Thursday, 7 May 2009

Pigeon Post - Arthur Ransome

I am an unashamed fan of Arthur Ransome’s books. Not just the Swallows and Amazons series, but his other works as well. However, it is the twelve that involve the adventures of the Walkers, Blacketts, and Callums (along with the Coot Club) that I love the most. I read them as a child and I have been reading them ever since.

In Pigeon Post, the children gather in the Lake District. During a drought, they become involved in prospecting for gold in the fells in the hope of keeping the Blackett’s adventurous uncle from straying too far from home. These adventures are recounted with Ransome’s usual meticulous detail, with his clear regard for the natural world, and with that ever present and gentle subversion.

The joy for me has always been the way in which Ransome captures that borderland between the real world and children’s fantasy. The adventures of his children are fairly innocuous (other than the three books which might be regarded as tales the children have made up for themselves). They camp, sail, watch wildlife, have mock battles, and stay away from ‘natives’ as much as they can. These pastimes are populated with an overlay of pirates and adventurers, and with the children’s explorations of their world.

There is a great left unsaid in the background of these books, especially the fate of the Blackett’s father. And there is also that subversive element. It’s not immediately apparent, but it becomes clear where Ransome’s sympathies lie, and it is not with the Yahoo behaviour of civilised life. The ‘good’ adults in the books are unconventional, almost Bohemian in character. The children are honest, careful, and mindful of the natural world. The only people who cause trouble in the books are greedy, unthinking adults.

Ransome had Socialist ideals and these books are prime examples of how socialist and anarchist principles can work in practice. Yet that was never an overt (or possibly even intended) message. Ransome told his tales in this way and created the characters in the way he did because of the way he saw the world. His primary interest was in telling good adventure stories of the kind that could (and did) make a child think: I could do that.