative games on her own account. Roger is young enough not to be able to swim and to like running messages.

With Robinson-Crusoe thoroughness they prepare for their adventure, making a list of all the things they will want on the island: saucepans and kettles and frying-pans and mugs and spoons and plates, and tins of biscuits and tins for keeping things dry, and corned beef and butter and bread and tea and tents, and a map and a compass and a flag with a blue swallow on it cut out of an old pair of knickerbockers: but even so, at the last moment they nearly forget the matches. And they do forget the fishing-rods and have to sail back for them next day. And every day they have to row across to Dixon's farm near the island for a can of milk.

The excitement begins when they discover that there is another boat called the Amazon with a pirate flag sailing the lake, and when the two girls who sail it invade the island:

The Amazons were bigger than most of the Swallows. One of them was bigger than captain John. The other was about the same size. If it had come to a fight, it might have been a very near thing. But it did not come to a fight.

Instead they make a friendly treaty for alliance or warfare, whichever they want at the moment. It is a glorious game, and lasts till the holiday ends. Even to read about it is a sort of holiday. All properly brought-up children who can swim and sing chanties, and even those who can't, will enjoy it wildly, and their elders will be able to read it aloud without fear of boredom.

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Spectator, 13th September, 1930. (B.E. Todd)

The reviewer, Barbara Euphan Todd, was later to become famous as the creator of the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, a character immortalised on television by the late Jon Pertwee. Her review contains one spectacular misreading in its assumption that the location of Wild Cat Island is coastal ("Probably it is one of those little creeks round Chichester"). One wonders how carefully Ms. Todd read the book: for the record, it contains 149 occurrences of the word 'lake', but none at all of the word 'creek' ...

Parents Beware!

If you happen to be a nervous parent and you live anywhere within sight of a small island, then you will not, if you would avoid persecution from your children, make them a present of Swallows and Amazons. For Mr. Ransome's book can be guaranteed to make any family long to imitate the adventures of the Walkers, who are allowed to sail their own boat, 'The Swallow', to a tiny island and to camp on it all by themselves. Yet, provided that the island can be found, there is no reason why any seaworthy child should not do as the Walkers did. One of the great charms of the book is its extreme reasonableness. Mr. Ransome is as careful of detail as Defoe: he tells how tents were made, how pike (the sharks of those water) were scaled, how meals were cooked, and leading lights set above the tiny harbour. The only thing he does not give away is the whereabouts of Wild Cat Island. Probably it is one of those little creeks round Chichester – anyway, it is off some cosy part of the coast where sun and sea and land are friendly together. His book, which has no particular plot, is simply the story of a long game of exploration and battle, played by the four Walkers with their invaders, Peggy and Nancy, who are the joint-owners of the good ship 'Amazon.' The "Amazons" have an uncle who lives with his parrot in a houseboat, and is suspected of piracy. The chapter headings, "A Peak in Darien," "The Arrow with the Green Feather," "The Battle in Houseboat Bay," and "Skull and Crossbones," give some idea of the ingredients of the book, whose quality is excellent.

If any parents fear Mr. Ransome's spur to adventure, then let them remember the Walkers' Father, who gave his consent to the expedition by telegram: "Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won't drown."

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Now and Then, Winter, 1930. (Mary Agnes Hamilton)

After her glowing review of Swallows and Amazons in Time and Tide, Molly Hamilton was asked to contribute a piece to Now and Then, which was an 'occasional publication' of Jonathon Cape. All in all, it seems to me that the second review is even more successful than the first in pinning down the book's very special appeal, despite the author's assertion that she hasn't the least idea how it is done.

How futile, how maddeningly weak and unsure of its ground, is criticism against the individual who looks at you with bland indifference, and says: 'I am not an expert: I only know what I like.' Argument rebounds from that calm certainty. Rare as are the people who do really know what they like, how one envies them! They need to say no more. But I am, for once, in their case, without their privilege. I like Swallows and Amazons more than I have liked any book, of any sort, for a great while; and would fain rest on that. So sure am I of this liking that my normal loquacity is stilled; all I should, if left to myself, say to others is, 'Read it!' I shall be astonished (and think the worse of you) if you do not feel the same. Conversationally that does very well; as a reviewing technique it seems a trifle inadequate. A reviewer has to say why he likes or dislikes a book.

