This is the fourth volume of the Swallows and Amazons series. It features the same Lake District setting as the first two, but this time we encounter the lake in the depths of winter, rather than summer. The book also introduces two new members to the `gang’: the D’s. Indeed, the story concentrates more on the newcomers’ activities, as they first meet and befriend – and then try their utmost to keep up with – the more experienced Swallows and Amazons.
Once again, Ransome allows the children’s views of the world to dominate over the grown-up, outsider’s view. Amongst other inventions, an old barn becomes a signaling station for communicating with Mars; the lower fells the wastes of High Greenland; and the frozen lake a training ground for an expedition to the North Pole.
This is one of the very best of the Swallows and Amazons stories. It combines all of the fine features of the earlier volumes – beautifully simple (and yet never condescendingly simplified) prose, enchanting line drawings, and honest and open values – with an elegantly crafted plot and some moments of true excitement.
It also has some cleverly disguised educational content, in the form of lessons in field communications techniques. (And the dangers of misinterpretation that can result from their misuse!) As usual, Ransome knows precisely how to build the excitement as the tale progresses. From simple beginnings, the book gradually becomes more and more riveting reading, until it is almost impossible to put the book down.
The world was a simpler place when this book was written (1933) and, sadly, the events portrayed within it just could not happen nowadays. But children of all ages can still enjoy tales such as this, to feed their own imaginations and help them to grow into the world as it now is. Who knows? It may yet help lead the world back to times as honest as these. (Steve Benner; Lancaster, UK)