Thursday, May 6, 2010

Great Book #46: The Wind in the Willows

'It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing.'

The Wind in the Willows is one of those classics I really don’t know why I never read. Now I wish I’d read it as a child, because as I was listening to the Librivox recording (with a variety of readers, most of them excellent) I kept thinking too much like an adult:

A toad riding a horse! Rats and moles eating bacon and lobster! Field mice singing Christmas carols! How silly!

I also wish I didn’t know anything about Kenneth Grahame, thanks to “The Tragedy of Mr. Toad.” [Recently it has been pointed out to me what a rubbishy newspaper the Daily Mail is, so I apologize if 'Femail,' etc. offends anybody.] As I was listening, I did often think about how this book was the most substantial thing the love-hungry Alastair ever got from his father…at least according to the article.

But setting all that aside—this really is a lovely book, full of beautiful descriptions of nature and the changing of the days and seasons.
As he sat on the grass and looked across the river, a dark hole in the bank opposite, just above the water's edge, caught his eye, and dreamily he fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make for an animal with few wants and fond of a bijou riverside residence, above flood level and remote from noise and dust. As he gazed, something bright and small seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it, vanished, then twinkled once more like a tiny star. But it could hardly be a star in such an unlikely situation; and it was too glittering and small for a glow-worm. Then, as he looked, it winked at him, and so declared itself to be an eye; and a small face began gradually to grow up round it, like a frame round a picture.
Most of the episodes in The Wind in the Willows emphasize that true friendship occasionally entails a bit of personal sacrifice, and that loving your friends for who they are doesn’t mean letting them go off and make outrageous fools (or menaces) of themselves. This is all communicated quite nicely without bonking children over the head with ‘the moral of the story.’ That said, I bet everybody looks forward to those chapters following the exploits of the incorrigibly conceited Toad, because the other animals are too sensible to be anywhere near as interesting.
'Glorious, stirring sight!' murmured Toad, never offering to move. 'The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel! Here to-day--in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped--always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!'

'O STOP being an ass, Toad!' cried the Mole despairingly.
Toad’s gleefully insane obsession with motor-cars, his imprisonment for auto theft and his flamboyant escape and subsequent adventures while impersonating a washerwoman—these passages are even more enjoyable than all the poignant bits about Rat and Mole’s particular friendship, though I feel a bit guilty saying so.

Toad in drag, fleeing the authorities.

[picture the following shrieked by a huuuge British guy with painted-on warts]:
I'm being attacked by a cushion! AHH! I'm being attacked by a shoe! AHH! I'm being attacked by my foot! AHH!
—Toad in the Masterpiece Theatre version of "The Wind in the Willows"

2 comments:

Pare said...

I have always loved this book. Toad and his obsession with cars kind of obsessed ME as a child, and every once in awhile I find myself thinking of him (and it), and smiling.

I've always thought this is one of the best-written books I've ever read - sometimes the writing takes my breath away.

Ironically, I just ordered a vintage copy from BookMooch two days ago. Great minds.... :)

Kate said...

There are benefits to having the mind of a child. I would have thought: "A toad riding a horse! Rats and moles eating bacon and lobster! Field mice singing Christmas carols! How wonderful!