I remember studying the Battle of Hastings in history. We were told that because of weather conditions, William the Conqueror was delayed in setting off from France. Harold thought he wasn’t coming and dismissed some of his armies before William arrived, and that’s why our meat is named in French. Continue reading “Chapter XVII: To be a lonely lighthouse keeper”
Yes, she gets two chapters named after her. She is That Good.
This chapter is peculiarly alien in culture, and at the same time I feel closer to John than ever before. Continue reading “Chapter XVI: The best of all natives”
If there is one thing I really really don’t like, it is being Falsely Accused. Especially the kind where you can’t say anything in your defence and nobody will listen and they will never know that you are nice really because they won’t let you tell them and there’s nothing you can do and it’s all so unfair. The end of this chapter makes my insides all cold and explodey.
But there’s lots of lovely stuff first.
“The Swallows were back in real life…”
Enough of this escapist charcoal burning. Serious stuff is afoot, and it’s time to get real. Actually, this bit is hyper real: there’s an acknowledgement that this isn’t, in fact, virgin territory if the Amazons got there first. Next, we’ll work on how it wasn’t empty anyway if the natives / savages / tribal charcoal burning witches were there…
This is my favourite chapter. (Have I said that before? It’s possible I might have more than one.)
It begins with a casual reference to mature, dignified Captain John turning upside down to look between his knees and the reflection in the lake. And then Titty and Roger row off on their own, which is a lot of responsibility for quite young children, and having watched my 5-year-old whittle a stick with a very sharp knife at a Woodcraft camp last weekend, I heartily approve.
There’s some lovely detail again here, and also some wondrous fallibility. Warning: I may be more critical of this chapter than of its predecessors.
I used to hate writing conversation when I was at school – it all felt tedious and contrived, and seemed to take forever to communicate the important information in a way which was remotely believable, and I didn’t think my hypothetical readers would have that much patience. Had I paid more attention to passages like this, I might have given them more credit.
But then the lengthy conversation about the relative heights of the younger crew members turns out to be more important than it first appears. Yes, it reinforces messages we have already had about Roger’s status in the family, Susan’s sense of responsibility, John’s need to plan for all of them. But it also sets the context for the declaration that Roger won’t need to reach the lantern…
In which we learn about centre boards, pilot books (I had to look them up), and the proper way to carry a heavy barrel.
One of the things I love about this chapter is that even though this is the point where hierarchies are being established, there are huge amounts of respect in both directions.
This chapter is about making friends, and specifically, how to make friends when what you really want to do with your new friends is pretend to be enemies. It manages to illustrate this on several levels within not many pages, and it’s really quite clever. It’s also funny, which I think I missed when I was a child.
In the midst of all the love, I think it only fair to note that the children don’t always talk nicely to each other. Aside from “skip along, Roger”, which I think he quite likes at the moment (later books might hint at Roger’s adolescent rebellion), there’s a bit of “Peggy, you donkey”, and quite a lot of “shut up”. Telling one’s sibling to “shut up” is strongly discouraged in my household.
Strict and anachronistic parenting aside, though…
No cryptically whimisical title for this chapter. This is Serious Bizniss.
Poor John wakes up all of a muddle. I can’t quite tell whether he’s wishing that his story had stayed pottersome or hoping that it will turn into a thriller, and I’m not sure that he knows, either. So he goes for a swim (always good for clearing the head, I find), and imagines hitching a ride on a seagull. John has a tendency to come across as a bit grown-up and sensible, so it’s nice to see that he can be plenty fanciful when he’s on his own.
The plot thickens. Thickens like a sauce that you’ve been stirring patiently for half an hour, and you turn away from it for less than a minute. So far they’ve basically been pottering about, wittily sewing on buttons. Now there’s smoke, shaking of fists, and a mysterious disappearing pirate ship. You can hardly see for the foreshadowing.
“‘There are two boys in her,’ said Titty.
‘Girls,’ said John, who had the telescope.”
And that’s it for gender until, like, the Great Aunt, as far as I can remember. Did I mention the love?