It's A Wise Child...

by Isobel Laidler (in collaboration with Jill Goulder)

Isobel Laidler
Isobel is 12 and attends Queen Katherine School in Kendal. She's been fascinated by AR's books since, when she was 3 or 4 years old, "My dad had finished reading the Narnia books to me at bed-time, so he decided to try me on Arthur Ransome. I liked the books because they were just real kids having fun at the age when I was rather fragile from whooping cough." She has painted one wall of her bedroom with a huge map of 'Swallows and Amazons land', which of course is her land too. Isobel feels that the characters of both the Swallows and Amazons are very much informed by the absence of their father and also (to take a step back) the relationship of AR with his own daughter, and she gives us her thoughts here, for discussion among philosophically- or psychologically-minded TARS.

John is the captain of the Swallows, and in the first book, after a short war, he is captain of the Amazons too. Sometimes when reading the books I felt that he was trying to become an almost fatherly figure, to Titty and Roger at least. Their real father is away in China with the Navy, so he only appears once or twice in the whole series, plus of course his most famous lines 'BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS. IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN'. I sometimes feel that John tries too hard to understand, and then forgets the basics, as in the sinking of the Swallow: accident, or forgetfulness of his father's wise words because he's trying too hard to be in charge of everything?

Susan, I feel, tries desperately hard to impress her mother, with cookery skills and more generally with the aim of showing that "Hey, I'm responsible now, and I'm going to prove it to you!". Her attitude to her father, therefore, is more aligned with her mother's, of keeping everything shipshape while he's away. She is of course quite motherly to the others when she wants to be! but the important thing is that she is still part of the "gang".

Titty is a character who likes to get lost in her own world of excitement and adventure, and her love of books must enhance that imaginative world. But surely there is a personal side to all of this: Ransome had a loved child of his own to care for. Was this the inspiration for Titty? In the first book, where she waves goodbye to her mother, whilst her siblings are away at war, she starts to cry. Is this just because she's homesick, or is it because she felt just what Ransome feared his daughter felt? Did sensitive Titty have a secret fear that she had been abandoned by her father, or forgotten on his exotic trips around the world? Maybe this helps to explain her wild imaginings about Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday, her voodoo accidents, and her own particular attitude to 'natives'. Out of all the Walker children, I think that Titty is the most real to Ransome.

As for Roger, need I say more! If Titty is the most real of the Walkers, then Roger is certainly the funniest, and my favourite. Food must have been one of his greatest weaknesses, but is there perhaps a tender side to Roger's character? He may be the youngest, and with that may come bravery, but he is the one who will look up to his brother John the most.

I suppose that Nancy and Peggy have always seen their Uncle Jim, 'Captain Flint', as a fatherly figure. Only one year earlier than the setting for Swallows and Amazons he bought them the Amazon, and he was acknowledged to be a pirate too. But when he started to write, he drifted away from them slightly (hence the firework attack!). Sometimes I notice that maybe Nancy is a little insecure, which leads her almost to 'control' Peggy; this could be a way of building up her own feelings of security, especially now that Captain Flint is no longer there as her guiding senior figure. But as we all now know, he soon recovers from his writing phase and rejoins the gang. Peggy? Peggy always - or nearly always - does what Nancy says.... She likes to follow Nancy, but she is almost afraid of her too.