Dick and Dorothea are staying with Nancy and Peggy, the Amazons, at Beckfoot. But the Great Aunt comes to visit and she mustn't know the Ds are staying so they go to camp in an old hut in the woods, learning to tickle trout and to skin and cook a rabbit. Meanwhile Timothy is staying in Captain Flint's houseboat and needs Dick to burgle Beckfoot to get important chemicals. In many ways this is one of Ransome's best: the story-telling is mature and he spins a classic adventure yarn from a simple summer holiday. As always the characters are perfect, with the portrayal of Nancy being at its best. You even empathise with the Great-Aunt before the end.
And one of the wonderful things about Ransome is that he never talks down to his audience. This is a children's book: "I'll just hoist the sail for you. You take the halliard through the ring in the bows and it acts as a forestay. Up she goes. Sorry, Dick. Your head was in the wrong place. Spectacles all right? Make fast to this cleat. Then bowse down the tackle to cock the yard. Just till there are up and down ripples in the sail." (Ch 15)
Some great moments:
- "It was like a moment in a game of hide and seek when a whistle blows far away and the hider knows the search has begun and that it is not safe for him to stir." (Ch 6)
- "The trouble with Nancy's velvet glove is that it's usually got a knuckleduster inside it. And you never know who's going to get hit." (Ch 7)
- "Real life was like one of those tangles of string where if you found an end and pulled you only made matters worse." (Ch 8)
- "You know the funny thing about people is they always think they're doing right." (Ch 13)
- "I expect the real martyrs were the same. The more the lions roared the less they let Nero or anybody see they cared." (Ch 13)
- "No one who has not tried to take it off can know how firmly a rabbit's skin sticks to a rabbit. Part of it can be freed easily enough but the four legs and the head of the rabbit must have puzzled many a Pict. ... It's like a glove with fingers at both ends. ... It stuck, as sweaters often stick, with the head still inside." (Ch 17)
- "Lack of this and lack of that made it impossible to follow exactly any single one of the recipes" (Ch 17)
- "Timothy caught the painter and, like all landsmen, no sooner had the rope in his hands than he began to pull." (Ch 20)
- "You bore a hole to take your cartridge. You bung him in, with a long fuse to him. You set a match to the fuse and leg it for the open. Eh, I need longer fuses these days than I did when I was a lad." (Ch 24)
- "She has you in trouble with one foot, and before you can lift out you're oop to t'neck." (Ch 26)
- "The Great Aunt was one of those people who could never have been young at all. She must have been a Great Aunt, and her sort of a Great Aunt, from the beginning of time." (Ch 28)
- "'Do I understand?' the sergeant of police began again. 'I hardly think so,' said the Great Aunt." (Ch 29)
A beautifully written story. May 2021; 327 pages
- Swallows and Amazons: Children camping on an island in a lake have sailing based adventures
- Swallowdale: More sailing adventures are threatened when the Swallow sinks
- Peter Duck: The Swallows and Amazons and Captain Flint sail on a big yacht into the Caribbean in search of pirate treasure; pirates pursue
- Winter Holiday: the lake freezes allowing a sledge-based expedition to the 'north pole'; the 'D's are introduced
- Coot Club: The Ds join the Death and Glory kids in the Norfolk Broads but the excitement is just as great when birds have to be protected from rowdies.
- We Didn't Mean to go to Sea: The Swallows accidentally find themselves at sea in a yacht they scarcely know: for my money this is the most dramatic and exciting book of the series.
- Secret Water: The Swallows are joined by the Amazons in an expedition to map some tidal mud-flats
- The Big Six: The Death and Glory kids have to be cleared of accusations of crime; the Ds help.
- Missee Lee: The Swallows and Amazons and Captain Flint are shipwrecked near China and captured by a lady Chinese pirate with a taste for Latin.
- Pigeon Post: The Swallows and Amazons and Ds search for gold in the hills above the Lake; one of my favourites
- The Picts and the Martyrs: The Ds have to hide in the hills when the Great Aunt comes to stay with the Amazons
- Great Northern: The Swallows and Amazons and Ds and Captain Flint are protecting birds in the far north of Scotland