Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book Review: Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome (1933)

This third installment in the Swallows and Amazons series is a bit of a deviation from the first two. Unlike Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale, it does not follow the Walkers and Blacketts on a real-life adventure. Instead, the story comes from their own imaginations, as they spin a tale about an old sailor, whom they name Peter Duck, and a treasure hunt in a real sailing ship christened The Wild Cat. Their imagined adventure includes many of the things involved in their make-believe in the other books, such as enemy ships, dangerous pirates, camping alone on an island, and steering a ship through a storm.

I really was not crazy about this book when I first started reading it. I felt very distanced from the characters, after becoming so attached to them in the earlier books, and I found the separation of these imagined Walkers from the “real” ones to be very jarring. I was actually thankful for each footnote Nancy, Roger, and others provided, because it gave me a much-needed glimpse back into the “real” narrative. The latter half of the book did pick up quite a bit, and once I was invested in the excitement of the adventure I stopped worrying about the lack of continuity between this story and the ones before and just enjoyed seeing everything unfold and come together.

One thing I really like is the way Ransome maintains the sense of safety and security established by Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale. Though many truly dangerous situations arise in Peter Duck, the Walkers and Blacketts are never in the line of fire, so to speak. Allies and enemies created in their imaginations take a few bullets and blows, but the Swallows and Amazons themselves mostly enjoy the ride with few real problems. Instead, their focus is on the experience of living and working aboard a real ship, and on their imaginary friend, Peter Duck.

I’m glad I didn’t skip this book because the writing is quite lovely, but I’m also glad to be done and ready to move onto the next book, Winter Holiday.

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