Why do I like Swallows and Amazons so much that, having read it once, I immediately proceeded to do so again? I can think of many good reasons, on the threshold, why I should not. To begin with, it is a book about children – and ever since I can remember I have disliked that genre. Yes – but there is a difference here. John and Susan, Titty and Roger, really are children – not a grown-up's sentimentalisation of them.. They are real, from the very first moment when we meet Roger 'tacking' up the field, through all their adventures (including that really marvellous piece of imaginative penetration called 'Titty Alone') right up to the grand carouse of the close. Real themselves, they bring their world with them – a world of intense, absorbed seriousness, in which the boundaries between the real and the imagined grow thin, and wonder spreads over both. This is indeed Mr, Ransome's miracle – that without one extraneous or self-conscious word, one interpolation of the observer, he has cast this mysterious and lovely glow over his lake – so that it seems to the reader, as to the children who man either Swallow or Amazon, a boundless world of water, a region at once enchanted and perfectly solid; and the enchantment and the sense of solidity live together; created once and for all, and accepted once and for all, by the reader who submits to and dwells within it. Actually the grown-ups – the children's mother with her tendency to 'go native,' inherited by the practical Susan, at moments: and father – author of that great telegram which gives them licence to adventure forth on the island – 'BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN'; like the farmer who supplies the milk, and the wicked Captain Flint, with his parrot and treasure, on the houseboat – add up to the curious, unforced, but authentic magic of the whole thing. A word too much, a word of explanation, might have spoiled it; but there is no such word. The atmosphere is created,as simply as by the lifting of the curtain at the play – that's all. How it is done, I haven't the least idea. But done it is.

Disability number two from which I suffer is that I know nothing whatever about sailing, and, as a rule, take unkindly to the process of being taught. The sailing stuff here is I am sure extraordinarily good: children who do sail, or who wish to do so, will learn an immense lot. Mr. Ransome himself knows so much, and enjoys what he knows so much, that he can convey the enjoyment even to a real duffer like myself. Absorbing, for instance, the careful planning and practising of 'leading lights'; and my heart beat fast during the adventure up the dark creek at night. Indeed, this absorbed and absorbing detail is, I am now convinced, one of the factors that go to make this an ideal holiday book, for a wretched grown-up no less than for a happy child – happy in that he, or she (for after all the two young Amazons share with Titty the real nautical honours) can, after reading it, insist on being taken to a lake and given a boat next summer. Once I had to do a wireless talk on 'Holiday Reading' – and did not find it, in view of a cursory vision of the extremely different ideas of what constitutes a holiday held by my own friends, at all a simple task. If I were to do it again, it would be easy. I should simply talk about Swallows and Amazons. For it maintains the quintessence of a holiday – a complete escape from the world compact of worries and fusses and obligations unfulfilled, or what Henry St. George called 'too many things,' into another world, in which there are just the right number of things, and some of the most enchanting people one has ever met.

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New York Herald Tribune, 15th March, 1931 (Genevieve Taggard)

Certainly Not Duffers

So it seems that Able-Seaman Titty was right all the time about the treasure. Cormorant Island was all the time on the children's map, and after she proved that she was right, they marked where the treasure was found. It lay west of Wild Cat Island, where the children had their camp. Octopus Lagoon and Shark Bay were made up out of pretty thin pretense, so when Titty kept saying that Captain Fkint's treasure was on Comorant Island, the other children discounted it a little, knowing Titty's superlative fondness for pirates and Spanish treasure. When they got the trunk open it held not exactly ingots: that was disappointing. But Captain Flint took it seriously enough -- it was the manuscript of the book he had been writing all summer and the journals he had kept for years and years.

Arthur Ransome has written a new kind of a book. In "Swallows and Amazons" the children play at being explorers. An English lake is transformed into the south Atlantic. With amiable facility everything around them drops ito the pattern. Soon they have everything – savages, natives, a suspected pirate, and then a genuine mystery. John, the captain of the Swallow, their boat, is old enough to know even the perils of steering a boat in the dark. Susan, the older girl, cooks and sews on buttons and bosses everybody tactfully. Every day the children go from the camp to Dixon's farm, and there, by means of this daily necessity, Mother gets her daily news of them. Mother has been a good sailor herself, down in Australia, as a girl, and with father an experienced camper. So it follows that she is able to display a degree of faith in her children's ability to take care of themselves which seems almost superhuman. Father, who was in China with the navy, felt much as mother did about letting them try it. It was his telegram that made the whole thing possible and laid the cornerstone of the adventure:


The children weren't duffers. Even Roger, who couldn't do much, was at least trained for camping and boating in this respect that he never fussed and he obeyed orders from the head without a word of argument. They all ended by having a grand time and no bones broken. They made war with the Amazons, and then, after joining forces by the foe, made Captain Flint (Uncle Jim) walk the plank. The plank, I hasten to add, was the springboard Unle Jim used on his houseboat for his morning dive. Just the same he had on all his clothes. After that the suspense is intense until Titty finds the treasure.

