Book review: ‘Signalling from Mars’ by Hugh Brogan (ed.)

The letters of Arthur Ransome

Signalling from Mars

Reading other people’s correspondence is one of my guilty pleasures. As a child, I loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books. As an adult, I finally got to realise my childhood dream of visiting Wild Cat Island. So, when I came across a copy of Ransome’s letters in a favourite second-hand bookshop just outside the Lake District, I knew I had to read it.

The letters were every bit as enjoyable as I expected. Even those from Russia, where Ransome was based as a journalist during the revolution and First World War (his second wife was Trotsky’s secretary).

After he finally returned to England, Ransome soon took up residence in his beloved Lake District, moving back and forth from there during the rest of his life.

There is plenty of affection and gentle humour in the letters—and, as we might expect, enthusiasm for boating and fishing.

The collection includes a small number of letters to Ransome. Stand-out amongst these is a letter from young Taqui Altounyan, the oldest of the Altounyan siblings who inspired the Swallows of Ransome’s books. It is a delightful letter, written in character and signed Capt. John of S.D. Swallow. Another pair of letters I particularly enjoyed was Ransome’s fan letter to J.R.R. Tolkien shortly after the publication of The Hobbit, and Tolkien’s reply, explaining that his own children were big Ransome fans.

You don’t have to be a Ransome fan to enjoy this delightful collection of letters. Like most published correspondence, the real enjoyment is getting to know somebody as if they were writing to you as a friend.

Highly recommended.