Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book Review: We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome (1937)

In We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, the Walker children and their mother are waiting at Pin Mill for Daddy to arrive home when they meet a young sailor named Jim Brading. Jim promises to sail the kids around to a few of the nearby ports, giving Mrs. Walker his word that he will not take John, Susan, Titty, and Roger to sea. He doesn’t anticipate the fact that he will run out of petrol, or that a heavy fog will descend over his boat, The Goblin. Nor does he guess that the tide will turn and the Walkers will drift out to sea in his boat, heading for Holland with no captain and no idea how they will get home.

My big frustration with the last book, Pigeon Post, was that I had trouble buying into the make-believe adventures of the Walkers and the Blacketts. For the first time, imagined adventure didn’t seem like enough. I’m so glad that this seventh book in the series finally allows these characters to experience something real. I was a bit disappointed, at first, that the Blacketts do not appear in this book, but even their absence was somewhat refreshing. Without Nancy to call the shots, the other characters are forced into leadership roles, which provides a lot of really nice character development for both John and Susan. Even Titty and Roger show signs of growing up as the story progresses.

What really impressed me the most about We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea is that Ransome manages to keep things exciting for the duration of the book, despite the fact that 90% of it takes place on board the same boat. Weather, seasickness, and passing ships provide the required drama to propel the story forward even when all the characters are doing, essentially, is waiting to reach port and agonizing over what their mother will say when she learns they disobeyed. Ransome’s writing is never dull, and the ending of this story, when they finally find a way home, is one of the most satisfying endings of the entire series. It almost feels like a finale, and though I have started the next book and I’m enjoying it, I still think We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea could have served as the perfect conclusion to the Walkers’ stories. It is the perfect culmination of all their training as sailors and in some ways, the full realization of the fantasy constructed in Peter Duck.

I can’t name many authors whose writing is consistently wonderful over the course many books, but Ransome is such an author. I like the way his stories continue to expand upon the vast universe he has created, and I enjoy the way he tempers every moment of high stress and danger in his stories with a warm moment of comfort among family and friends. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea ranks high on my list of favorites in this series, right beside Swallowdale and Winter Holiday.

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