Book Review: Winter Holiday

Winter Holiday is the fourth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome*.

*The third book, Peter Duck, is one of the metafictional books of the series because it is a story created by the children and narrated from their perspective. As it’s metafiction, and doesn’t affect the overall narrative, I haven’t read it yet.

‘“We started a Polar expedition.”’

In Winter Holiday, John, Susan, Titty and Roger return to the Lake District during the Christmas holiday period. They make new friends: Dick, a keen astronomer, and his sister Dorothea, a keen author. The usual summery landscapes have been transformed into a sparkling white, icy wonderland. The Swallows and Amazons unite with Dick and Dorothea to embark on a Polar Adventure.

‘“The idea was that as soon as we could we’d go to the North Pole over the ice.”’

Winter Holiday is instantly different to the other books in the series. Although the book is set in a familiar setting, Ransome’s stunning descriptions really do transform the landscape:

‘Dorothea saw the white snow deep across the sill. She leapt out of bed and ran to the window. There was a new world. Everything was white, and somehow still. Everything was holding its breath. The field stretching down to the lake was like a brilliant white counterpane without a crinkle in it.’

‘The snow seemed to have spread downwards from the tops of the hills until everything was covered. It lay like a slab of icing on a slice of cake long the stone wall on the garden.’

‘And then there was this magical brightness in the air.’

Activities such as ice-skating and rescuing a “polar bear” (sheep) strongly contrast with the children’s summer holiday adventures, and setting this against a crisp and snowy backdrop make it feel like an exciting new location to explore.

The original characters are built upon and new characters are introduced, expanding the friendship group.

Roger is his usual mischievous self, trying to wrangle extra chocolate rations or drench himself in snow, Titty’s budding friendship with Dorothea was lovely to see, and I liked the introduction of Dick and Dorothea. Dorothea was keen to write up a story of their adventures, and Dick was keen to learn signalling and sailing from the others.

Also, I felt the pace of Winter Holiday took longer to advance than perhaps the other books did. I was keen for the children to start their adventures and begin the “polar expedition” but this didn’t happen until towards the very end, which was a shame.

Having said that, the ending was enjoyable; the threat of unstable ice, snowstorms and extreme conditions was a reminder that sometimes, the children’s recklessness has dangerous consequences, reminding me that they are, after all, still children.

Overall, I did like reading Winter Holiday – given its winter themes, it’s the perfect book to read around the Christmas break – and I especially look forward to seeing more of Dorothea’s character in the series.

– Judith



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

Book Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is, I think, well-deserving of its fame as a Christmas classic. In case you’re not familiar with the story (although I wonder how is this is possible), A Christmas Carol is about one particularly mean old man, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is notorious for hating all things associated with Christmas, until, one December, the influence of four ghosts initiates a drastic character transformation in him.

Last year, Chris Priestley wrote ‘A Christmas Carol is more than just a story. It is a tirade against greed, selfishness and neglect. It uses the story of a rich man – the startlingly nasty Scrooge – to highlight the plight of those affected by the greed and meanness he exemplifies.’*

*Chris Priestley, Ignorance and Want: why Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is as relevant today as ever

For Dickens, social realism and social commentary are reoccurring themes in his work; Oliver Twist focuses on the injustice cast upon the poor (for example, Oliver) by the better-off (for example, Mr Bumble) and highlights the realities of the poor – themes such as violence and crime can be seen in the lives of Fagin, Bill and Nancy. Similarly, in Great Expectations, Pip begins life in a struggling working-class family, with limited provisions, until he is provided with the means to better his chances in life.

Therefore, Christmas seems an appropriate time for Dickens to again draw attention to the impact the “Scrooges of Society” have on others, as people tend to be more charitable, kind and willing to listen around Christmas-time than other times of year.

I like the length of A Christmas Carol; it’s quite short compared to some of Dickens’ other books, which makes it an easy read – ideal, if you want to start reading more classic novels but don’t know where to start.

I also liked the idea of mixing Christmas, usually a cheerful occasion, with ghosts, hauntings and a foreboding sense of impending doom. This brings out my enjoyment for Gothic literature! Naturally, then, my favourite ghosts are Jacob Marley (his entrance of groaning chains is enough to spook anyone) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I feel like these are some of the best characters drawn out in the various film adaptations too – although I’m yet to find a film adaptation that completely satisfies me.

As A Christmas Carol is such a popular story, I thought I’d scour Goodreads, to find out why readers love this book so much:

1. Claudia said: ‘I think A Christmas Carol makes us better people.’

2. Jude said: ‘It reminds us of what is truly important in a life.’

3. Walter said: ‘It showed us how the spirit of the holidays can be humanizing.’

4. Melissa said: ‘For me, it’s not so much the story–which I enjoy every Christmas, sometimes twice – as it is the writing itself. There’s a lyrical quality that hasn’t popped out at me in his longer stories.’

5. Diane said: ‘I think we love this story partly because of how well Dickens portrayed Scrooge as a complex, multi-layered character. Sure, he appears as a greedy stereotype at first, but then we are shown his backstory and how he became that way, and (gasp), suddenly we realize that any of us could become rapacious and bitter if we chose to go down that road. And that’s what raises this tale to a classic–its universality. We are also made to care so deeply about Tiny Tim & his family, who choose to be generous even through their own want, because they realize they will become like Scrooge if they don’t.’

– Judith