Elizabeth West is a PhD researcher at the University of Reading, looking at depictions of rural culture in mid-20th century children’s literature. Working with Reading’s Special Collections, particularly the British Publishing Archive and the Museum of English Rural Life collections, she is examining the works of authors such as Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, alongside forgotten texts that were popular in the period but are now long out of print. She completed an MA in The Child: Literature, Language and History at the University of Gloucestershire in 2011, achieving a Distinction. Her MA dissertation explored the changing depiction of food in children’s literature from Second World War to the present. She is particularly interested in the way in which children’s literature intersects with the cultural and sociological context of the time in which it is produced and how it can reflect contemporary attitudes and concerns.
Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons (1930) is, for many adults who remember reading it in their youth, an iconic representation of childhood freedom. This article examines how adult responses to Swallows and Amazons, both the novel and the 2016 BBC film adaption, reflect the way in which memories of childhood are conflated with contemporary concerns that children no longer have access to open air adventures. Peter Hunt's observation that Ransome's books might have “reached the stage where adult nostalgia is taking over from children's enthusiasm” poses interesting questions about the film-makers’ motivation in bringing a new version of the novel to the screen (122).The high production values, beautiful scenery and attention to period detail signal a film designed to appeal to adult viewers. The script, too, speaks to adults in a way that the book does not. In an early scene, for example, the children’s mother observes ”I'm so glad they can come up here and do all the things I took for granted. They're cooped up inside too much at home, it's not good for them,” voicing a parental concern that seems designed to chime with an adult audience. On the other hand, the decision to embed a new spy adventure into the narrative suggests a fear that modern children might find the original narrative a little dull. The film operates on a dual level, as an exciting story for children, and as a safely nostalgic revival of a lost age for adults. This adult audience may remember reading Swallows and Amazons as children, but, even if they did not, may still associate its name with a certain idyllic image of children at liberty to roam free within the landscape. For most adult fans, however, the film, and indeed the book, are not recreating a memory of their lived experience but rather a memory of reading and imagining in an entanglement of remembrance with nostalgia.