Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome
So here we sit, on the shores of an adventure…
And that opening image, of Roger tacking diligently up the field towards his mother, resisting the urge to run straight towards her and the message she holds because it would break the reality he has constructed. These children are doing Real Life, in a big way, and they are also moving seamlessly in and out of fantasy and metaphor, constructing explanations for the the things they see that will enable them to sustain their world of adventure. I love this, and it strikes me as very realistic, and I love way their mother embraces it as well.
My mum never particularly liked this part of the story. Her empathy was all with Mrs Walker, whose husband, away on the other side of the world and never quite certain of when he would next be at home, now seemed to be saying that he didn’t particularly mind whether or not his children drowned in the lake.
I prefer to see Commander Walker’s belief in his children’s competence and resilience. The children in these stories are allowed to take risks, to challenge themselves, to make mistakes and to put them right again. No, I would not allow my seven-year-old to camp on an island for a summer with only a couple of teenagers to look after him. But in my other life, I am a person-centred therapist with a firm belief in the value of Unconditional Positive Regard. So this still feels good.
To some extent, these are books about sibling relationships. I’m kind of glad that the idea of sibling rivalry is actively left behind on the shores in the first chapter, when Roger “saw for the first time that it was a good thing to be no longer the baby of the family”. These are siblings who like, respect and support each other, because and despite of their differences.
I’m interested in the letters. Roger’s short letter and Titty’s long one are both in character, but I’d forgotten that Susan “had not written a letter of her own. She had put her name with John’s at the end of his, so that these two had sent one letter between them.” I do wonder sometimes about Susan’s relationship with her father. I also worry that she might be a Parentified Child – we’ll need to keep an eye on that. But for this chapter, at least, John and Susan are presented firmly as a team, jointly and mutually responsible for the wellbeing of their crew, and equally excited about the journey ahead of them.