Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome – a Review

Title: Swallowdale

Author: Arthur Ransome

Published: 1931

Age Rating: 9+

Star Rating: 4/5

A beautiful tale of exploration, adventure and outdoor life, this time mainly featuring an exciting Valley (the previous book in the Swallows and Amazons series was based around Wild-Cat island.) As in Swallows and Amazons, the main characters are Captain John, Mate Susan, Able Seaman Titty and Mate Roger; and thirsty for adventure the crew set out to Wild-Cat island once more to take life back up on the wonderful little island on the river. But when news arrives that Nancy and Peggy, the Amazon pirates are having to spend the summer as hosts to their fearsome Great Aunt, and then the Swallow is ship wrecked; surely their summer is ruined? And then Titty and Roger discover a secret valley – Swallowdale. It has everything four adventurers (and Titty’s parrot) could possibly want: a Cave which belongs to Peter Duck (a fictional character Titty created), a waterfall, a river with trout in… a watch tower. The Swallows are thrilled, and laden with tents, food, the Parrot and other necessary gear, they move to Swallowdale, temporarily, until their boat is fixed. The Amazons, of course, are upset they cannot join their firm friends in they’re wonderful Valley, but nothing could be done, because the ‘beastly G.A.’ – as the Amazons call the ‘Great Aunt’, is staying on at their home. Despite this unfortunate timing of the G.A.’s visit, the Amazons warn the Swallows of an attack they would overwhelm the campers with the moment they are free. Personally, I also thought it was a very unfair factor how the Great Aunt came to stay in the girls’ holidays, moreover, disallowing them the freedom they wanted. Of course she wanted to see them on her visit, but surely a compromise could have been decided upon?

Anyway, so days later, when Nancy and Peggy have a free hour or two, they plot an attack on the Swallows. But in return, the Swallows also have a plan. Able Seaman Titty and Boy Roger spy the attackers from the Watch Tower on the day of the attack. They quickly race into the Valley to warn the others and at once the fire is stamped out and the camp is transferred into Peter Duck’s cave – along with the crew themselves. The Amazons approach and are surprised to see the camp has seemingly vanished and begin a search unsuccessfully. To help them along Titty makes the parrot make a noise. The Amazons disappear for a moment searching the other side of the Valley, and whilst they are absent, the Swallows emerge from the Cave and build a fire again. The rivals laugh over the attack when the Amazons return, and news about the G.A. is reported. Nancy describes how things are dull and how the Great Aunt even made her mother: Mrs Blacket, cry the other day. At this point, all of the crew, but especially Titty, is outraged.

She is later alone, when the rest of the crew walk Nancy and Peggy home, and she puts a plan into action. Out of an old candle stick, she moulds a figure, defined to be the Great Aunt. This is all following an old legend the Crew had been discussing earlier. She makes it clear how she only wants to make the G.A. feel uncomfortable – not kill her like some ancient people would have done using these wax dolls. Some people stab the dolls with needles or throw them into the fire. Titty holds the figure over the fire to make the G.A. uncomfortably hot, but when she looks down she realises the figure is burning in the fire – presumably the slippery wax resulted in the doll slipping out of her hand. She has killed the G.A. (if the old wives tale is true).

Titty is horrified and confides in the others when they return. Susan assures her that the Great Aunt will be quite alright, but Titty still isn’t convinced, and spends quite a few long hours worrying about her actions. But Susan is proved right when the children see her and the Amazons go past days later. But nothing stays peaceful for long. Nancy shoots an arrow at the children with a message: ‘Show the Parrot it’s feathers’. Because the feather on the arrow is Polly the parrots own – the parrot is shown it’s feathers. Polly destructively tears apart the arrow and a futher message is revealed: Just in case the natives get hold of it… Nancy describes. The second note is to tell the Swallows to meet them at a certain place the next day to begin their mission to climb a distant mountain which the allies name Kanchenjunga. And they must climb it quick because Swallow is almost mended – plus the G.A. is finally leaving and the Swallows and Amazons could finally reunite on Wild-Cat Island, and it would be like they never left last year!

The chapters describing the climb of Kanchenjunga are wonderful, and when at last the allies reach the bottom, once more, Titty and Roger separate from the group to walk back to the Valley across the moors, having previously left Patrins to find their way back. Somehow they go wrong and get lost and then Roger sprains his ankle. Rescued by a kindly Charcoal Burner, he is offered a bed for the night and Titty is taken back to the camp where she assured the others he was quite alright. He is reunited with the others in the morning.

The book finishes on a happy note for the Swallows as they win a boat race against the Amazons and settle down on Wild-Cat Island once more. A definite 4/5 for such an enjoyable, strong storyline.

*

I’d just like to quickly thank those who have commented this week. Also those who are now following the Blog. Next weeks review will be another Enid Blyton book – The Castle of Adventure, hopefully.

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