Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Arthur Ransome - We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea
All the children's novels Arthur Ransome wrote are escapism. This one deals with the unlikely story of four children alone on a sailing boat that is swept out to sea during a night of fog and storm, and how they navigated it safely to Holland. Perfect reading material for the bored child.
Like many of his books, this is full of nautical detail - but not enough to drown the reader who doesn't sail. In fact much of the detail is of great interest to anyone, but Ransome's great gift was to describe adventure from a child's point of view - these kids aren't above crying for their mum when things get tough.
If you know the other novels, you'll remember Susan. The eldest girl, rather motherly in outlook - always responsible for cooking, cleaning and looking after the other children. As the ship is pummelled by the waves and she finds herself with uncontrollable seasickness, she cries bitter tears of panic. No one reading this will fail to identify with her - even if you don't know your sailors knots.
One final point of historical interest. These novels, written in the 1930s, are from an era when foreign travel was rare, even for the well off. So the children's arrival in Flushing in Holland, is cause for Ransome to spend time in detail describing the sights, sounds and smells of a foreign port, with all the excitement that would mean for his readers 70 odd years ago. Today in an era when children have crossed the channel by 'plane and ferry, crossing it in a small sail boat might seem at first unexciting. Ransome's skill is to bring more innocent era back to life, and make us wish we were kids then too.