Saturday, 28 December 2013

Xmas visitors: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

published 1908






'What's up?' inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

'I think it must be the field-mice,' replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. 'They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over— they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again.'

'Let's have a look at them!' cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, 'Now then, one, two, three!' and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.




observations: Mole and Rat are visiting Mole’s old home, which he abandoned earlier in the year, and it is, of course, Christmas-time, and cold and snowy outside.

For more than 100 years children have responded to the strange and charming story of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad. These animals may not have proper names, but they have recognizable characters, and they live their lives like Edwardian bachelor gentlemen. I loved the book as a child, but re-reading it as an adult I kept tripping up on the relative sizes of everything – the animals themselves (badger would be a giant next to mole) and the fact that they’re drinking bottles of beer and talking about potatoes and apples; they have money and schools and clothes. You just have to try to ignore all that, and there are some nice touches where animal and human ways collide: Badger goes off to his study and is ‘very busy’, but that is because he needs his sleep in winter.

Nothing else that Kenneth Grahame wrote has survived, really, and apparently he did not have a happy life at all. But the innocent pleasures of this book will live on.

The top picture is from a 1923 edition of the book; 
the stuffed animals are from the Smithsonianand the festive koala bear is from the State Library of Queensland. 

14 comments:

  1. I always have more trouble with the animals eating meat - which I suppose is why there are no cow or pig characters in the story. But it's still a lovely story, particularly the Christmas section.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent point Lisa. My son loved the Redwall books, also featuring small animals, and food featured a lot but was always noticeably vegetarian. Anyway, Wind in the Willows will live on despite any carping...

      Delete
  2. Never read this as a child or further down the road, to my children....maybe grandchildren then, one day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not only did I read it, and read it to my children - I once appeared as a small rabbit in a stage production of it. That was probably the highlight of my theatrical career, I have never surpassed it since.

      Delete
  3. I honestly don't know if I ever read this or not. If so, I read it to my son years ago and forgot about it. My son and my husband have both read it. I do remember an animated version vaguely. I like the koala bear in his hat and boots very much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it's lovely but strange -some children take to it and some don't. Yes, I was very pleased to find the koala picture. I'm sure an Australian version of Wind in the Willows could find room for him...

      Delete
  4. Moira - A great institution of so many childhoods. I'm so glad you mentioned that Christmas scene, as it's a real part of the holiday for so many people's memories. I think this is one of those novels that can appeal to the child in all of us...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes - there are scenes from it that live forever I think. I'm sure there's a lot of the book I've forgotten, but Mole re-finding his home and the carol singers arriving resonates still....

      Delete
  5. The Golden Age/Dream Days is also pretty enduring, but yes, definitely best known for The Wind in the Willows.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember reading something else of his when I was at school - something about a magic spell/princess/hair-growing? Was that in the book you mention? But I don't think there would be many young people reading anything else of his now....

      Delete
    2. The Golden Ages/Dream Days is his autobiographical stories about growing up with brothers and sisters. It's been a while - I mainly remember their horrible aunts and uncles who took away all their toys to give to the deserving poor and a hilarious (if nowadays slightly non-PC) story called Sawdust & Sin where the youngest sister's Japanese boy doll is observed (what would now be called sexually harassing) making overtures towards one of her other dolls... http://www.classicreader.com/book/131/6/

      Delete
    3. Oh, interesting, obviously not what I read. I can't decide from what you say whether he had a happy childhood or not.... I just think of him as such a sad man.

      Delete
  6. There is a very odd chapter indeed that is sometimes left out of Wind In The Willows, rather like that key extra chapter in A Clockwork Orange though for different reasons. It's weird, hallucinatory and beautiful but quite unlike the other chapters. No surprise that the earliest version of Pink Floyd (also weird, hallucinatory and beautiful...) should have named their first album after it: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes indeed, they end up with the god Pan, it was always surprising - supposedly Kenneth Grahame had some unconventional religious views which came out in that chapter.

      Delete