Arthur Ransome is partly responsible for my lifelong love of books. Along with Mum & Dad for encouraging me to read from a young age. And Mr Ingram, my English teacher for later “O” and “A” levels, introducing me to Graham Greene, Saul Bellow, Master Shakespeare and so many other disparate, illuminating writers.
But it was the adventures of Swallows and Amazons that opened my youthful eyes to an exciting wider world, both physically and in the imagination.
We borrowed Gill’s nephew Ben (11) and nieces Jess and Lucy (7) last week. In a high-risk strategy, we took them to see the new movie Swallows and Amazons. No inter-galactic wars, no dazzling animation, and not far short of two hours….would they survive an old-fashioned yarn lasting longer than a WhatsApp exchange with their friends?
The film is largely faithful to the concept of Ransome’s well-spoken Walker family, zooming north to the idyllic Lake District while the patriarch captains a destroyer somewhere in the Far East, not long before the outbreak of World War II.
The four older Walker children – John, Susan, Tatty and Roger – persuade their baby-cradling mother to let them set sail in the Swallow across the lake, to camp for a few days on Unexplored Island.
Park your 21st century cynicism at the cinema door: of course no responsible mother would let her brood loose on such an adventure now. Especially as the youngest can barely swim. And how sad that the author’s Titty has succumbed to contemporary political correctness and had her name changed to the ridiculous Tatty.
The out-of-towners are attacked by friendly local pirates Nancy & Peggy Blackett on the Amazon, sporting the evil Jolly Roger on its mast. But they soon share a mutual respect. Just as well, because – in another diversion from Ransome’s original innocence and a further sop to modern demands – they have to work together to foil a Russian spy plot.
No matter. Swallows and Amazons remains a nostalgic tale, conjuring up days spent in the open air, having old-fashioned adventures and making a campfire, with no sign of Facebook, Instagram or texting.
Ben, Jess and Lucy stayed awake – and hopefully fully engaged – until the happy ending.
I wonder if they’d like The Famous Five books too…..