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Swallows and Amazons is the first book in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome and was published in 1930. It is set in the Lake District in August 1929 during the last fortnight of the summer

List of characters in Arthur Ransome books

John is the oldest of the Swallows and acts as captain and master of the boat. He appears to be in charge and the most able in sailing as well as in physical effort.

Susan is the second oldest and fills a very traditional female role by acting as mother to the others (particularly Roger) by cooking and sewing. She is mate of the Swallow and is also a very capable sailor.

Titty is the third oldest of the Swallows and is known as able-seaman Titty. Her real name is Mavis and she is definitely the most creative and imaginative of all. She only learnt to sail last year, but is deemed old enough to do some things that the older two can and is allowed to stay on the island alone.

Roger is the youngest Swallow and the ship's boy of the boat. Like Titty he only started learning to sail a year ago. He is often not allowed do things such as use matches, and cannot stay by himself.

The Walker children stay on Wild Cat Island for 13 days and 12 nights, the Blackett sisters join the Swallows for the last 4 days of the holiday. Note: the children leave on day 13.

Whilst on the island the children do many activities.

  • Day 1: sail to the island and set up camp.
  • Day 2: visit their mother, Dixon's Farm for the first time and discover cormorant island.
  • Day 3: swimming and fishing.
  • Day 4: first sighting of the Amazons and a day out in the town Rio.
  • Day 5: the parley between the Swallows and Amazons and agreeing on war between each other and Captain Flint.
  • Day 6: the Swallows visit the charcoal burners.
  • Day 7: the Walker children celebrate Vicky's birthday on Wild Cat Island.
  • Day 8: Titty remains on the island whilst the other try to capture the Amazon, the Amazons attempt to capture the Swallow.
  • Day 9: the Swallows draw up a chart of the lake.
  • Day 10: the Amazons come to camp on the island with the Swallows.
  • Day 11: the battle between Captain Flint and the Swallows & Amazons.
  • Day 12: they discover Captain Flint's chest on Cormorant Island.
  • Day 13: the children go home.

Each morning involves sailing to Dixon's Farm to collect milk for the day.

Boats used in Swallows and Amazons[]

Swallow, Amazon, houseboat, rowboats: Jackson's, Dixon's, Uncle Jim's, Beckfoot motor launch, various native craft - steamers, motor boats, rowboats, sailboats.

The Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow, and the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy), sail a dinghy named Amazon. The Walkers are staying at Holly Howe (a farm near the lake) during the school holidays and want to camp on an island in the lake; the Blacketts live in a house (Beckfoot) nearby.

The children meet on the island which they call Wild Cat Island, and have a series of adventures involving sailing, camping, fishing and exploring the island. The story includes a good deal of everyday Lake District life from the farmers to the charcoal burners working in the woods; consumption of pemmican and grog, and occasional references to the stories of Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

(numbers are dates in August 1929, names are chapter titles, parentheses denote action described outside the time of the book)

(previous year: sailing in a small boat; Susan hit by boom during a jibe SA2)

(24 July): (The Walkers arrive at Holly Howe -...came a fortnight before to stay for part of the school holidays and until it was time to pack up and go home ... . That evening they see the island for the first time.) (They write to Daddy asking permission to camp) (Mother begins making tents soon after they arrive SA1.)

7 Aug: The Peak in Darien

8 Aug: Making Ready

9 Aug: The Voyage to the Island • The Hidden Harbour • First Night on the Island

10 Aug: Island Life

11 Aug: More Island Life

12 Aug: Skull and Cross-Bones

13 Aug: The Arrow With the Green Feather • The Parley • In Alliance • Leading Lights

14 Aug: The Charcoal-Burners • The Letter From Captain Flint

15 Aug: Captain John Visits Captain Flint • The Birthday Party (Vicky's birthday...2 years old today) • A Fair Wind

16 Aug: A Fair Wind • Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday • The Amazon River • Titty Alone • Swallows in the Dark

