Thursday, January 12, 2012

Swallows and Amazons

Well, I ought to write a little about this, but only for five minutes. It really is incredibly impressive because it was so original. It's obvious Alan Garner learnt from Arthur Ransome some of his most important techniques: painstakingly complete realization of physical action - I'm thinking specifically of the classic underground tunnel chapter in The Weirdstone of Brisengamen - and making character live through dialogue in action - the technique that leads eventually to Red Shift. Though that, of course, seems a shocking distance from Ransome's vision.

Imagine a book with six characters in which there is no change in their relationships, and you cannot say of any one character that they are the particular friend, still less the enemy, of any other at any stage. Imagine a book in which the terms of adventure are essentially and watchfully guarded, as in fact is usually the case for children. And yet, because of the realism, this is exciting and feels dangerous: the dangers are those of nature, e.g. the tremendous storm or the night-sailing among the islands, which nearly goes so wrong.

Here, they are bringing firewood from the mainland:


"It's a good thing it's so calm," said the mate, looking at the water, which was not very far below the gunwale.

Sculling over the stern is slower than rowing, but in the dead calm Swallow moved easily, heavily loaded though she was, and no water came aboard, though some nearly did when Roger suddenly changed his mind about the side of the boat he liked best.

"We'll take her to the old landing-place," said Captain John. "That's a good place for landing a cargo, and we want the wood handy for the camp."

"It would be a dreadful business carrying it all the way from the harbour," said the mate.


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