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Swallows and Amazons

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Swallows and Amazons
First edition dust jacket cover 1930
First edition dust jacket cover 1930
Author(s) Arthur Ransome
Illustrator 1st edition was not illustrated, later editions illustrated by Clifford Webb and later Arthur Ransome
Cover artist Steven Spurrier
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Swallows and Amazons series
Genre(s) Childrens, Adventure Novel
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date 1 December 1930
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 352 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-224-60631-X
OCLC Number 5973192
Followed by Swallowdale

Swallows and Amazons is the first book in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome; it was first published in 1930, with the action taking place in the summer of 1929 in the Lake District. The book introduces central protagonists John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker (Swallows) and their mother and baby sister, as well as Nancy and Peggy Blackett (Amazons) and their uncle Jim, commonly referred to as Captain Flint.

At the time, Ransome had been working as a journalist with the Manchester Guardian, but decided to become a full-time author rather than go abroad as a foreign correspondent. He did continue to write part-time for the press, however.

The book was inspired by a summer spent by Ransome teaching the children of his friends, the Altounyans, to sail. Three of the Altounyan children's names are adopted directly for the Walker family. Ransome and Ernest Altounyan bought two small dinghies called Swallow and Mavis. Ransome kept Swallow until he sold it a number of years later, while Mavis remained in the Altounyan family and is now on permanent display in the Windermere Steamboat Museum. However, later in life Ransome tried to downplay the Altounyan connections, changing the initial dedication of Swallows and Amazons and writing a new foreword which gave other sources.


The artist chosen for the first edition of the book was Steven Spurrier; however, Ransome objected to his style and so the first edition did not have any illustrations. Spurrier's drawing for the dust jacket had to be used. The second edition contained drawings by Clifford Webb but after Ransome successfully illustrated Peter Duck himself, he decided to do his own drawings for all the books including those already published and Webb's drawings were replaced in later editions.

Plot summary

The story follows the Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger), who sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow, and the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy), who sail a dinghy named Amazon. The Walkers are staying at a farm near a lake during the school holidays and want to camp on an island in the lake; the Blacketts live in a house nearby. The children meet on the island which they call Wild Cat Island, and have a series of adventures, involving sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and piracy. The story, set in August 1929, includes a good deal of everyday Lakeland life from the farmers to charcoal burners working in the woods; canned meat, which the children fancifully refer to as pemmican, and ginger beer and lemonade, which they call grog, appear as regular food stuff for the campers; island life also allows for occasional references to the story of Robinson Crusoe. "Captain Flint", the Blackett's uncle James Turner and sharing the same name as a character in Treasure Island, appears in some ways to be modelled on Ransome himself.

Major characters in Swallows and Amazons

See also List of characters in Arthur Ransome books

  • John Walker – Eldest of the Walkers and captain of the Swallow
  • Susan Walker – Second eldest of the Walkers and mate of the Swallow
  • Titty Walker – Able Seaman of the Swallow. This name, the nickname of the real life Mavis Altounyan, has caused titters among generations of children, causing it to be changed to Kitty in at least one filmed adaptation of the book
  • Roger Walker – Youngest of the sailing Walkers and ship's boy of the Swallow
  • Bridget Walker – (nicknamed "Vicky" due to a resemblance to pictures of Queen Victoria in old age, and referred to as such in the book) Youngest of the Walkers and ship's baby of the Swallow
  • Nancy Blackett (Ruth) – Captain of the Amazon
  • Peggy Blackett (Margaret) – Nancy's younger sister and mate of the Amazon
  • James Turner – Nancy and Peggy's uncle. Known to the children as Captain Flint

Places in Swallows and Amazons

According to Ransome, every place in his book can be found in the Lake District, but he took different locations and placed them in different ways. It is generally accepted that the lake is a fictionalised version of Windermere, but the surrounding countryside more closely resembles that around Coniston. Wild Cat Island, the location of the island camp, has elements from Peel Island in Coniston and Blakeholme in Windermere.

Film, TV, radio or theatrical adaptations

In 1962, the BBC produced an adaptation of Swallows and Amazons with John Paul as "Captain Flint" and Susan George as the renamed "Kitty". The theme music used was the opening of George Butterworth's "Banks of Green Willow".

In the summer of 1973, EMI adapted the story of Swallows and Amazons in colour for the big screen and went up to the Lake District National Park in Cumbria to film it on the actual locations of the Arthur Ransome novel. Released in 1974, directed by Claude Whatham and produced by Richard Pilbrow, the film starred Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser in the main adult roles and Simon West (John), Sophie Neville (Titty), Zanna Hamilton (Susan) & Stephen Grendon (Roger) as some of the children. This has been made available on video, both in VHS and DVD, in the UK, but is not readily available in the US and elsewhere.

In August 1999 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a Radio adaptation by David Wood with Jean Anderson as Titty seventy years later narrating. Young Titty was played by Phoebe Phillips, John by John Paul Heagins, Susan by Flora Harris, Roger by Joe Sowerbutts, mother by Penny Downie, Nancy by Catherine Poole, Peggy by Jackie Swainson and Uncle Jim by Nicholas Le Prevost.

The Royal National Theatre confirmed in April 2007 that a stage musical adaptation of Swallows and Amazons is in development. The Divine Comedy's frontman Neil Hannon is writing. The musical will premiere at the Bristol Old Vic on 1 December 2010.

Release details

  • 1930, UK, Jonathan Cape, Pub date 1 December 1930, hardback (First edition, unillustrated)
  • 1931, UK, Jonathan Cape, Pub date 1931, hardback (First "Clifford Webb" illustrated edition)
  • 1931, USA, J.B.Lippincott company, Philadelphia, 1931. Hardback, no full illustrations, front and back plates plus chapter headings by Helene Carter.
  • 1938, UK, Jonathan Cape, Pub date 1938, hardback (First "Ransome" illustrated edition)
  • 1958, USA, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ( ISBN 0-397-30015-8), Pub date ? June 1958, hardback
  • 1995, UK, ISIS Audio Books ( ISBN 1-85695-974-0), Pub date August 1995, audio book cassette (unabridged)
  • 1999, UK, Jonathan Cape ( ISBN 0-224-60631-X), Pub date 1999, hardback
  • 2001, UK, Red Fox Classics ( ISBN 0-09-950391-3), Pub date 5 April 2001, paperback
  • 2001, UK, Red Fox ( ISBN 0-09-942733-8), Pub date 5 October 2001, paperback
  • 2005, UK, Gabriel Woolf ( ISBN 0-9550529-0-4), Pub date July 2005, audio book CD
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