Girls on the High Seas: Piratical Play in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons

Amy Elliot


Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book Swallows and Amazons (1930) recounts the sailing adventures of the Walker children on holiday in England’s Lake District. While at first blush the novel appears to be about a middle-class family’s restful holiday set in the region’s idyllic natural scenery, this novel is also teeming with piracy. The story follows the four children—John, Susan, Titty, and Roger Walker, collectively called the Swallows, after their boat—on their sailing adventures when they befriend the tomboyish Blackett sisters, Nancy and Peggy, who sail the Amazon.

Ransome transforms piratical play into a safe form of adventure for childhood development. Crucially, the young girls are just as piratical as the boys. I argue that Ransome infuses this safe form of play with a radical edge—perhaps drawing on piracy’s well-established history of defying convention—because it permits young girls to develop outside of traditional domestic roles as they test their skills and find their place in the changing empire.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680