Tuesday, May 9, 2017
The Wind in the Willows [springtime reads]
Now is the perfect season for a story of outdoor adventures among the animal folk, just when we're itching to be out of doors ourselves.
(you never itch to be out of doors, schuyler, what are you talking about.)
And so, I am pleased to present to you one of my favorite childhood reads: Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.
When the River Rat and the Mole strike up a brand-new friendship, they little know the adventures that are about to come their way. From snowy nights in the Wild Wood to idyllic picnics along the riverbank, from going on ill-advised caravan rides with Toad to composing poetry for the ducks, there's always plenty to keep them busy. But life isn't always idyllic. When Toad takes up with the new-fangled motor cars, the animals of the riverbank stand to lose a good friend forever. Can they convince him of the error of his ways before it's too late?
For a long time, I didn't read this story because I wanted the exact right edition. I first read it in company with Ernest Shepherd's charming illustrations, and until I could find my own copy with those illustrations, I couldn't bear to read it without them. (For some reason I was always too lazy to get it from the library, but that's a less romantic reason.) Shepherd also illustrated the Winnie the Pooh books, and his delicate, whimsical drawings of animals bring this story to life in a whole new way. It's well worth the trouble and expense to get yourself a copy of WitW with Shepherd's illustrations--he met Kenneth Grahame, and wandered in the fields after meeting him, and his stories bring these animals to life in the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful way.
It's a story of homebodies. The characters would almost be hobbits, if they were in Tolkien's world. They are the hobbits of the animal kind. My favorite parts of the book were never Toad's adventures with the motor car (I disapprove of Toad and his ethics). I always loved Mole, abandoning his spring cleaning and going off into a world of river rides and unexpected friendships. His life with the river Rat, simplistic, dreamy, full of good food and ritual--living life in complete obedience and joy in the seasons, just the way God's animals should live. There's a bad word here and there, and maybe a couple of crude comments, but all in all it's pretty good.
It is a book of yearning, of beauty and nature, of seasons and comradeship, that seems to me most fitting to be read in the springtime. If you are looking for nostalgia and writing of molten gold, then treat yourself to The Wind in the Willows.