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BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN—the telegram from the Walker children's father that starts the series
Swallows and Amazons is a classic series of children's books by Arthur Ransome, about two--and then later three--families of children (the Walkers or "Swallows", the Blacketts or "Amazons", and eventually the Callums or "Ds") who vacation in the Lake District of England. Most of the books center on the camping and sailing expeditions of the children near a particular fictional lake in the area.
It's notable for featuring a relatively low level of peril, and for the rich fantasy life of its protagonists, who have a great deal of fun exploring the region around the lake as though it were uncharted territory.
Tropes featured include:
- Antiquated Linguistics: Not really, but there are some noticeable shifts in the language since the books were written in The Thirties. For example, lamps are lighted rather than lit, the word dispatches is spelled 'despatches', and a lot of foreign names and words are transliterated differently (like 'taicoon' for 'tycoon').
- In addition the children themselves use a lot of Antiquated Linguistics consciously. As they half-explore, half-invent the world around them they describe it in a rich mixture of made-up, outdated, and exotic words (e.g. always calling corned beef 'pemmican').
- Artistic License Ships: Obviously not the case for the books themselves, which have Shown Their Work, but in the first story a young Roger starts insisting that the destroyer their military father serves on is 'a houseboat' because 'you live on it!'
- Black Sheep: Jim Turner is "the black sheep of the family", according to Nancy. Her use of the term seems to extend mostly to general rebelliousness, as he's actually quite close to his sister and her children.
- Blood Brothers: The Eels (and Swallows and Amazons) in Secret Water.
- Clear My Name: Much of the plot of Swallows and Amazons revolves around the Swallows convincing Captain Flint that they didn't do any of the things he thinks they did.
- Comic Book Time: Averted; the current year is often mentioned and it does roll forward throughout the books. There are some errors, however, such as Swallowdale being said to take place the summer after Swallows and Amazons, when Swallowdale is set in 1931 and Swallows and Amazons in 1929.
- Cool Old Guy: Captain Flint a.k.a. Jim Turner, the Amazons' uncle. He lives in a houseboat, is an aspiring author, and is the adult character most closely involved in most of the plots.
- Do Not Call Me Paul: Nancy's parents are under the mistaken impression that her name is Ruth. It couldn't possibly be; she's a pirate, and pirates are supposed to be ruthless.
- Evil Uncle: Captain Flint is the main "villain" of the first book and sometimes acts the part of the evil pirate for the sake of the game. In reality he's a Cool Uncle.
- Fear of Thunder: Peggy, much to the scorn of her sister.
- Flying Dutchman: Mentioned in Peter Duck, with the titular character said to be a perfect candidate for the crew of the ship as he hates having to go into ports.
- Hands-Off Parenting: See the page quote.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Yes, the second-youngest Swallow really is called Titty. Her real name is unknown. This was the nickname of Mavis Altounyan, upon whom Titty Walker is based; whether the fictional Titty is also named Mavis is never stated. No, this is never relevant to the story, though Ransome did once acknowledge its oddness: You must be John and you're Susan. And that's Roger. Which is the one with the funny name? (Secret Water)
- Averted in some reprints which change the name to "Tilly." Also in the 1962 BBC TV adaptation, which changed it to "Kitty".
- Hidden Depths: Not the characters, but the author: few people know Arthur Ransome was quite deeply involved in the Russian Revolution. And once corrected JRR Tolkien on grammar.
- Imaginary Friend: Peter Duck to Titty.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Captain Flint, especially in Swallows and Amazons itself before he warms up to the children.
- Life Embellished: The entire series is like this to some extent, with the Walker children based on a family that vacationed next door to Ransome. The books Peter Duck and Missee Lee, are a further In-Universe example; they're intended as metafictional writeups of the children's fantasies. (Some people also take Great Northern? to be metafictional, but Word of God a letter from Ransome to Miles North, who originally suggested the plot of the book, makes it clear that this was not his intent.)
- Mood Whiplash: At the end of Swallowdale, they find a time capsule left by the Amazons' future parents and a young Uncle Jim from thirty years earlier, 1901. The whiplash comes in from the Amazons' reaction to their father's signature (it's implied he was killed in World War One).
- Ms. Imagination: Titty. The others are sometimes concerned that she might even be failing to recognise the difference between their fantasies and reality (though usually this is a case of Cassandra Truth).
