When reading the classical children's book series Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, I started with the eponymous first book Swallows and Amazons, but read Peter Duck before Swallowdale. Thus, I first read Peter Duck in the same spirit as the other stories - the children going on boats and having adventures, albeit rather more thrilling adventures than their usual summer-holiday fare. It was only after reading Swallowdale that I realised Peter Duck was actually metafictional: considered to be a work of fiction even within the world of the Swallows and Amazons.

It was much later that I read Missee Lee, which I assumed to be in the same metafictional category. Although not featuring the character of Peter Duck, it does seem to follow on from the novel Peter Duck, and it similarly stretches the reader's suspension of disbelief much more than most of the books in the series.

Other candidates for possibly being metafictional include Great Northern (which also features the boat Wild Cat) and Pigeon Post (wherein, if I recall correctly, the children successfully dowse and mine copper). But these I'm less sure of.

Which of the books in the Swallows and Amazons series are considered to be metafictional?

This question would probably be best answered using intertextual references (Peter Duck, for instance, is clearly metafictional because of the way it's described in Swallowdale - are there other inter-book references like this?), but I'm open to being convinced by other evidence too.

  • (I think I'm using the word "metafictional" correctly here; please let me know if not.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 11, 2017 at 0:01
  • 1
    I have read Pigeon Post, everything that occurs in it is possible, and no more unlikely than in the other realistic Swallows and Amazons stories. They successfully find copper (though they mistake it for gold) because they already have an idea where it is from their informed Uncle and The Man with the Squashy Hat.
    – Mirte
    Jul 13, 2017 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


As far as I recall Peter Duck is the only explicitly metafictional story in the series. As you recall it is specifically mentioned that Peter Duck is a fictional character (within the S&A 'universe'). Indeed, in Swallowdale it is mentioned that the 'story' of Peter Duck was contrived in the 'long winter nights' on a wherry with Captain Flint (James Turner).

Regarding Pigeon Post, I would say that this story is part of the real S&A 'universe' purely because the subsequent story The Picts and the Martyrs follows on from it and makes references to the story throughout.

Regarding Missee Lee, there're no obvious contradictions in the text that state (as in the case of Swallowdale/Peter Duck) that this is a metafictional tale. However, the ship that they sail ('Wild Cat') is the same as in Peter Duck. This would imply that the work is metafictional.

According to Wikipedia ( LINK ) :

Two books, Peter Duck and Missee Lee, and possibly also Great Northern?, are metafictional, being fictional stories of the protagonists' voyages to exotic lands, as imagined by the fictional protagonists.

In my opinion Great Northern is by far the most plausible of the three and I wouldn't consider it a metafiction.

Some more information:

However, Arthur Ransome himself made it clear that this story was not metafiction. Writing to Myles North, discussing the book's dedication, he says:

...At all costs it must do nothing to weaken the reality ... nothing to suggest that it is a mere story and not the record of an actual happening, even if for bird protection's sake, the details are somewhat disguised. (AR's own emphasis)

From Wikipedia Great Northern page

Some further information about 'Peter Duck Stories'.

  • edited to add more info...
    – Pat Dobson
    Jul 11, 2017 at 14:20
  • Thanks for this! But doesn't the ship Wild Cat feature in Great Northern as well? So if you infer that Missee Lee is metafictional just from that, you should say the same about Great Northern. (I do tend to agree that GN is more realistic than PD or ML, but your reasoning is a bit inconsistent atm.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 11, 2017 at 15:55
  • 2
    No - Great Northern ? featured the 'Sea Bear' which was on loan from a friend of Captin Flint ('Mac').
    – Pat Dobson
    Jul 12, 2017 at 7:04
  • Ah, my mistake then. Have an upvote.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 12, 2017 at 10:19
  • Coming back to this a couple of years later, I was going to accept it, but then realised the reasoning about Great Northern is still very slim. If you could back that up with something a bit more evidential than "In my opinion", I would accept :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 24, 2020 at 13:43

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