24 August 2009

Arthur Ransome

I've been taking a break from Nietzsche to re-read some Arthur Ransome novels. Ransome's a really good writer. He has a deceptively simple style. He reckons he developed that style as a journalist during World War I, where he had to send his stories by telegram and so had to fit as much information into as few words as possible. (Ha ha, and there's the Nietzsche connection – the philosopher with a hammer wanted 'to say in a hundred words what others require a book to say', a very laudatory aim.)

There are a very many interesting things about Ransome's books (don't worry, I won't go on about my theory that they're anarchist propaganda). He sacked the first illustrators of his books and not only did the illustrations for all subsequent books himself but also went back and did the ones that had already been published. I suspect this is because they weren't accurate enough.

The Ransome drawings (including the maps) are an integral part of the story, and convey a great deal of information. As drawings, they can be a bit patchy. Some of them are great, but others can be too heavy-handed with the ink. And for some bizarre reason he couldn't draw faces. Some of them are pretty funny as well – there's a night scene that's just a black rectangle.

I wish I could remember where I saw the reference photos that he took for the drawings. I remember that comparing the photos with the drawings was a very useful exercise.

There's a new biography of Ransome coming out, focusing on his activities as a double agent in Russia during and after the Revolution. I can't wait.

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