There comes a time when every child (except the born duffer) wants to cast off, camp out in the woods, own and explore a desert island, prove, that is, some ability to live independently of mamma, papa and civilisation. We do it, too; too much clutter, too many implements, take the zest out of life. But under these new, these sporting conditions, the simplest and dullest tasks grow romantic: going for water is an adventure, making a good bed of hay a real triumph. And knowing how – learning the craft of camp-fires, is as solid a satisfacion as any. And so this book, which tells a story not beyond the bounds of possibilty, manages to get, too, the thrill and zest of romantic adventure.

Of ourse I was skeptical at first. Could children handle a boat and be as level-headed and as unquarrelsome as these? A friend who has sailed a boat near the Cape as a little girl assures me that it is perfectly possible for children to behave as these children do – in regard to their boat, that is. I should be inclined to put in at least three more barked shins and perhaps a mosquito bite or two. They are pretty nice children. I'm glad Uncle Arthur got back to his manuscript and published the book.

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New York Times Book Review, 5th April, 1931. (Anonymous)

This is a most enjoyable tale of six children, two small sailboats, and a "desert island" which was, however, located in a lake in the north of England. Captain John, Mate Susan, Able-Seaman Titty and Ship's Boy Roger sail the good ship Swallow, explore the lake and the island, their imagination and ingenuity turning the lake into the South Atlantic and finding in the English lake district "savages," "natives" and everything else necessary for their seafaring careers. When Nancy and Peggy Blackett, master and part owner, respectively, of the Amazon, sail into the harbour under skull and crossbones and attempt to seize the Swallows' camping place, they supply a realistic touch of piracy. After a war, conducted according to rule and in a spirit of fairness and reason, the Swallows and Amazons agree to become allies against "Captain Flint," the "houseboat man who in real life is the uncle of the Amazons. The good sportsmanship of the children brings him out of his gloomy mood and he joins their game, playing the part assigned to him with zest and dramatic effect. At the end there is a real treasure hunt and if the box which Able-Seaman Titty's persistence is responsible for finding did not contain the traditional pieces of eight, its contents were even more valuable to "Captain Flint."

Nowhere does the story exceed the bounds of possibility. One of the most lifelike characters is an understanding mother, who herself an experienced sailor and camper, knows how to keep in touch, without interfering or breaking the spell of the game.

This is a book for almost any age. Boys and girls from 9 to 12 are absorbed in the story, while for adults it is like watching, from another room and unobserved, delightful and natural children at play.

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Saturday Review of Literature, 9th May 1931. (T.M. Longstreth)

It is easily imaginable that 'Swallows and Amazons' attained its special quality of happening in its author's mind when, as correspondent to the London Daily News and the Manchester Guardian, he was living through the tragedies of the Front or exploring the chaos of revolutionary Russia. For here is everything that the Front was not, and that Russia is not: peace, innocence, family life at its loveliest, laughter and security.

The story is plotted so slightly that the American boy, reared on "westerns", may turn up his nose at such a low-pitched tale. It will be his loss. Four children go camping on an island in one of the English lakes. Two rival campers – girls at that – appear and joyfully agree on war.

But Mr. Ransome has marshalled many aides. First a reality of scene. As in Defoe, no detail is too insignificant to gloss over, yet the itemizing never grows wearisome, and a store of useful things to know about sailing is secreted in the pages. Second, a reality of character. They are born alive, and do not have to be described.

"Swallows and Amazons" will gain by being read aloud. The child who hears will live gaily, whether on Wild Cat Island or Octopus Lagoon, while the parent who reads will remember idyllic hours. For this book is both silvery present and golden retrospect. All that is tedious and sullen and deceptive disappears in its sunniness as clouds vanish in the tempered air of a summer day. The reader has only one dread – that some quarrel, some calamity may mar the course of things, inasmuch as they are so human. But the spell lasts. And we think that the book will last too, from edition unto edition.

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I am grateful to Wayne G. Hammond, Ian Baines and John Wilson for help in identifying these reviews