John Sergeant and Professor Nicola Watson talk about Swallows and Amazons.
John Sergeant: We also see direct references by the children to the books they’ve read.
Prof. Nicola Watson: We do, Robinson Crusoe the obvious one. I mean Robinson Crusoe is the grandfather text for the whole thing, although there are a lot of other sorts of reading kicking around in there.
John Sergeant: Well there’s Treasure Island.
Prof. Nicola Watson: There is Treasure Island, for which, you know, which is the reason that treasure is eventually found. Coral Island, the whole idea of desert islands and surviving on them, that’s Ballantyne, of course. And that whole 1890s discourse of true stories of exploration. Books called things like Brave Sons of Empire, which we’re supposed to be emulating.
Swallows and Amazons also has roots in a book by somebody called Richard Jefferies called Bevis, which is all about how a boy goes to his own island and there he learns to swim and shoot and fish, and that’s in a reservoir just round Swindon way.
So there’s a way in which both Bevis and Swallows and Amazons become realistic stories of children’s lives that really happened that could still really happen in a real place.
Swallows and Amazons is full of allusions to older children’s books. Some of them inspire the children. As they spend their summer holiday sailing their boat and camping on an island, they act out their own versions of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Ransome based his own story on elements from these popular children’s classics, knowing that his readers would be excited to read about children just like them enjoying adventures like those in their favourite stories.
Ransome was also influenced by other books about children’s outdoor adventures including Bevis by Richard Jefferies. Written in the 1880s, Bevis is the story of a boy’s adventures on and around a lake in Wiltshire. Jefferies had shown how a book could be written which was an exciting story for children but which also showed how letting children explore the natural world could help to educate them and to develop their characters. This is what happens in Swallows and Amazons, as the children experience for the first time the sorts of responsibilities which they will soon have to take on for real as they grow up.
More about Swallows and Amazons
The real Swallows: See the draft of Swallows and Amazons and hear about the children’s characters.
Make a map: Go on an adventure with Swallows and Amazons as you make a map and set sail for Wild Cat Island.
The Secret Life of Books: Find out more about the other books in the series.
Studying Children's Literature: Discover more about this course (EA300) from The Open University