“Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays. He ran until he nearly reached the hedge by the footpath, then turned and ran until he nearly reached the hedge on the other side of the field. Then he turned and crossed the field again…The wind was against him, and he was tacking up against it to the farm, where at the gate his patient mother was awaiting him…
At last he headed straight into the wind, moved slower and slower, came to a stop at his mother’s side, began to move backwards, and presently brought up with a little jerk, anchored, and in harbour.
“Is it the answer,” he panted, out of breath after all that beating up against the wind. “Does he say Yes?”
Mother smiled, and read the telegram aloud:
BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN
So Roger, in Swallows and Amazons (the first book in Arthur Ransome’s wonderful series of the same name) finds out that his father has given the final permission for Roger and his brother & sisters to camp alone on a nearby island. And the adventures begin.
My mother grew up in England, during WWII. When I was young, she was still rereading many of her favorite books from childhood. She introduced us to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and I remember her excitement when, on a trip to Canada, she found out she could buy Arthur Ransome’s books in bookstores there. And then I repeated the excitement for myself, years later, on my first trip to England, as I dipped into store after store on Charing Cross Road and collected my own set.
On the surface, I was nothing like the children in Ransome’s books. These kids were always on the go—sailing, hiking, camping, mining for gold, you name it. They spent every spare second outside, on the water or in the hills. The winter that Nancy (called that instead of her true name, Ruth, because she is utterly and completely…ruthless) got the mumps and was quarantined inside was about as close to torture as the children could experience. Me, I didn’t need mumps to stay inside, I just needed a good book and a cozy chair. Some of the best moments in my family’s vacations were when my parents decided I was old enough to stay back at the cabin and skip the canoe trip or the climb up the mountain.
So why did these books resonate so much with me? Because the children in them lived completely in their imagination. They didn’t climb the hill outside their homes, they climbed “Kanchenjunga.” They didn’t stowaway on Nancy’s uncle’s houseboat, they lived in Nanson’s Fram. They didn’t skate to the old house at the end of the lake, they mounted an expedition to the North Pole. And the adults in the books either stayed out of the way or threw themselves full-force into whatever story the kids were in that week.
And the kids took me with them. I was with Susan when she worried about how whether the milk would be enough to go around, or if she should send Roger to the farm for another pail. I was with Titty when she used the forked branch and it actually jerked in her hands to point to water. I was with Dot wherever she carried her notebook and whenever she made up her own story, out of the story they were all living.
And, wonder of wonders, I was with all of them the very real day, in England, that I rented a too-big-for-the-roads car and drove myself to the Lake District and hiked–yes, instead of staying in the cabin–in their footsteps.
I appreciate Arthur Ransome, because he gave me–real or not–England.
A few more recent posts for you to browse:
- Novel Novice (who created the great Author Appreciation avatar) on Suzanne Collins
- Another one from Novel Novice—Phillip Pullman
- Chronicles of a Newbie on Holly Black