In the modern spirit of "full disclosure" I should begin by revealing that I am neither an academic nor a bibliographer myself. My review of this book is intended to be an "inside" review by a lay person who is a member of The Arthur Ransome Society; for those who wish a more rigorous examination, an "outside" and possibly more "objective" review is planned for the next Mixed Moss, written by a bibliographer who is not a member of TARS or necessarily a devotee of Arthur Ransome.
Regardless of one's perspective, this is a very satisfying book on a number of levels. Visually it is well-designed and laid out, the paper is excellent, and the printing and binding are of very high quality. The book is physically solid and substantial, and in the manner of such books it is a delight in its own right. While I am not particularly enthusiastic about the dust jacket, which is a bright blue with a Ransome line drawing of himself, that hardly seems a significant issue in the overall package.
The contents are also a delight in a way I find attractive as a confirmed dipper into reference books. The bibliography is divided into three major sections: the books of which Ransome was the primary author; those he edited or translated, or to which he contributed introductions or essays; and works originally published by magazines and periodicals. There is also a "catchall" section of miscellaneous items and one listing the many translations of Ransome's work. Two appendices provide a selected list of significant works about Ransome and a guide to major Ransome holdings in libraries and archives.
As one would expect, in the first sections Mr. Hammond provides complete and exact descriptions of the books, and has developed a appropriate notation to identify each work and edition. He has also provided a somewhat different notation for the section on contributions. I am sure his notation will rapidly come into use among Ransome collectors, who have needed it for some time. (I found myself putting down the bibliography partway through the first section to root through my small collection of early Ransome books and identify the ones I had.)
Mr. Hammond's research and completeness seem impeccable, even though he notes himself that it is in the nature of bibliographies to be discovered as incomplete immediately after they leave the hands of their authors. Additionally, his bibliography illuminates the writings and editings of Arthur Ransome and offers much new or newly organized material. He stays focused on the purpose of the bibliography, but I certainly feel as though I know much more about Ransome's literary endeavors, his relationship with his various publishers, and a good bit more about Ransome than I knew before I started.
The result is like a particularly good encyclopedia: not only is it a reference work but it draws you into reading further about the item you looked up, and leads to further insights (including surfacing sometime later to discover you've forgotten what you originally went to look up). The background and supportive material which Mr. Hammond provides on each separate work (generally accompanying the section on the first edition of a particular book) allow the sections to be read as literary biographies, and provide essential companions to Hugh Brogan's Biography of Arthur Ransome and Ransome's own Autobiography.
Wayne G. Hammond is the Assistant Librarian in the Chapin Library of Rare Books at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He has written widely on modern writers, including a descriptive bibliography of J.R.R. Tolkien. So unlike this reviewer, Mr. Hammond is an academic and a bibliographer, and in my opinion certainly knows his chops. He is also a member of The Arthur Ransome Society, and one of the attractive things about this book is the use of TARS sources and references in the compilation of his bibliography: not because they are inappropriate (they aren't), but because he has made full use of the resources provided, often unintentionally, by TARS. It is too easy from inside a society such as TARS to presume that its interests are introverted if not myopic, its scholarship limited if not challengable, and its relevance or validity dubious in a wider world. It is gratifying to see TARS work, most particularly from Mixed Moss and the Literary Weekend papers, take its place as part of the overall compendium of Ransome knowledge.
When considering a work such as a bibliography, an obvious question is whether the book is of sufficient value or interest to any but confirmed collectors to be worth owning. In this case, I think a substantial number of Ransome enthusiasts will want to own the book. It often seems to me that TARS have three substantial areas of focus: Ransome's books themselves, Arthur Ransome himself, and the pastimes about which Ransome wrote. This bibliography will delight and inform in at least two of these areas if not all three.
U.S. TARS Coordinator