kids encyclopedia robot

Swallows and Amazons facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Swallows and Amazons
ArthurRansome SwallowAndAmazons.jpg
First edition dust jacket cover 1930
Author Arthur Ransome
Illustrator 1st edition was not illustrated, later editions illustrated by Clifford Webb and later Arthur Ransome
Cover artist Steven Spurrier
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Swallows and Amazons series
Genre Children's, adventure novel
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date
21 July 1930
OCLC 5973192
Followed by Swallowdale 

Swallows and Amazons is a children's adventure novel by English author Arthur Ransome and first published on 21 July 1930 by Jonathan Cape. Set in the summer of 1929 in the Lake District, the book introduces the main characters of John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker (Swallows); as well as their mother, Mary; and their baby sister, Bridget (nicknamed Vicky). We also meet Nancy and Peggy Blackett (Amazons); their uncle Jim (James Turner), commonly referred to as Captain Flint; and their widowed mother, Molly Blackett. It is the first book in the Swallows and Amazons series, followed by Swallowdale.

At the time, 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 did continue to write part-time for the press, however.

The book was inspired by a summer 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 it a number of years later, while Mavis remained in the Altounyan family and is now on permanent display in the Ruskin Museum. However, later in life Ransome tried to downplay the Altounyan connections, changing the initial dedication of Swallows and Amazons and writing a new foreword which gave other sources. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 57 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.

Plot summary

The book relates the outdoor adventures and play of two families of children. These involve sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and piracy. The Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) are staying at a farm near a lake in the Lake District of England, during the school holidays. They sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow and meet the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy), who sail a dinghy named Amazon. The Walkers camp on an island in the lake, while the Blacketts live in their house nearby. When the children meet, they agree to join forces against a common enemy – the Blacketts' uncle Jim Turner whom they call "Captain Flint" (after the parrot in Treasure Island). Turner, normally an ally of his nieces, has withdrawn from their company to write his memoirs, and has become decidedly unfriendly. Furthermore, when the Blacketts let off a firework on his houseboat roof, it is the Walkers who get the blame. He refuses even to listen when they try to pass on a warning to him about burglars in the area.

To determine who should be the overall leader in their campaign against Captain Flint, the Blacketts and the Walkers have a contest to see which can capture the others' boat. As part of their strategy, the Walkers make a dangerous crossing of the lake by night, and John is later cautioned by his mother for this reckless act. The Walkers nevertheless win the contest – thanks to Titty who seizes the Amazon when the Blacketts come to Wild Cat Island. During the same night Titty hears suspicious voices coming from a different island – Cormorant Island – and in the morning it transpires that Turner's houseboat has been burgled. Turner again blames the Walkers, but is finally convinced that he is mistaken and feels he was wrong to distance himself from his nieces' adventures all summer. The Swallows, Amazons and Turner investigate Cormorant Island, but they cannot find Turner's missing trunk.

The following day, there is a mock battle between Turner and the children, after which Turner is tried for his crimes and forced to walk the plank on his own houseboat. They agree at the post-battle feast that on the final day of their holidays, Titty and Roger will go back to Cormorant Island while the others go fishing. Titty finds the trunk, which contains the memoirs on which Turner had been working, and is rewarded with Turner's green parrot.

James Turner appears in some ways to be modelled on Ransome himself. The story, set in August 1929, includes a good deal of everyday Lakeland life from the farmers to charcoal burners working in the woods; corned beef, which the children fancifully refer to as pemmican, and ginger beer and lemonade, which they call grog, appear as regular food stuff for the campers; island life also allows for occasional references to the story of Robinson Crusoe.

