It’s somewhat unsettling to be moving from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which is a harsh critic of society, a book definitely meant for adults to understand, to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
Kenneth Grahame’s novel – because it’s much longer than I anticipated – follows two storylines really with common characters. The four main characters are Mole, the Water Rat, the Badger and Toad.
The first two meet on a fine spring day and strike up a friendship; the water rat – really a water vole – teaches his new friend how to ride a boat. The Water Rat introduces his friend the Mole to Toad, a gentleman as fine as he’s moony concerning his tastes. From boating to carriages and motor car, Toad’s capacity for wonder and shenanigans seems endless. Then, as the days grow shorter, Mole gets really curious about this Mr. Badger who lives in the Wild Wood and despite his friend’s warnings he sets out only to get lost until Rat finds him and together they really happened to reach Badger’s house. Toad’s shenanigans get him in trouble with the law and while he’s in prison his friends go on. Several short chapters discuss some of the adventures one can find in their backyard and the precious place that is home.
I can’t say I loved the book; though I understand it was a collection of bedtime stories Grahame invented for his son, it remains annoying to see how female characters are represented, if they are present at all. Naïve, greedy, sleazy and merely a cause for mean joking.
I get it; boys don’t need love stories, they want adventures and brotherhood. But it can turn out as damaging as the prince charming illusion. It does ensure this sort of contempt for the female gender remains. I’m finding I’m having more and more trouble with that.
The idea that no matter how far you go, how far your adventures take you – physically or emotionally – coming home, coming back to your roots is essential resonated with me a bit more. Having spent almost 13 years of my life outside of the country I was born in, I’ve always known that coming back was a way to reconnect with who I was as a kid and as a young adult. It’s somewhat reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz’s ‘there’s no place like home’. The question is ‘where is home?’ What’s home for you?
While I also understand the lesson about humility that Toad is supposed to learn, somehow it seems too fast, too forced… as if the author realized that the story was now too long for kids and took a shortcut to the moment where Toad eventually understands he’s been an ass. It’s usually a gradual thing but throughout the book, he’s so conceited and full of himself up until the penultimate page, and then poof gone is the proud, boastful animal. It’s weird…
That being said the writing is agreeable and somehow I forgot that the principal actors of the story were animals; a bit like when going to The Lion King musical you forget the puppeteers playing Zazu and Timon.
So far the children stories haven’t really worked for me; I’m probably too old.
Have you read the book? For yourself or your kids?
What did you think? Do share your views 🙂