Book Review: Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons is a children’s adventure story by Arthur Ransome. It follows the lives of John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker as they stay at a farm near a lake in the Lake District during the school holidays. They borrow a boat named Swallow to go sailing and make a camp on a nearby island. Soon, they find themselves under attack from the fierce Amazon pirates [also known to some as Ruth and Peggy Blackett], who sail a boat named Amazon. The two groups of children have many outdoor adventures, including sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and general piracy.

I really enjoyed this book. Swallows and Amazons is just a good, a heart-warming, children’s adventure story, in a similar league to other popular children’s series such as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (which I loved as a girl).

The children explore an island, forage for supplies, engage in a pirate “battle”, and learn about some buried pirate treasure.

Ransome’s writing style is witty, and this subtle humour permeates the narration and added to my enjoyment of the novel. His characters, although children, use sarcasm and sharp wit within their dialogue and this is brilliant.

When I started Swallows and Amazons, I was a little wary of, in a story set in the 30s, the 2 boys and 2 girls falling into simple and constrictive gender stereotypes. However, I was pleasantly proved wrong. Whilst Susan, as the eldest girl, is mostly responsible for the cooking*, all the other roles and responsibilities – such as tidying, fishing, sailing, washing up – are shared by the children as best they can. This is only amplified when the “pirates” Ruth (who’s pirate name is Nancy) and Peggy appear on the island, proving that little girls can be just as adventurous and pirate-like as little boys.

*Inner housewife moment: I actually really love the little details Ransome includes of the meals Susan prepares, the way the tents are made homely, and all the little supplies the children need. This was one of my favourite parts of the Famous Five series too, when Anne takes on the role of cook and homemaker.

I think my favourite thing about Swallows and Amazons is that, in Ransome’s narration, he takes the children seriously and never belittles their imaginative minds and games. For example, John Walker is not John Walker, he is Captain. The local village is not just a local village, they are savage natives.

This, I think, is the charm of older children’s books – from authors like Ransome, Blyton, and C.S. Lewis for example –  in contrast to children’s fiction nowadays. Yes, the childlike essence of the story naturally appeals to his primary audience of children, but the writing style, characters and plot are also incredibly enjoyable for older readers too, which I think modern children’s fiction lacks – it is written specifically with a 7 year old in mind, and no-one else.**

**Feel free to challenge me on this, this is my own experience: The modern children’s books I read when I was a 7 year old I’d never read again. The books that do stick in my mind as a 7 year old and I would read again are classics such as the Famous Five series, the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and so on.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Swallows and Amazons and read it in just a few days. There are 11 more books in this series, that I will probably / most definitely read in the future.

– Judith

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Film Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian is about the four Pevensie children, who return to Narnia to help Prince Caspian (played by Ben Barnes) in his struggle with for the throne against his corrupt uncle, King Miraz (played by Sergio Castellitto).

I think Prince Caspian is a good sequel; I liked the fact the actors were older because it gives the characters more maturity and allows the director to explore darker themes, in a similar way to the Harry Potter films. Of course, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets were good films, but by The Prisoner of Azkaban, there was more development, a higher sense of threat and you knew the characters could be tested more – which makes for a more interesting experience as an older viewer.

In addition, I found it easier to engage with all four main characters: Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley), Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) and Peter Pevensie (William Moseley) because they’ve all grown up, whereas in the first film, I always preferred Peter and Susan, as opposed to the more childish Edmund and Lucy.

I particularly appreciated the growth of Edmund’s character; he steps up and makes careful decisions, learning from his previous mistakes in Narnia, highlighting the change from his weedy and foolish character from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

However, I’m not sure how I feel about the eponymous Prince Caspian – despite the film being titled after him, it still felt like Prince Caspian was still more about the Pevensies, and Prince Caspian was just a “tag along”. Although, I did like the suggestion that he and Susan liked each other, and the competitive rivalry created between Peter and Caspian – this added for comic relief in more serious moments of battles and politics. Eddie Izzard’s Reepicheep also added humour.

Of course, it wouldn’t be The Chronicles of Narnia without Aslan, and Liam Neeson reprises the role to bestow more wisdom on the children. I also love the theme music – you know something great is going to happen when the score begins to play.

When I talked about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I discussed some Christian themes from the first film, so it seems only fitting to do that here too. What struck me was Lucy’s fervent faith in Aslan (symbolising a Christian’s belief in God), even when some of her siblings begin to doubt and follow their own ways. This is developed further by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), as it is just Edmund and Lucy who travel to Narnia because Susan and Peter have become “too old” for the world of Narnia.

I recommend both The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian as good family-friendly films, great for watching at Christmas time.

– Judith

Film Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the first film in a trilogy of adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ well-known and much loved children’s book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. This particular film introduces the 4 Pevensie children, who discover the magical land of Narnia through a wardrobe and meet Aslan and the White Witch. With Aslan, the children embark on an adventure to save Narnia from the evil clutches of the evil White Witch.

As C.S. Lewis professed to be a Christian, and as a Christian myself, it is easy to see Christian beliefs which underpin the story:

  1. The White Witch [The Devil] ruins Aslan’s [God’s] perfected creation of Narnia
  2. The ‘Daughters of Eve’ and ‘Sons of Adam’ are, naturally, Adam and Eve’s descendants
  3. The children [The Human Race] at first beliefs of Narnia and Aslan [God]
  4. Edmund “sins” / betrays Aslan [God]
  5. The White Witch [The Devil] seeks payment of death for Edmund’s “sin”
  6. Aslan [Jesus] takes Edmunds place and dies instead of him, allowing sinners to be forgiven
  7. Aslan [Jesus] rises again
  8. Aslan [God] overcomes The White Witch [The Devil]

I definitely enjoyed this film.

However, Edmund’s irritating contempt for those around him and the jittery Mr Tumnus frustrated me. Young child actors’ performances can be uncomfortable at times too because their deliveries are naturally more childlike, and therefore less professional.

All things considered, I think The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a nice film; there is a good moral message, talking animals and a new fantastical world for the children to explore. A recommended film for all the family.

– Judith