Major characters

See also List of characters in Arthur Ransome books

  • John Walker – Eldest of the Walkers and captain of the Swallow
  • Susan Walker – Second eldest of the Walkers and mate of the Swallow
  • Titty Walker – Able Seaman of the Swallow. This name was the nickname of the real life Mavis Altounyan, from Joseph Jacobs's children's story, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse. It was changed to Kitty in the original BBC adaptation of the book, and Tatty for a 2016 BBC Films adaptation
  • Roger Walker – Youngest of the sailing Walkers and ship's boy of the Swallow
  • Bridget Walker – (nicknamed "Vicky" due to a resemblance to pictures of Queen Victoria in old age, and referred to as such in the book) Youngest of the Walkers and ship's baby of the Swallow
  • Nancy Blackett (Ruth) – Captain of the Amazon
  • Peggy Blackett (Margaret) – Nancy's younger sister and mate of the Amazon
  • James Turner – Nancy and Peggy's uncle. Known to the children as "Captain Flint" or to the Blacketts as "Uncle Jim"


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: the lake is a fictionalised version of Windermere but the surrounding countryside more closely resembles that around Coniston. Wild Cat Island, the location of the island camp, has elements from Peel Island in Coniston and Blake Holme (or Blakeholme) in Windermere.

Holly Howe, the farmhouse of the Jacksons where the Swallows stay, is based on Bank Ground Farm, which exists to this day. It was featured in the 1974 film.

The main town on the lake is called Rio by the children but has a "native name"; it is based on the twin towns of Bowness-on-Windermere and Windermere on Lake Windermere. They call the main fell or mountain near the Lake Kanchenjunga (the Amazons' parents and uncle called it the Matterhorn); it is based on the "Old Man of Coniston" near Coniston Water. The branch railway to Rio runs ten miles from Strickland Junction, based on Oxenholme near Kendal.


The artist chosen for the first edition of the book was Steven Spurrier, but Ransome objected to his style and so the first edition did not have any illustrations. Spurrier's drawing for the dust jacket had to be used. The second edition contained drawings by Clifford Webb but after Ransome successfully illustrated Peter Duck himself, he decided to do his own drawings for all the books, including those already published, and Webb's drawings were replaced in later editions.



In 1936 the BBC broadcast Swallows and Amazons as a "dialogue story" in five weekly episodes during The Children's Hour on the BBC National Programme (later known as the BBC Home Service). The book was adapted by Barbara Sleigh.

From 9 October 1947 up to and including 22 January 1948 Swallows and Amazons was adapted into fifteen episodes and read by Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) during Children's Hour on the BBC Home Service


In 1963, the BBC produced an adaptation, Swallows and Amazons, with John Paul as "Captain Flint" and Susan George as the renamed "Kitty". The series was directed by Peter Saunders.


EMI released a version in 1974, directed by Claude Whatham and produced by Richard Pilbrow. The film starred Virginia McKenna (Mrs. Walker) and Ronald Fraser (Uncle Jim), and Sophie Neville (Titty), Zanna Hamilton (Susan), Simon West (John) and Stephen Grendon (Roger) as the Swallows.

The 2016 film was directed by Philippa Lowthorpe and written by Andrea Gibb. The film stars Andrew Scott, Rafe Spall, Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Hynes, and Harry Enfield.

Other versions

In August 1999 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio adaptation by David Wood with Jean Anderson as Titty seventy years later narrating. Young Titty was played by Phoebe Phillips, John by John Paul Ekins, Susan by Flora Harris, Roger by Joe Sowerbutts, mother by Penny Downie, Nancy by Catherine Poole, Peggy by Jackie Swainson and Uncle Jim by Nicholas Le Prevost.

The Royal National Theatre started developing a musical version of Swallows and Amazons in 2007. Helen Edmundson wrote the book and lyrics while The Divine Comedy's frontman Neil Hannon wrote the music. The musical premiered at the Bristol Old Vic on 1 December 2010 and played at the Vaudeville Theatre, in London's West End, from 15 December 2011, prior to going on tour around the UK from January to May 2012. The production features adults playing the children and has been received favourably by reviewers.

kids search engine
Swallows and Amazons Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.