Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Children's Literature Novel)

Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. (259 pages)
This classic tale of friendship was a pleasure to read. I actually laughed out loud a few times at some of Toad’s exploits. The characterization was amazingly well done; each of the main characters mirrored aspects of people we meet every day. There are sweet and stodgy Mole, poetic hospitable Rat, grim powerful Badger, and outrageous Toad. The concepts of home and friendship were drawn out beautifully.
Wind in the Willows is classed as a children’s modern fantasy, but it seems to me much more of a book adults would appreciate. While there is some action (jailbreak and chase, fight with weasels, car crashes) it is slow moving as Grahame gives sprawling descriptions of setting and nostalgic explanations of home and nature. Adults will appreciate these passages as they are very well done, but I could imagine some children finding them boring.
I realized after starting this book that I had never read the actual novel before. I had certainly read shorter versions of it targeted to younger readers, and saw the Disney short animated film. But there were minor characters and descriptive sections in Grahame’s novel that are excluded in subsequent versions. One of the most poignant excluded sections, in my opinion, is the section from which the book derives its name. Rat explains and interprets the song he hears in the air as the wind blows through the willows:
“Lest the awe should dwell
And turn your frolic to fret
You shall look on my power at the helping hour
But then you shall forget!
Lest limbs be reddened and rent
I spring the trap that is set
As I loose the snare you may glimpse me there
For surely you shall forget!
Helper and healer, I cheer
Small waifs in the woodland wet
Strays I find in it, wound I bind in it
Bidding them all forget!” (p. 141 italics only)

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