Saturday, May 06, 2006

Children's Sailing Books

This previous post was about the children's book that first introduced us when kids to the world of sailing, including the wonderful Swallows and Amazons.

In a wave of nostalgia I rummaged through my bookshelves to find other examples and now have a fine pile of fifteen or so piled on the desk in front of me without including any from Arthur Ransome.

It's noticeable how so few are recent publications and how many were published not just before World War 2 but before World War 1 if not the 19th Century.

The first of all is of course Robinson Crusoe. Possibly the first novel in the English language its also a great story about sailing and shipwreck, and a classic for children.

It works on so many levels - as a description of sailing from the late 17th Century, of survival against the odds, of psychology, of resourcefulness, of farming, and must else besides. The story of a man alone against nature grips the imagination and transcends time.

And it's based upon at least two true stories. Firstly the marooning of Selkirk on the Juan Fernandez Islands (Captain JP's alleged ancestor William Dampier was a captain on the expedition that left him there and pilot on the one that rescued him). This was written about by both Dampier and Roger Woodes in their wonderful books, the travel best sellers of their days. The writings of both men would have been well known to Defoe.

The other less known story is that of the runaway slave Pitman who was marooned by pirates upon Salt Tortuga. Less known, but known to Defoe, whose publisher was in later years Pitman's landlord.

As for the other fourteen, they must wait for another day......

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