Book Review: Swallowdale

Swallowdale is the second book in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger return for another summer adventure, camping in the hills and sailing in the Lake District. However, when the explorers are shipwrecked; the Swallows and Amazons are left in a new place, to make a new camp and new expeditions.

I really enjoyed Swallows and Amazons but, unfortunately, Swallowdale took a little longer to engross me. I’m not sure why this was – perhaps my attention was initially lacking, or the story didn’t gather pace in a way I expected.

The style of Ransome’s writing is as witty and wholesome as it was in the first book – the rather random “voodoo” scene midway through Swallowdale is particularly ridiculous, but incredibly amusing.

I liked the settings of Swallowdale more than those of Swallows and Amazons. I think, given the shipwreck, the fact the child spent more time exploring on land as opposed to sailing helped me visualise surroundings more easily.

The descriptions were wonderfully vivid, and poetic in places too, reminding me (again) of the children’s adventure series The Famous Five – right down to the inclusion of both a “cave for a larder” and “bracken for bedding” (convenient).

I liked the introduction of new characters, as well as cameos of characters from the first book.

The conflict of Nancy and Peggy versus their Great Aunt, a woman averse to the idea of young girls with rough-and-tumble natures, touches upon the theme of gender I raised in my last review. Nancy and Peggy’s determinedness to have adventures with their friends, “despite” the fact they’re girls, is a great challenge to stereotypical expectations of girls at the time.

Whilst on the topic of characters, my love for Roger has increased enormously after reading Swallowdale. He is the smallest, sweetest, most boisterous (and most accident-prone) and I loved both seeing what he got up to, and watching Susan and the others keep a careful eye on him. I can’t wait to see him grow and develop throughout the rest of the series.

To echo thoughts from my first review, I think Swallowdale is a great sequel – it’s a fun, light, heart-warming read and I look forward to getting stuck into the next book in the series.

If you didn’t read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it.

If you did read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it again.

 – Judith

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Opinion Piece: It (2017) Discussion With The Blog From Another World

27 years after the first It, Pennywise the Clown has risen again in a new film adaptation.

27 days after its release (or thereabouts), Judith and Patrick talk about It.


Patrick:

Firstly, how did you think the film compared with the book? Did you like the changes it made?

Judith:

I think the film handled the source material cleverly; they didn’t try to cram absolutely everything from the book into the plot, streamlining it in a way that works best for film.

I loved the characterisation of Eddie and Richie. They were definitely the best acted and felt incredibly accurate to their counterparts in the book. Annoyingly however, Bill and Ben felt a bit “meh” – underdeveloped – and Mike was almost non-existent. Mike’s overlooking in particular is a real shame, because he is meant to be the one who provides the history of Derry to the group and the one to reunite them as adults. His small role could even be seen as problematic, considering he is the only person of colour in the group and has the smallest presence.

My Photo [It 4]

Patrick:

I did think some of the characterisation could have been shared round more. With a running time of over two hours, it was pretty long for a horror film, and it was perplexing why some of that time couldn’t have been spent on giving all the characters equal detail. I think it will be interesting to see who they cast as the older versions of the characters for the sequel.

I think they made judicious choices and made the most commercially viable film they could – in a good way! It has obviously captured audience’s attentions and I think a lot of this is making the story more accessible.

Judith:

Yes, I agree. Perhaps a lack of detailed characterisation for all was dependant on who were the strong / weak actors. In my opinion, Eddie and Richie developed the best performances, which isn’t surprising, as Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) has had other multiple acting roles in addition to It, and Finn Wolfhard (Richie) is best known for his strong performance in Stranger Things.

Patrick:

I think that the success of Stranger Things certain pushed Finn Wolfhard to the forefront in order to draw in that audience.

Yet if you look at something like The Goonies, you know who each of the kids are. They might be more broadly drawn than the kids in the novel of It, but you know where you stand with all of them. If they had to simplify the Losers Club, and shed some characterisation in the process, they could have done it more effectively.

