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The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome
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The Picts and the Martyrs (original 1942; edition 1971)

by Arthur Ransome

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530527,043 (4.14)8
Member:konallis
Title:The Picts and the Martyrs
Authors:Arthur Ransome
Info:Puffin Books (1971), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:children's/young adult

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The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome (1942)

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Showing 5 of 5
This was the last completed novel in the Swallows and Amazons series to be set in the Lake District, and shows Arthur Ransome tackling more serious issues than had been evident in the previous novels.
Indeed, the Swallows are absent from this adventure, with the principal focus falling on Dorothea and Dick Callum (the Ds). It is summer 1931 or 1932 and the Ds have travelled up to the Lake directly from their respective schools at the start of the holidays. The plan is that they will stay with the Amazons (Nancy and Ruth Blackett) while they wait for their own boat (the Scarab) to be finished. The four of them will then go camping on Wild Cat Island where they will await the Swallows who will join them in a couple of weeks.

Upon arrival at Beckfoot, however, the Ds find that the Amazons’ mother is away, convalescing from a recent illness, and the Amazons are keeping house themselves with the assistance of Cook. The Amazons are on their best behaviour, having promised to do nothing even vaguely adventurous (which includes departing to the island) until their mother returns in a week’s time.

Their fun is interrupted by an unexpected exchange of telegrams with Miss turner, the Amazons’ Great Aunt, who cast such a pall over the Swallows’ and Amazons’ plans two years previously. She has been informed of Mrs Blackett’s sojourn and, appalled at the thought of her great nieces left to their own devices, has decided to descend on Beckfoot to ‘look after them’. This is appalling news. The Great Aunt has very firm ideas about what constitutes appropriate behaviour for young ladies, and they do not encompass sailing, camping or having friends to stay while their mother is absent. In what now seems an extraordinary step, the Ds are persuaded to set up home in a dilapidated old house in the woods not far from Beckfoot, and to keep out of sight of the Great Aunt, living like Picts of old. Meanwhile Nancy and Peggy take on the role of martyrs, excelling themselves in proper deportment and behaviour, struggling to convince the great Aunt that they are indeed ‘young ladies’ and not the tearaways that she believes them to be.

It seems unbelievable today to see how casually the various adults in the story accept that Dorothea and Dick should be turfed out of Beckfoot and sent to live in a hut for a few days. Such causal concern for children’s welfare and safeguarding today would result in an intervention by local social services. On the day of their eviction from Beckfoot Dorothea writes about it quite cheerfully to her mother, her principal concern being to ask her father for more information about the original Picts. Dorothea’s mother replies the next day with a total lack of concern about her children’s sudden homelessness, being primarily concerned to learn how soon the new boat would be ready.

The book is written with Ransome’s customary simplicity, which keeps the story moving forward briskly while also imparting a lot of information to redress the likely ignorance of his largely metropolitan readership. After the briefest demonstration from a worthy local, city-raised Dorothea and Dick find themselves ‘guddling’ for trout from the nearby beck, though their attempts to gut a rabbit and less adroit.
Ransome understood children very well. These stories were, after all, inspired by his own exploits from childhood holidays in the Lakes with his brothers. Timothy Steading, a mining engineer acquaintance of the Amazons’ Uncle Jim, seem to represent the voice of reason, though even he seems quite happy to accept the temporary enforced exile of the Ds into the forest as entirely reasonable. Of course, the key aspect is that Ransome so completely beguiles the reader that we all accept it too.

I can’t really expand upon the more sombre issues mentioned in my first paragraph without risking spoilers. Suffice it to say that, when it appears that something may have gone seriously wrong, Ransome rises to the occasion. The children’s attitudes and conflicting emotions are perfectly and plausibly portrayed.

This is less ebullient than other books in the series such as the original ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and ‘Pigeon Post’ but shows the central figures growing more mature and sensitive. It leaves the reader pondering what they might all have done in later life. ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | Dec 28, 2016 |
Clean edition, good cover
  chilperic | Sep 1, 2014 |
This was one of the first S&A books I read, being given it at the age of six. It falls well into the middle of the series, so for a long time I had no clear idea how it fitted with the others. It is one of a subseries in which a new pair of children, Dick and Dorothea (Dot) become involved with the original S&A group. In this story, Dick and Dot are expecting to stay with the original Amazons Nancy and Peggy while their parents are away, but the Amazons' very strict old-fashioned great aunt arrives, so Dick and Dot take refuge in an isolated hut and become the "Picts" while Nancy and Peggy are the "Martyrs" suffering under the tyranny of the great aunt who makes them act like respectable young ladies instead of pirates. ( )
  antiquary | Dec 23, 2013 |
Here Arthur Ransome rehabilitates the feared Great Aunt and Nancy shows she's growing up. The D's are staying at Beckfoot with the Amazons, who's mother is away recuperating from an illness. Nancy is resolved not to let her mother regret leaving her in charge so when the feared Great Aunt hears that her great nieces are unsupervised and arrives to take over, Nancy's plan to keep the GA happy and make sure her mother does not regret leaving them sees the Ds banished to a hut in the woods, the doctor and the postman sworn to secrecy and things rapidly threatening to spiral out of control. Less overtly adventurous than the other books in the series, but still a really interesting and enjoyable read. Older readers will appreciate the character development and younger readers the Ds learning to fend for themselves and the drama of the "burglary". ( )
1 vote Figgles | Jul 17, 2013 |
Maybe one of the best yet, I am sad to have nearly finished the series. ( )
  Kafahy | Mar 25, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
The absence of the Swallows for the entire story was a disappointment for me in this book... My personal feelings aside, though, I really appreciate that Ransome chose to explore a different dynamic in this story.
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arthur Ransomeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Woolf, GabrielNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To AUNT HELEN C.F.C.A. PLUS 100. A1 (These letters mean Certified First Class Aunt. There are Aunts of all kinds, and all the good ones should be given certificates by their nephews and nieces to distinguish them from Uncertified Aunts, like Nancy's and Peggy's G.A.)
First words
'It's not what I call homely,' said the old Cook, standing in the doorway of the spare bedroom at Beckfoot and looking at an enormous skull and crossbones done in black and white paint on two huge sheets of paper and fixed with drawing pins on the wall above the head of the bed.
Quotations
The only boatbuilder who ever finished a boat on time was Noah, and he only did it because he knew he'd be drowned if he didn't.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The dreaded Great Aunt invites herself to stay with Nancy and Peggy just as their friends arrive for the Summer. Nancy and Peggy have to become Martyrs, wearing dresses and reading poetry, while friends Dick and Dorothea become Picts, secret inhabitants of the country who must never be seen.
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The dreaded Great Aunt has come to stay with Nancy and Peggy just as their friends arrive for the summer holiday. Now Nancy and Peggy must wear dresses and read poetry by day. But at night they break out for wildness. It's a desperate gamble, but can it possibly work against the eagle eyes of the fearsome Great Aunt?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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