Saturday, 29 December 2007

Peter Duck - Arthur Ransome

A ripping yarn with convincingly nasty pirates, buried treasure, adventure on the high seas, a ‘desert’ island, and that particularly comforting homeliness that comes with companionship, mugs of cocoa, and knowing that all will turn out as it should.

I was introduced to the books of Arthur Ransome by a friend when I was nine years old. We lived in Norwich at the time and it was a revelation to me to read books some of which were set in a landscape (the Broads) that I knew. I later became familiar with the Lake District and re-readings of the books took on an extra layer of immediacy.

The ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books consequently have an emotional appeal as they are forever associated with my childhood. Anyone who reads a lot will have similar childhood favourites that they turn to for comfort as they have the power to return us to a time in which we were, if only within the space created by the book, happy and secure.

It is not easy to assess whether such books are well written books (although one could argue quite convincingly that if they have such a power over the years, they are good books). Arthur Ransome certainly has a gift for story telling (taking what are often quite mundane events and imbuing them with a rich dimension of adventure), for creating wonderful characters (not least strong female roles), and for writing books that appeal to children and adults alike (it is not a new phenomenon, despite what some publishers would have us believe).

I have had copies of these books on my shelves for forty years and more. My last set (paperbacks) fell to pieces and I am finally treating myself to the hardbacks and reading them with as much delight as the first time I encountered them.