Did you think the film was scary?

Judith:

I think it relied too much on jumpscares and loud noises, although I had expected that from watching the trailer*.

*If you’d like to read our discussion of the It trailer, you can find it here:

When I left the cinema, I described it as “ridiculous macabre” to my friends, because It walks a fine line between creepy and downright ridiculous.

Patrick:

Which moments were the most effective?

Judith:

The scene that affected me most was when Pennywise approached Eddie in the abandoned house. He got so close to Eddie’s face and taunted him, truly terrifying an-already traumatised and injured Eddie. I thought both performances here worked really well; Pennywise felt like a tangible character who could not only psychologically torment them but physically grab, restrain or hurt the children just to scare them.

My Photo [It 1]
Still taken from the Official It Trailer

Patrick:

I thought the scares were fine, there was plenty of atmosphere and a good aesthetic but, as you say, too much of a reliance on loud noises making you jump. I really enjoyed the moment with the projector, the sense of helplessness really carried over and turned what could have been really corny into something quite primal.

My Photo [It 2]
Still taken from the Official It Trailer
Judith:

What did you think about the 80s nostalgia? I remember you mentioning it when we originally discussed our predictions for the film.

Patrick:

I thought it was pretty cynical but it didn’t bother me as much as it might have done. I think it takes some of the surprise out of the film, as you know the aesthetic and the locations almost immediately. It’s transposing the familiarity of the novel’s world to one which countless other films and TV series have taken place. I didn’t think it was too intrusive though.

What did you think of the portrayal of Pennywise? Was Bill Skarsgård an appropriate choice?

Judith:

I think he was creepy and unnerving but, like I’ve said previously, there was an underlying ridiculousness.

He at times looks odd rather than scary. His voice always seemed creepy and never friendly, making me think, “How does a little boy get persuaded to climb into the sewer with a man who already looks terrifying and introduced himself with a jumpscare?”

My Photo [It 3]
Tim Curry’s Pennywise (1990) and Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise (2017)
Patrick:

I thought Skarsgård didn’t have the true creepiness that Pennywise does in the book; there’s such a strange seductiveness to him that makes him even more frightening. He’s like a grounded, realistic predator whereas Skarsgård was simply Coco the Creepy Clown. I don’t know whether someone like Will Poulter (the original choice), would have been better. He certainly looks less eerie. Skarsgård has unnerving written all over him.

Judith:

What did you think about shifts in tone? It mixes comedy with horror so often.

Patrick:

Honestly, I think it came from the 80s setting. This film wanted to be Goonies, ET and Halloween all in one. I certainly think the lurches in tone could have been avoided if the film had been set in the 50s.

Judith:

I think I would have enjoyed It in a similar way if it wasn’t a horror, which is odd, given how much it is marketed like a stereotypical horror. It felt at times more like a summer coming-of-age film; there were jarring scenes of friendship and fun in the midst of what is meant to be fear and tension.

Patrick:

I can see that. I think the film could have been about about ten minutes shorter. To me, it was trying to make a slightly pretentious point about “oh we’re a crafted and prestigious film” and the ending could have been stripped down.

Are you excited for the second film? What changes do you think will be made for it?

Judith:

I’m excited for the sequel because I hope as adults, Pennywise will terrorise them differently and more intensely. Some of the scares in this It were a little tame – perhaps to tone it down for a teenage audience. I hope the adult characters are developed more fully, and we get the chance to see what Pennywise / It truly is.

Patrick:

I hope that the sequel will progress in both tone and maturity. I hope it’s won’t be like The Hunger Games, which remained 12 rated even though, as an audience member growing up with the films, we were 16-18 when they finished.  I hope that they choose good actors rather than stars. I don’t want Chris Pratt to distract from the fact that I’m supposed to be scared.


A sequel for It has been confirmed to be released in 2019.


Thank you for reading!

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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