logoCharacters of the Swallows & Amazons novels

compiled by Bill Wright

The Ages of the Characters

Only Roger and Bridget's ages are givien with certainty in the whole series of novels. However, by some research into the children the characters are based on, some detective work in the novels' texts as to relative ages to other characters, and some educated guessing, you can pretty well figure out how old the main characters are:

John Nancy (12 1/2) . . .
. Peggy (11 1/2) . Tom .
Susan (10 1/2) . Dot . Don
. . . Port/Starboard Dum
Titty (8 1/2) . Dick (8 1/2) . Daisy
Roger . . Death & Glories (7 1/2-8) .
. . . . Dee
. . . . .
. . . . .
. . . . .
Bridget . . . .
Swallows & Amazons = +0
Peter Duck = +1/2
Swallowdale = +1
Winter Holiday = +1 1/2
Coot Club = +1 3/4
Pigeon Post, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, Secret Water, The Big Six = +2
Missee Lee = +2 1/2
Picts & Martyrs, Coots in the North = +3
Great Northern? = +4?

In figuring out the ages of the characters, I began with the Swallows. Roger's and Bridget's ages are known from the text of Swallows & Amazons. Roger Wardale quoted ages from Arthur Ransome's notes of an early draft of Swallows & Amazons; those together with an article by Taqui Altounyan in vol. 2 no. 2 of Mixed Moss (published by TARS), which gives the Altounyan children's ages in relation to each other can be used to give ages for the older Swallows. The figures I settled on take into account the birthdays stated in the books (John's just before the summer holidays, Susan's at the beginning of January, and Bridget's during the summer holidays), and try to split the difference where Wardale/Ransome and Taqui's article differ. I have done the same with Nancy's and Peggy's ages--too much seems to point to Nancy not being as old as the 13 Wardale and Ransome quote for her, but she is supposed to be older than John. (Then again, the only comparison given is the relative sizes of Nancy, John, and Peggy, so maybe Nancy and John are the same age...)
The next to come are the D.'s--Dot is supposed to be not very much younger than Peggy, though she groups herself with the younger group of children, thinking of Nancy, Peggy, John, and Susan as "the elders." Susan counts Roger, Titty, and Dick as being about the same age. Using Dot's and Dick's ages as a basis, we can figure out the rough ages of the Coots. All we know for sure is that Tom is older than any of the others; although nothing is certain, it seems as though the twins are on a par with the D.'s, and the Death & Glories are younger than any of them.

All that is known of Don's age is that he is between John and Roger--with a 5 year span there, I split the difference, but a bit more towards John. Figuring that Dum was younger, I then used the ages of the Busk children the Eels were based on (taken from another article in Mixed Moss vol. 2 no. 2) to get the spread between them. John Busk was born 4 years before Michael in real life; this seeming too much to have them almost looking like twins, I bumped Dee's age up a bit--depending on the month of the year each were born the age difference could have been only 3 years and a bit, one could have been small for his age or the other big, or Arthur Ransome himself may not have been completely true to the characters' originals!

The Swallows (The Walkers)

Original Basis for Character
John Took Taqui's place in the re-characterization of the Altounyan children; elements of Arthur Ransome as a boy, or of the boy he wanted to be to please his father.
Susan Susan (Susie) Altounyan
Titty Mavis (Titty) Altounyan
Roger Roger Altounyan
Bridget Brigit Altounyan (now Brigit Sanders and the President of TARS (The Arthur Ransome Society). In Swallows and Amazons she is named Vicky; the change is explained in Swallowdale as that had been her nickname because of her resemblance to the old Queen Victoria.
In notes from an early draft of Swallows and Amazons, this character shows up in a list of the children first as Bridget, then that is crossed out to become Victoria, then that is crossed out and the name is again listed as Bridget.
*return to the top of this page

The Amazons (The Blacketts)

Original Basis for Character
Nancy (Character's real name is Ruth.) Both Amazons were said to be based on two girls in red caps Arthur Ransome saw playing on Coniston Water. Much of Taqui Altounyan's personality shows up in the character of Nancy.
In notes from an early draft of Swallows and Amazons, this character was originally named Jane. (Doesn't quite fit a terror of the seas, does it?...)
Peggy No specific original other than the girls in red caps (see Nancy, above).
In notes from an early draft of Swallows and Amazons, this character was originally named Mary.
Tom In notes from an early draft of Swallows and Amazons, there is a third character listed with the Amazons. The name was originally Victoria, then that is crossed out to be Tom. This character would have been about 3 in the first story, but he did not survive to the final draft. The first name seems to have migrated to Bridget, however, eventually becoming just a nickname for her.
*return to the top of this page

The D.'s (The Callums)

Original Basis for Character
Dorothea (Dot) The literary, creative side of Arthur Ransome (especially as a young man) comes to light in a character here.
Dick The practical, scientific side of Arthur Ransome, expecially as a young man.
*return to the top of this page

The Coots

Original Basis for Character
Tom Dudgeon Symbol of the conservationist forces already beginning to be active in the Broads at the time Arthur Ransome wrote.
Port and Starboard (Bess and Nell Farland) No particular originals for these characters.
The Death & Glories (Joe Southgate, Bill Jenkins, Pete Woods) Again, no particular originals, though they were among Arthur Ransome's favorite characters--the last names are never used in the stories.
*return to the top of this page

The Eels

Original Basis for Character
Mastadon (Don) No particular original for this character.
Daisy Gillian (Jill) Busk
Dum and Dee John and Michael Busk
*return to the top of this page

Some of the Adults

Original Basis for Character
Mother (Mrs Walker) A blend of Mrs Altounyan and Arthur Ransome's Australian grandmother.
Captain Flint (Uncle Jim Turner) The Altounyan's "Uncle Arthur" himself!
Peter Duck Captain Sehmel from Latvia--he shows up as "the Ancient Mariner" in Racundra's First Cruise.
Mrs Barrable A development of an idea for a "webfooted grandmother" character in the story that became Coot Club.
William the pug A pug owned by fishing friends Margaret and Charles Renold.
Professor Callum Mrs Altounyan was particularly interested in archaeology; did this influence Arthur Ransome's choice of speciality for the Professor?
Jim Brading Probably modelled on Jim Clay, whose father knew Arthur Ransome from the Manchester Guardian.
Missee Lee Based on Madame Sun Yat Sen, and a Chinese girl who longed for Cambridge.
*return to the top of this page

The information on this page was gathered from the introduction to Hugh Brogan's Coots in the North and Other Stories (©1988 by Hugh Brogan), Roger Wardale's Arthur Ransome's East Anglia (©1988 by Roager Wardale), and various things published by TARS (The Arthur Ransome Society). Thank you to all three sources!

logoreturn to Guide index
logoreturn to the Arthur Ransome page