When the Walker family spend their summer in the British lake country, they beg to be allowed to sail their small boat, Swallow, and camp out on a small island in the center of the lake. While on their grand adventure, they meet the Blackett girls, Nancy and Ruth, who sail the pirate ship the Amazon. The six children proceed to have grand adventures as they plot the downfall of 'retired pirate Captain Flint', the Blackett's inattentive uncle.
In general, the children of Swallows and Amazons are about as moral heroes as you could ask for, honorable and responsible, with only a couple of exceptions. In one case, a couple of girls slip out of their house at night when they're supposed to be in bed. While they never actually tell a direct lie about this, they are definitely not open about it, and a couple of grown-ups keep the secret for them as well. At one point the Walker children tie their boat up to a dock with a sign warning against trespassers, but it is the dead of night and it would be dangerous for them to continue. When one of the children captures the others' boat, she eats their chocolate, reasoning that that's what all seafarers do in a captured ship (the offended party admits that she earned the chocolate in the taking of their vessel, and they had eaten some of the other children's food as well in any case.). The children also swear oaths to each other at a couple of points in the story.
One character says that his family has kept an adder in a box for generations for luck. Titty later suggests that the adder might also be used for witchcraft. There is a reference to a pagan temple, and at one point we see a parrot gnawing at a small jade statue of a Buddha.
As the children are engaged in sailing and exploring and possess active imaginations, there is mention of cannibalism, piracy, bloodshed, and hangings at Execution Dock, but none of this is graphic or excessive. In one altercation, the Amazons fire arrows at the Swallows (probably intending to miss) but no one is injured. The children also make an enemy walk the plank (but untie his hands so he can swim for it).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Rum and grog are mentioned, as well as beer and "drunken orgies". No actual drinking takes place, however, and the grog is really lemonade.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Susan repeatedly tells her younger siblings to shut up. John says "By Gum." A couple of thieves use words like "blamed", "blighted", and "bloomed" which Titty refers to as swearing.
Fans of the Chronicles of Narnia will find a similar sensibility in the this story of four siblings. As I read, I couldn't help drawing connections between the Walkers of Swallows and Amazons and the Pevensies of the Chronicles. While the story flows slightly more slowly than the Chronicles and more modern books do, it is by no means slow, and as it unfolded took me back to the elements of a childhood I half remember and half wish I did, for childhood was never so idyllic.
While the active imaginations of the six children (and a couple of the adults) sometimes means that references to piracy or cannibalism are brought up, there is no serious exploration of any detrimental topic. Just kids being kids, hearty and healthy and innocent and free to roam in an era when strangers were safe to approach and the world as yet had no televisions or video games, but simply the wonder of the imagination to give us wings.