- Muggles: Adults who don't get the roleplaying are dubbed "natives".
- Name and Name / The Noun and the Noun: "Swallows and Amazons" itself is something of a hybrid between these two title types, referring to their family nicknames.
- The Picts and the Martyrs plays The Noun and the Noun straight.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In Great Northern?, the only reason Captain Flint is convinced to stick around long enough to let Dick photograph the Great Northern Divers is that Mr. Jemmerling is so insistent on paying him for their eggs.
- Nobody Here But Us Birds: Frequently used throughout the series, including one hilarious moment when they forget that using owl-calls at noon may not be the best of ideas. Using owl calls as signals already seems to have been a Dead Horse Trope in adventure stories by this point, as the contemporaneously-written The Hobbit also mocks the practice.
- No Hugging, No Kissing: At all. Perfectly logical early on, but by Secret Water Nancy and Peggy are old enough for some of the other children with similar fantasy lives to call them 'missionaries', i.e. too old to be involved in the games. Nancy does not appreciate this.
- No New Fashions in the Future: Averted. When they leave a time capsule in Swallowdale, Titty muses that it might not be found until many years have passed, 'when people wear quite different sorts of clothes'.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Dick is one in training, being the authority on everything from astronomy to geology to ornithology.
- Pirate Girl: Missee Lee
- And of course, this is what Peggy and (especially) Nancy aspire to be.
- Pirate Parrot
- Red Herring: Used extensively in Great Northern?, to throw the egg-collector Mr. Jemmerling off the trail of the eggs.
- Retcon: The Swallow's baby sister went from being named Victoria ("Vicky") and coincidentally resembling the queen in old age, to being named "Bridget", with "Vicky" used as a nickname in reference to her appearance. She outgrew the resemblance to Queen Victoria, and consequently outgrew the nickname. (In real life, Ransome had modeled Vicky on a girl named Bridget. When she disliked the fact that her name had been changed, he pulled a clever retcon so that her character could be known as "Bridget" from then on.)
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: Explored in Peter Duck—some of the child protagonists like to pretend to be classic eighteenth century style pirates, and get a rude awakening when their ship is attacked by real contemporary pirates.
- Science Marches On: Minor example with some of the statistics about the planets Dick reels off--after all, this was three decades before the Space Age.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Played with in Swallowdale. Nancy and Peggy get forced into dressing class-and-gender-appropriately by their fearsome Great Aunt and their fellow explorers are amazed by how well they look the part -- but more horrified than impressed.
- Team Mom: Susan.
- Theme Naming: The pigeons in Pigeon Post. The first one was just named Homer because he was a homing pigeon, but when they got two more, they decided to run with the 'Greek poets' theme and named them Sophocles and Sappho.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: There's a bit of tomboy going on with most of the girls, but Nancy, the quintissential tomboy who makes a point of doing everything John does, strikes a pretty clear comparison to Susan's cooking, cleaning, and nursing. Subverted in that Susan and Nancy aren't close; pretty successful at having radically different styles of femininity without being judgemental.
- Nancy and her sister Peggy might qualify too; although Peggy dresses, like Nancy, in shorts rather than dresses, and is as active as you'd expect half of a duo nicknamed "The Amazons" to be, she's more interested in cooking and nursing and is notably afraid of thunderstorms (the galoot).
- Wham! Episode: We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea. After several books of imagining and being in little real danger, the Swallows end up stuck on a yacht and washed out to sea when her master sustains a head injury while ashore, and end up having to guide her through a storm to Holland by themselves. Particularly jarring compared to Peter Duck, which was similarly perilous but specifically said to be just a story they made up.
- The earlier, gentler adventures ('Swallows And Amazons', 'Swallowdale' etc) have been described as' what we did on our holidays', and the later stories of high adventure ('Missee Lee', 'Peter Duck') as 'what we imagined we did on our holidays'. In 'Their Own Story', an early version of 'Peter Duck', Ransome made the distinction for said book. Also, both bear the inscription "based on information provided by the Swallows and Amazons", absent from other books.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: the lake they spend time around is actually an amalgam of two separate lakes in the district. The Hebridean locations in Great Northern? are said to be intentionally obscured to protect the titular birds.
- Averted, however, with the Coots books and Secret Water, both of which are set in real places.