Friday, 4 January 2008

Winter Holiday - Arthur Ransome

Winter Holiday has always been my favourite of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books. Clearly at ease with the books and the characters he has created, Ransome tells a wonderful and wholly believable tale. I love the winter setting and the wonderful evocation of an already wild landscape covered with snow. I love the glimpse into lives hitherto peripheral to the stories. And most of all I love Dick and Dorothea.

By introducing new characters, we see the Walkers and Blacketts through new eyes, a great way of keeping familiar characters alive. It also added characters for whom outdoor adventures were something of a mystery. I was more like the Ds than the others and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the other books, this was the first that actually included me.

It also a favourite because I read this during the winter of 1962/63 when the whole world seemed frozen and the adventures within the book could be echoed in the real world. We drove back from Gloucestershire trying to beat the worst of the weather; little knowing it was going to set in for weeks. Battling through snow, sledging, being the first home (from school) and lighting the fires, sitting in the breakfast room by the coke boiler doing homework… all seemed to me at the time (a boy interested in astronomy and writing) not so very distant from the adventures of the North Polar Expedition.

All of which goes to prove, as I said in my previous post, that some books have an emotional appeal above and beyond their apparent appeal. This does not mean they are no good. I happen to believe that the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books are well written and as relevant today as they ever have been (if not more so). Accusations of privilege, middle-class values, and all the rest, really don’t hold up, not least when you remember Ransome’s own sympathies.

As chance would have it, it is snowing as I write this. I have an adult perspective on such weather now (as I do on the book), but both are still magical experiences. And we could all do with a few of those now and then.