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Ransome, Arthur

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1884-1967) UK journalist and author, active during World War One as a British secret agent working for MI6 in Russia while publicly supporting the Bolsheviks, before and after they came to power in 1917; his nonfiction Six Weeks in Russia in 1919 (1919) does not hint at any such involvement. He remains very much best known for his nonfantastic Swallows and Amazons series of children's books set initially in the Lake District, whose sixth episode Pigeon Post (1936) won the inaugural Carnegie Medal for 1936 and incidentally features the psychic talent of dowsing (see ESP).

Ransome's career began, however, with a number of fin de siècle fantasy tales, in more than one of which a typically Edwardian Pan figure winsomely appears; they were assembled as The Stone Lady: Ten Little Papers and Two Mad Stories (coll 1905) and The Hoofmarks of the Faun (coll 1911). Highways and Byways in Fairyland (1906) is a "geography" of the land of Faerie, with some interpolated tales. Of some sf interest is his one adult novel, The Elixir of Life (1915), a Gothic tale set in 1716 England whose protagonist is a reclusive and feared philosopher (like Victor Frankenstein, a student of Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa) who 200 years previously acquired the titular elixir of Immortality from his late mentor. He discovers too late that the elixir has a corrupting influence on its possessor and that it only works at the expense of other people's lives. H P Lovecraft praised this book, which bears many similarities to his own The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (cut 1941 Weird Tales; restored in Beyond the Wall of Sleep, coll 1943; dated 1951 but 1952), written before Lovecraft discovered Ransome's novel. The Elixir of Life also exhibits parallels with the work of Edgar Allan Poe and with The Picture of Dorian Gray (July 1890 Lippincott's Monthly; exp 1891) by Oscar Wilde: Ransome had published critical studies of both these authors [see Checklist below]. Old Peter's Russian Tales (coll 1916) presents Russian folktales in a Club Story frame; The Soldier & Death: A Russian Folk Tale Told in English (1920 chap) is similar. [JC/LW/DRL]

Arthur Mitchell Ransome

born Headingly, Leeds, West Yorkshire: 18 January 1884

died Cheadle, Cheshire: 3 June 1967

works (selected)


Swallows and Amazons

  • Swallows and Amazons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930) [Swallows and Amazons: hb/Steven Spurrier]
  • Swallowdale (London: Jonathan Cape, 1931) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Peter Duck (London: Jonathan Cape, 1932) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Winter Holiday (London: Jonathan Cape, 1933) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Coot Club (London: Jonathan Cape, 1934) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Pigeon Post (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Secret Water (London: Jonathan Cape, 1939) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • The Big Six (London: Jonathan Cape, 1940) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Missee Lee (London: Jonathan Cape, 1941) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • The Picts and the Martyrs: Or Not Welcome At All (London: Jonathan Cape, 1943) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Great Northern? (London: Jonathan Cape, 1947) [Swallows and Amazons: illus/hb/Arthur Ransome]
  • Coots in the North and Other Stories (London: Jonathan Cape, 1988) [coll: edited and with introduction by Hugh Brogan: only the unfinished title story is Swallows and Amazons: hb/]

individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor

  • E T A Hoffmann. Stories (London: T C and E C Jack, 1908) [coll: trans anon of two stories: hb/]

works as translator


previous versions of this entry

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