Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Bolsheviks?

Secret cables released yesterday call into question the loyalty of Arthur Ransome, the author of a series of quintessentially English adventure books for children.

The first of these books, Swallows and Amazons, is the idyllic tale of imaginary maritime heroics on the quiet summertime waters of the Lake District. The stories are standards for young British readers the way Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys are for Americans . . . except, of course, much better written and less gunplay.

The utter benevolence of Ransome's stories is what makes today's news in The Telegraph so fascinating.

Imagine for a moment that someone as benign as Mister Rodgers was revealed to have been a frequent overnight guest of Chemical Ali in Baghdad. Or that Tinky-Winky secretly spent lost weekends with Kim Jong Il at the Playboy Mansion in posh suburbs of Pyongyang. Or imagine if Michael Jackson were actually a . . . oh, wait a minute.

British Intelligence seems to have thought that Ransome was an ardent Bolshevik who dined with Communist revolutionaries in Petrograd and was cheating on his wife with the private secretary of Leon Trotsky. All this while the accepted legend of Ransome is that he was a patriotic first-hand observer of the Russian Revolution whose secret reports to the British government were read only at the highest levels.

In reality, British Intelligence never really knew for sure who Ransome was working for.

This all predated his wonderful books. It could be just youthful recklessness as were Philip Johnson's flirtations with fascism before he became a serious architect.

But come to think of it, the Swallows and Amazons stories do seem a little suspect.

The daring children were constantly fighting with authority figures and they seemed to share all their possessions quite freely. They were certainly living in a utopian fantasy world where lunch was always free and work was never repetitive or demeaning. And the whole operation turned on the talent and foresight of a single indispensable leader who was the first among equals and the other characters included literally nameless worker bees such as the twins called Port and Starboard.

And what about that time they imprisoned all the dissidents? Now it's all beginning to make sense.

No comments: