- This article is about the book Missee Lee. For the title character, see Miss Lee.
Missee Lee is the tenth book of the Swallows and Amazons series, published in 1941. This is considered one of the metafictional books of the series, and is subtitled as "based on information provided by the Swallows and Amazons". It is set in the 1930s, in the South China Sea and the China coast. No specific time is given, though the story was most likely told in the winter of 1931-1932 (see notes, below). The Swallows and Amazons are on a round the world trip with Captain Flint aboard the schooner Wild Cat. After the Wild Cat sinks, they escape in the Swallow and Amazon and end up in the lair of the Three Island pirates where they are held prisoner by Miss Lee, the leader of the pirates.
Ransome made a visit to China in 1926 and 1927 where he learned about Chinese life and culture. He also met, amongst others Soong Ching-ling, the wife of Sun Yat-sen. Ransome said that he based much of Miss Lee's characteristics on her, though there were others who contributed to the character. Genia wrote years later that Miss Lee was based on a Chinese girl who Arthur once met, who did indeed yearn for Cambridge. Ransome’s original title was "Poor Miss Lee": he wrote I wish I had the original title, but they all hate it (LAR p381-2).
Later he said he was to get a great deal of pleasure from using some of the war-lords as models for Chinese pirates, and in taking hints from Madame Sun Yat Sen herself for my portrait of the Chinese girl graduate who while hankering for academic life in Cambridge, does, from her filial piety, keep in order her community of tough characters. And the dragon processions of Missee Lee are those I watched delightedly in the streets of Hankow (AAR p326).
He had to overeat to avoid giving offence and even to smack my lips when a Chinese war-lord picked a titbit from his plate with the chopsticks that had just left his mouth and with polite hospitality, poked it straight into mine .... as if we were two lovebirds feeding each other (AAR pp325-6). So at the "Pirate Supper" the Taicoon who had just used his chopsticks to put something in his mouth, had picked a titbit off his plate (and poked it at Titty, who) opened her mouth. The Taicoon popped the titbit in. Titty chewed it up, wishing she could spit it out. (ML9).
Chambers said that Privately, he concluded that China was the most loathsome place he had ever visited (TLE p339). Ransome himself wrote that in spite of this compulsory overdose of shark’s fins, bird’s-nest soup, noodles and politics, I did enormously enjoy China (AAR p326), quoted by Brogan as Arthur hugely enjoyed himself in China.(LAR p291)
- Swallows: (John, Susan, Titty, Roger [9 1/2 yrs. old] Walker)
- Amazons (Nancy, Peggy Blackett)
- Captain Flint also called the "Lord Mayor of San Francisco"
- Miss Lee
- minor characters:
The book opens with the Swallows, Amazons and Captain Flint in the unnamed Hundredth Port somewhere in the China seas, about to set sail for Swatow as they continue a round-the-world voyage aboard the Wild Cat. They are warned by the harbourmaster to stay away from the Chinese coast because of pirates. He says Don't go and fall foul of Missee Lee ... It used to be Olo Lee ... thirty years ago.
Gibber causes a fire which burns the Wild Cat to the waterline. They escape aboard the Swallow and Amazon which are being used as ship's boats. However, they are separated in the night when a strong wind blows up. The crew of the Amazon is picked up by a junk which turns out to be a pirate vessel. The Swallows make their own way to shore where they eventually meet the Amazons who are being held by one of the Taicoons who rule the Three Islands. Captain Flint is kept under much stricter guard by the Taicoon as he hopes to ransom him as he claims to be the Lord Mayor of San Francisco.
The children are sent to Miss Lee, the leader of the pirates. She turns out to be a frustrated academic from Cambridge who had been sent to England for her education only to have to return to rule the Three Islands when her father died. She starts to give the children Latin lessons at which Roger surprisingly excels. Captain Flint is also bought from Taicoon Chang who has threatened to chop off his head. The Taicoons are concerned that if the Royal Navy were to learn their position a gunboat might be sent to destroy them, so they cannot send a message home. When Captain Flint is seen with a sextant by Old Seaman Wu, they are only saved by Missee Lee's intervention.
As they consider that they are still in danger of execution and are also becoming fed up with the Latin lessons, they plan an escape. During the Dragon festival, they set sail aboard Miss Lee's personal junk, Shining Moon. With the help of Missee Lee, who has decided to leave her responsibilities on the Three Islands and go back to study at Camblidge, they take a daring and dangerous passage through a gorge to evade capture. However, when Miss Lee hears fighting begin between the two Taicoons Chang and Wu and the men of her Dragon Island, she decides that she owes it to her people to return and unite them again. The Swallows, Amazons and Captain Flint leave the China seas aboard the Shining Moon, and stop at Singapore to send a telegram home before returning to England and landing at St. Mawes in Cornwall.
Although never mentioned in any of the other books as Peter Duck was, this is commonly agreed to be another Peter Duck story. This story, unlike Peter Duck, is not referenced in the other books of the Swallows and Amazons series, so it is difficult to place in a timeline. The following are clues:
- they know Morse and semaphore
- Roger is an Able Seaman, not a ship's boy
- Daddy had been stationed at Hong Kong, but is no longer there
All of the above point to it having been told the winter after We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea at the earliest
- Ted Walker's naval rank is a clear clue: he holds the rank Commander in We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, is apparently promoted in Secret Water while his rank of Captain is explicit in Missee Lee (ML16). This makes it clear that Missee Lee is set after Secret Water.
within the book
The date of the events within the story could be determined by the Chinese New Year, if it can be assumed that the Dragon Festival mentioned in the book refers to that festivity.
The original illustration of the semaphore stick figures message from Captain Flint (actually drawn by Arthur Ransome) had eight mistakes, eg L for M. These were noticed by a Brownie patrol and Ransome had to redo the drawing (LAR p386).
The Chinese calligraphy in Miss Lee's text book found on Temple Island (ML5) was re-done for the Japanese version of the book, presumably by Jingū Teruo; the Chinese letters are the same but written more neatly.
(numbers are days, names are chapter titles)
- The Hundredth Port
- Loss of the Wild Cat, What Happened to Swallow, What Happened to Amazon
- What Happened to Swallow, What Happened to Amazon, "Hic Liber Est Meus"
- What Happened to Amazon, It's Them!, The Shadow of a Monkey, Ten Gong Taicoon, Pirate Supper
- On the Road Again, Dragon Town, Twenty-two Gong Taicoon, Miss Lee Explains
- Cambridge Breakfast and an S.O.S.
- Miss Lee Buys Captain Flint
- Captain Flint Joins the Dunces, Free But Prisoners
- Model Students (This chapter continues over an unknown number of days)
- Holiday Voyage, Captain Flint Gets Back His Sextant, Old Seaman Wu Sees It
- Money Returned, Miss Lee Agrees With Her Counsellor
- The Dragon Feast, Little Dragon Alone, Only One Way Out, The Path of Duty
- The Path of Duty
- Nancy and Peggy were referred to as Captain Flint's wives by the Chinese pirates: Melican man with two English wives (ML4).
- They had been sailing around the world westward before the accident (see Wild Cat's second voyage)
- The book is dedicated to Herbert J. Hanson, O.B.E., Scholar and Seaman.
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