I realised today that an awful lot of the best (or at least the classic) literature (which is not the same thing as stories) comes from the Edwardian period. Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, Just William, The Jungle Book, The Hobbit and many others. Of course this may just be my age but I think they win out on the quality of the English and the degree to which they depend in imagination. None of the books I have mentioned compromises on vocabulary, and certainly as I child I remember learning the meaning of words such as sinuous from their context use in Wind in the Willows.
Imagination is also a key part of this period, Even in the 50s and 60s we did more with two cardboard boxes, the dressing up box (discarded parental clothes), a step ladder and a mob than modern children do with the most sophisticated and elaborate games. The difference was that we used our imagination to create wonderful constructs on simple objects and commonly understood contexts. My sister and I along with three friends from the same street conducted the entire Viking Invasion of Britain over a week from that construct. For myself and my sister probably the supreme example of this type of story was Swallows and Amazons.
This series of adventures of the Walker and Blackett children were a key point of our lives. We had a canoe, Tarka and we created maps of Lyn Tegid (where we spent most weekends) and Traeth Penllech near Llangwnnadl where we spend most of each summer holiday. They were marked up in the Log of the Tarka and while we did not have a Blackett equivalent imagination was at the heart of our play.
The reason for all of this is my having a meeting in London and checking to see what was on in the Theatre. The musical of Swallows and Amazons, produced for the first time last year had a great poster and the reviews seemed good, so I booked a ticket. I was a bit nervous as seeing someone else’s interpretation of a key part of your childhood can be traumatic. However I didn’t need to be. The production created boats using the odd stick and a packing case, but it became real as the actors lived the children’s excitement at sailing to Wild Cat Island. Roger tacked up the back of the stage to deliver the famous If not Duffers won’t drown; if Duffers better drowned telegram that gave permission for the first trip. Susan was always trying to be sensible, John brave, nancy a deadly pirate and Peggy lapsed into common sense from time to time with great timing. Roger, well was Roger and the largest adult actor had a fabulous time playing a seven year old boy.
Titty was a bit disappointing both the actor and the script. Titty is the mystic of the group. Her key scene as Robinson Crusoe with her mother as Man Friday while the rest of the Swallows are off to steal the Amazon was omitted. That was a great pity as she chooses to stay in the fantasy, rather than take a reality looked after in comfort and thus saves the day both capturing the Amazon and discovering Captain Flint’s Treasure. The House Boat battle was wonderful, but didn’t need to addition of Mrs Walker as Queen Isabella, that is not a part of the book and it adds nothing. But if you get a chance, and if you loved the whole series or any part of it go. Its on national tour from next week. The books took a few liberties as well I suppose. There is no way a centre-board less boat with four crew members would ever beat one with a centre-board and only two in a race, but where the story demands …..
I was also musing on my favourite books in the series and decided that Great Northern and We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea were up there, along with Pigeon Post. Magical books, in the main because the magic came from imagination not artefacts; ordinary (albeit middle class) children in an ordinary world transforming it by magic to a shared space with their readers that created something other, something mysterious but comfortable and challenging both linguistically, morally and physically
Oh, and for me Nancy and Titty were the two heroes of the story, they had depth the others, well, were predictable
And to complete the quote which heads this post:
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up