Children, as any parent will tell you, are innocent beings whose sensibilities it is the first duty of every parent to protect. They are sensitive, impressionable marshmallows, easily swayed, all too often led astray. St Ignatius of Loyola warns us that if he is given the child he will mould the man; Lenin likewise cautions, ‘Give us the child for eight years [or, according to some sources, four] and it will be a Bolshevik forever.’ As thunder tails lightning, it follows that the greatest care must be taken when giving children anything to read.
I can vouch for this as a parent myself; also as someone whose children grew up in the deep shadow cast by Harry Potter. I was more fortunate. Well before the age of reason I was drip-fed Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Richmal Crompton, Anthony Buckeridge, C. S. Lewis and, above all, Arthur Ransome and his Swallows and Amazons series.
Born in 1884, Ransome was the eldest son of a Leeds academic. He sought fame and fortune as a writer in Edwardian London and achieved notoriety when he was accused of libelling Lord Alfred Douglas in his 1912 biography of Oscar Wilde. He eventually made his name as a Manchester Guardian journalist covering the Russian Revolution, when he also eloped with Trotsky’s secretary Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, whom he would marry. Eventually returning to England, he refused a permanent post as the Guardian’s foreign correspondent, determined to make his way as a children’s novelist.
The Swallows and Amazons books were something of a novelty in focusing on children’s outdoor holiday adventures; they celebrated Ransome’s own love of sailing with a level of knowledge and detail that was unprecedented; and their exemplary narratives reflected the author’s extensive study of New World and Continental, as well as English, storytelling. Yet of the twelve books published between 1930 and 1948, it is for the five set in the English Lake District that Ransome is best
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