Friday, June 11, 2010

Garden Parties and Lime Candy

Someone whose theology includes healthy doses of Katzanzakis and Jagger should not claim to be an authority on tropes in literature. So I won't! But in re-reading the Swallows and Amazons books, I'm struck, as I am each time, by the singularity of, well, British children's literature.

Arthur Ransome, Edith Nesbit, Barrie, Kenneth Grahame ... and surely countless others (Lewis, Tolkien, some of Susan Cooper) write characters that somehow all form part of the same world for me. And while surely parts of that world should be critically examined, for me it is a delightful retreat.

I think of leaf-shadows dancing on table cloths, floral-print dresses, tinned milk and oilcloth. The sweet sharp taste of jewel-like green candies. John and the Swallows meeting Nancy and Peggy Blackett for the first time; the pebbly beach of Wildcat Island; the sense of potential, almost like a breath held, of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy when they explore Professor Kirk's mysterious empty house.

I suppose it could be twee, if taken too far. And it seamlessly merges, as these things do, into what came before as well as what comes after. Victorian novels, gritty YA.

Someone once said a book is another country, and the precious (precocious?) charm of British literature is a place I've been happily spending much time lately.

Now, back to Winter Holiday. Dick and Dorothea have stumbled to the North Pole ... but it's empty. Meanwhile the others launch a rescue expedition across the ice at night!


Cristina S. said...

So if I were to pick a book by one of these authors to read next, which book would you suggest?

S R Wood said...

Hi Cristina -

If you haven't read much by these authors, you're in a great position: the moment on Christmas morning before even a single present is opened!

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books are idyllic: children sailing and camping in the Lake District in the 1930s. Exactly the sort of thing kids should do more of.

Lewis's Narnia books have a similar British proper-ness to them, but are sparked by a Christian narrative in addition to being great adventures. This may be great, or distracting. When I was young I didn't even notice.

The Wind in the Willows is deservedly a classic. Lots of bustling around and adventures with creeks and teatime, along with a few poignant scenes about friendship, loyalty, and courage.

I think the only solution is to read them all!

Cristina S. said...

It ends up that I started The Three Musketeers a few days ago so that will keep me busy for a while. Still, I'm getting a version of The Wind in the Willows that I think Toddler Harbat and I will both enjoy.