17 Aug: Swallows in the Dark • The White Flag • Taking Breath

18 Aug: Grave News From Houseboat Bay • Captain Flint Gets the Black Spot • He Makes Peace and Declares War

19 Aug: The Battle in Houseboat Bay

20 Aug: The Treasure on Cormorant Island • Two Sorts of Fish • The Storm

21 Aug: The Storm • The Sailor's Return


  • Daddy's ship (a destroyer SA2) is at Malta under orders to Hong-Kong. He sends Mother the famous Duffers telegram.
  • The evidence Peter Dowden gives for the Great Aunt being there is the Amazon's need to be back in time for meals, their saying "our natives" are no good this year (not just Uncle Jim), and mentions of other "trouble" with their natives.
  • The Walkers were staying at: Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays; also referred to as the farmhouse where their mother had taken lodgings (SA1).
  • On Day 1, the book says that On the very evening of their first coming, a fortnight before the Swallows had seen the lake and the island from the point; but later it says the island lay about a mile away .... they had been looking at it for ten days, but the telegram had made it much more real .... (SA1). When parleying on the seventh day of the book John says We discovered this ocean nearly a month ago (SA10).
  • So is it ten or fourteen days at Holly Howe before they move to the island? If it was 14 days
  • Holly Howe, plus the events in the book, that would make a 3 week holiday in all. They had intended to be at the lake for part of the holidays (SA1)
  • Titty and Roger had learnt to sail the previous year when Daddy had been home on leave; John and Susan had learnt before (they were both "well able" to handle a boat, and John had learnt to scull "long ago" in Falmouth Harbour).
  • John's birthday was just before they had come to the Lake; Susan's is New Year's Day.
  • There are several mentions of putting things in the "schoolroom" when home, and there is mention of "going to school" at the end of the summer. From hints in this and other books, the Swallows and the Amazons all go to boarding school.
  • Uncle Jim had something to say to Mother about next year--was this setting up the wherry trip for that winter when Peter Duck was told?


Steven Spurrier drew illustrations for the first edition. But Ransome objected to his style, so the first edition did not have any illustrations. Spurrier's drawing for the dust jacket had to be retained, and also the endpaper map. The second edition contained drawings by Clifford Webb, but after Ransome successfully illustrated Peter Duck himself, he decided to do his own drawings for subsequent books. Ransome then provided drawings for the two books already published (Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale) to replace Webb's drawings in later editions.

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[]

Wild Cat Island, the location of the island camp, has elements from Peel Island in Coniston and Blakeholme in Windermere. [1]

The Swallows wanted to camp on the island since they first arrived on holiday about two weeks ago. The Amazons claim the island as their own when they meet the Swallows: We have been coming to this island for years and yers .... We used to come in a rowing galley until Uncle Jim gave us Amazon (SA10). They have left leading marks and a campfire on it.

The writing of the book[]

Arthur 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 continued to write part-time for the press.

The book was inspired by the summer of 1928 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 her 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; in 1958 removing the initial dedication of Swallows and Amazons which read To the six for whom it was written, in exchange for a pair of slippers which they had given to Arthur in 1929 (on the day after his forty-fifth birthday) and writing a new foreword which gave other sources.[2][3]

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[]

In 1963, the BBC produced an adaptation of Swallows and Amazons with John Paul as Captain Flint and Susan George as Kitty. The theme music used was the opening of George Butterworth's "Banks of Green Willow". See Wikipedia:Swallows and Amazons (television series)

In the summer of 1973, EMI adapted the story in colour for the big screen and went to the Lake District National Park in Cumbria to film it on the actual locations of the 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) and Stephen Grendon (Roger) as some of the children. This is available on VHS and DVD in the UK but is not readily available elsewhere. See Wikipedia:Swallows and Amazons (1974 film)

A 40th Anniversary edition DVD is available from Amazon, as is "Swallows and Amazons for ever", the TV productions of Coot Club and Big 6, on one DVD.

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.[4]

In 2008 it was reported that the BBC is to produce a new adaptation.[5]

In 2015 a new film adaptation was announced, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, see Wikipedia:Swallows and Amazons (2016 film). The article includes links to a trailer for the film.

  • 1930, UK, Jonathan Cape, Pub date 21 July 1930,[6] 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

See also[]


  1. Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk, Christina Hardyment,1984
  2. Autobiography of Arthur Ransome, Arthur Ransome, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis, 1976
  3. The Life of Arthur Ransome, Hugh Brogan, 1984
  4. article revealing the Royal National Theatre's plans for a stage musical adaptation of Swallows and Amazons
  5. North West Evening Mail report of new BBC adaptation
  6. Swallows and Amazons book review, 1930 - archive, Manchester Guardian 21 July 1930

External Links[]

The text of "Swallows and Amazons" and others in the series can now be downloaded from the following website in countries like Canada, where copyright extends for 50 years after the authors’ death and has now expired:

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series

Swallows and Amazons | 'Their Own Story' | Swallowdale | Peter Duck | Winter Holiday | Coot Club | Pigeon Post | We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea | The Big Six | Secret Water | Missee Lee | The Picts and the Martyrs | 'Coots in the North' | Great Northern?

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