Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Review: Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome (1936)

It’s summertime once again, and Nancy has a new project - prospecting for gold on High Topps. Unfortunately, there’s a drought going on, so the camping place she had in mind doesn’t have any water, and the whole team of prospectors is forced to stay at Mrs. Tyson’s farm, with Mrs. Tyson cooking the meals and supervising their every move. Nancy and her friends can’t stand not being able to do things for themselves, so they begin looking for ways to get out of this highly native situation. It looks hopeless at first, but then Titty takes up dowsing, Roger finds a hidden cave filled with gold, and Squashy Hat, a mysterious gentleman staying at another nearby farm seems to be up to something, making him the perfect enemy. Everything will be perfect, if only they can make a gold ingot to show Captain Flint when he returns from sea.

I had really high expectations for Pigeon Post, both because it’s an award winner, and because it once again brings together all three main groups of characters in the Ransome universe - the Swallows, the Amazons, and the Ds. Unfortunately, this book has the slowest start of any of the Swallows and Amazons series. I liked the introduction of the homing pigeons at the start of the story, and Dick’s ingenious system for alerting Mrs. Blackett when they arrive with messages, but I was confused by Titty’s weird reaction to her dowsing abilities. I liked seeing Nancy and company overcome the challenges presented by the drought, but I never for a second believed there could be gold, or that Squashy Hat could be looking for it. I spent the first three-quarters of the book waiting for it to get good, and finding it impossible to suspend my disbelief. This was the first time I couldn’t imagine along with the characters, and it really annoyed me to feel like the series had betrayed me by creating a situation where I couldn’t buy into the game.

Thankfully, after pages and pages of wishing for the good stuff, I was rewarded handsomely. The ending of this book is by far the most exciting of any in the series so far, and it puts the characters in the most danger they have ever been in. The entire last eighth of the book is so good it makes up for all the weirdness with the dowsing and the boring digging and smelting processes. Also, looking back on the book after finishing it, I also noticed some nice character development that has progressed over the course of the series. The fact that these characters who once could only dream of sleeping on Wild Cat Island can now build a well and a furnace shows that the characters are growing and maturing over time. This aging process is most obvious in Roger, who, for the first time, discovers the most important find of the whole summer - the cave containing the gold. While each book of the series is mostly self-contained, I love being able to see the picture and watching the kids grow up more and more with each book.

Besides Peter Duck, Pigeon Post is currently my least favorite of the series. I just didn’t get most of it, and if not for the great ending, I would have been disappointed that I wasted my time. I am very curious about the next book, We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, and I hope it promises more real, rather than imagined, adventure.

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