I’ve had writer’s block this week. I think it’s mostly because I was trying to avoid gushing, which obviously didn’t work. Also, I have readers! Thank you so much! It’s a little bit scary but so, so lovely to know that other people are interested in this stuff as well, and we can talk about it together.
So – as far as I can remember, this is about the most dismissive thing that is said about Roger in the whole series. All the children have their own distinct roles, but none are defined by them. So Roger is the Boy, the baby of the family, and yet emphatically not the baby. These first two chapters make it very clear that he graduated from the position of Youngest when baby Vicky was born, and that when he leaves land, it will be as a full member of the crew.
Still, when “Roger was kept busy running up and down to the boathouse with all sorts of things that everybody agreed could not be left behind”, I’m never sure to what extent this is a reflection of the others’ chaos and excitement and how much a pretext to get him out from underfoot. Regardless, he will never know that he was anything other than an indispensable messenger.
John is the leader, the planner, the thinker. He is deeply aware of the responsibility placed upon him, and the occasional tension between this and the fantastic adventures of his crew: “He was just going to sail Swallow for the first time, and he had quite enough to think about without queens.”
Susan also lives on the cusp between fantasy and reality, explorer and native, but she navigates it very differently. I think what is highlighted in this chapter is that she genuinely enjoys the lists and the plans and the challenge of cooking on an island, so that for her, there is no rupture between this and the adventure; each flows seamlessly into the other.
And Titty – one day I will write reams about Titty, but her time hasn’t quite come yet. For now, she is making a flag, because a flag is what the ship needed and Titty notices the details of what the story needs.
When I was 21, living abroad and starved of English language books, I read ‘Moby Dick’. I really enjoyed it. It has wonderful characterisation, high adventure, ponderous philosophy and one of the best descriptions of PTSD that I’ve ever read, and I always thought that those things carried me through the notoriously dry whaling sequences. It’s now occurred to me why detailed technical descriptions of life at sea feel so reassuringly familiar.