A site for the study of twentieth century British children’s books, particularly historical fiction, and their relationship to social change
Clive Barnes

2004 M.A. Dissertation: Explorers and Natives: aspects of children’s island adventure stories in Britain and the USA in the early twentieth century

M.A. Dissertation. Explorers and Natives: Aspects of Children’s Island Adventure Stories in Britain and the U.S.A. in the Early Twentieth Century

This is a study of five children’s adventure stories from the twentieth century set on islands. Each chapter is set out below as a separate pdf attachment. The pdfs of chapters 3 and 4 here lack the illustrations in the printed version of the dissertation because I failed to transfer these versions from the floppy discs on which they were originally saved. Nevertheless, the text is much the same as the version that was submitted as part of the dissertation.


This is a study of five children’s island adventure novels published in the U.K. and the U. S.A. between 1930 and 1960. Two of these are British: Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons (1930) and Enid Blyton’s Island of Adventure (1944). Three are American: Willard Price’s South Sea Adventure (1952), Armstrong Sperry’s Call it Courage (1940), and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960). Each book is considered individually and in comparison with the others.

The study focuses on the part played by the island in the narrative and on the ideological assumptions and messages that the stories convey. In particular, the study considers the relationship of children and adults, and the roles of indigenous people and wild animals in the stories. It examines the relationship of the novels with the imperialist and masculinist stories of the nineteenth century and it considers the influence of the growth of conservation sentiments and ethnographic studies on the novels. It discusses the role of island adventure both in propagating conservative social ideologies and in creating a fictional space of children’s independence and community from which those ideologies might be challenged.

Island adventure was in decline as a form in children’s literature in this period and its ideological assumptions were increasingly questioned. This was a time of change and ideological ambivalence. In Britain, holiday adventure emerged from imperial adventure and was concerned with the limited freedom of children to assert their independence of adults, rather than the conquest of foreign lands and peoples. In the U.S.A., new forms of imperial adventure appeared, with both conservative and radical characteristics, in which indigenous people played leading roles.

Introduction: Where the Wild Things Are: Islands, Imperialism and Childhood

Chapter One: Changing the Map: Swallows and Amazons and the British Holiday Adventure

Chapter Two: Dark Secrets of the Adult World in The Island of Adventure

South SeaChapter Three: Animal Adventure: Beasts and Savages, Hubris in South Sea Adventure

Chapter Four: Going Native in Call it Courage

Chapter Five: ‘The Sound of a Human Voice’: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Afterword: ‘Treasure and Treasure’