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Re: Why did the Admiralty summon Cdr Walker to London?

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Posted by Robin Selby on January 22, 2019 at 06:55:43 user RobinSelby.

In Reply to: Re: Why did the Admiralty summon Cdr Walker to London? posted by Mike Dennis on January 21, 2019 at 22:28:16:

The term metafiction was coined after I did my Eng Lit degrees, so I am at a disadvantage. I see that OED defines it as ‘Fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (esp. naturalism) and narrative techniques’. I do not see how this is relevant to Peter Duck or Missee Lee. Once the reader takes the imaginative leap of embracing the idea that the explorers are sailing the Atlantic in search of treasure, or sailing round the world, then everything is internally self-consistent and Ransome does nothing to stress artificiality or literariness. In fact, the opposite is true. By adding detail after detail, he convinces and reassures the reader that the story is true. Take, for example, the mass of detail crossing the Atlantic, culminating in Captain Flint’s narrow escape from the shark on the first morning after reaching Crab Island.

The books are firmly within the genres of Treasure Island (find treasure, fight pirates, win), and King Solomon’s Mines (find unknown civilisation, get captured, escape), but that is as far as the literariness goes. To be within a genre does not amount to metafiction.

As far as I am aware, we only know from other sources that Peter Duck was written by the explorers. There was a false start along these lines, but it was abandoned. The reference to Peter Duck in Swallowdale as Titty’s imaginary friend is the only remnant, and this would have been better deleted, since it does not advance anything and simply makes the young reader wonder what’s going on (at least this young reader a long time ago).

As stated, the arguments for Great Northern? being metafiction amount to Ransome getting the plot from someone else and the story not fitting into the chronology. I don’t buy this. Shakespeare stole most of his plots from someone else, but no one labels the plays with stolen plots ‘metafiction’. Equally, not fitting into the chronology has nothing to do with the concept of metafiction. We don’t worry about the chronology of Sterne’s works.

We understand the topography of Great Northern? in some detail, but it is true that the story lacks the sense of belongingness that we find in the other books. This is part and parcel of the plot, in that the explorers have to find the Great Northern Divers in a remote place. It is also, perhaps, because Ransome had written himself out.

One of the great strengths of Ransome’s work is its reality. That is why his readers wrote to him, asking about the locations or wanting to be introduced to the characters. While my parents were having a drink in a pub, I used to sit in the car poring over the maps in the AA book, until I found the only lake which matched the description in the stories. But the key characteristics of metafiction are artificiality and literariness, at the opposite end of the spectrum. Let us put the term metafiction back in Pseud’s Corner where it belongs.

I’m glad we sorted this out.

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