on 4 August 2011
I doubt whether this book would appeal to a reader not familiar with the 'Swallows and Amazons' series of children's books; it clearly isn't aimed at newcomers but at the millions who have grown up with the stories. Just in case you AREN'T familiar (in which case I'm surprised that you are reading this review!), the series consists of twelve books, published between 1930 and 1947 and continuously in print ever since. The reference to millions growing up with the stories is no exaggeration; the books enjoyed huge success in the United States, where they were published shortly after the UK editions, and have since been translated into a number of languages. They have proved exceptionally popular in Japan and in the Czech Republic.
From the outset the popularity of the books created interest in the locations (five were set in the Lake District and four in East Anglia) and in recent years several organisations have been founded with the objective of studying all aspects of Ransome's life and works. Inevitably, there is now a breed of 'experts' whose knowledge of minutiae can seem overpowering to us lesser mortals. Roger Wardale is a member of the Arthur Ransome Society and undoubtedly an expert, but he is to be congratulated on producing a book which is an absolute joy to read and never presumes prior knowledge beyond an affectionate memory of the original books.
The first two chapters provide a concise review of Ransome's life before 'Swallows and Amazons' - he was 46 when the first book in the series was published. To say that he had an interesting life is something of a understatement, but there are already several biographical studies and the author wisely limits himself to an overview in sufficient detail to set the scene for the rest of the book. The remaining thirteen chapters look in rather more detail at what was happening in Ransome's life while each book was in preparation - there's one chapter for each book and a further chapter covering material which was never completed. Sources include Ransome's letters, diaries and working notes, skilfully combined in a narrative which grips and informs and which never fails to evoke delicious memories of each book in the series.
If, like me, you took part vicariously in the adventures of the Walkers, the Blacketts, the Callums et al, you have to buy this book. It provides you with an unassailable excuse to wallow in pure nostalgia and at the same time helps you to increase your understanding of a remarkable man who - despite his constant self-doubts - possessed the ability to bring delight and lasting pleasure to generations of children, including those rather older children sometimes mistakenly described as adults.
on 27 January 2011
This is a very useful book for the Ransome enthusiast as it sets out much of the existing known information in a logical fashion.
It also adds some good snippets of new information.
Pictures are excellent and the colour pictures possess a real Ransome related atmosphere. There also included drawings by two of the other Ransome book illustrators, Clifford Webb and Helene Carter. The latter was much admired by Ransome for her work in illustrating many American editions of his books.
In such a detailed work there is inevitably the occasional error. An example is the caption to the Pin Mill Hard picture on Page 109. The stream is actually the Grindle whilst the Twizzle is the water leading to Kirby (Witch's) Quay in the following chapter.
Such errors do not detract from the value of the book, which will form a very useful reference for Ransome's Swallows & Amazons series.
on 5 June 2011
I strongly recommend this book to Ransome fans, new readers and just to those curious about Ransome. There are even some new gems of information in this book for genuine Ransome enthusiasts! The familiar information is presented beautifully, with excellent photographs, rare illustrations, etc. After quite a lot of focus in recent years on Ransome's life before writing Swallows and Amazons, it is very pleasing to have a book that focuses on his art as a storyteller.