from the Wild Wood..


What can I say about The Wind in the Willows that has not already been said? Well, I shall give it a try.

What follows is an impression, my impression of Kenneth Grahame’s masterwork, based upon my optimism that those who have already read it, will enjoy my review, and those who have not will be tempted.

THE Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place. But whenever the Mole mentioned his wish to the Water Rat he always found himself put off. `It's all right,' the Rat would say. `Badger'll turn up some day or other -- he's always turning up -- and then I'll introduce you. The best of fellows! But you must not only take him as you find him, but when you find him.'
   `Couldn't you ask him here dinner or something?' said the Mole.
   `He wouldn't come,' replied the Rat simply. `Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.'

`Well, then, supposing we go and call on him?' suggested the Mole.
   `O, I'm sure he wouldn't like that at all,' said the Rat, quite alarmed. `He's so very shy, he'd be sure to be offended. I've never even ventured to call on him at his own home myself, though I know him so well. Besides, we can't. It's quite out of the question, because he lives in the very middle of the Wild Wood.'
   `Well, supposing he does,' said the Mole. `You told me the Wild Wood was all right, you know.'
   `O, I know, I know, so it is,' replied the Rat evasively. `But I think we won't go there just now. Not just yet. It's a long way, and he wouldn't be at home at this time of year anyhow, and he'll be coming along some day, if you'll wait quietly.'
   The Mole had to be content with this. But the Badger never came along, and every day brought its amusements, and it was not till summer was long over, and cold and frost and miry ways kept them much indoors, and the swollen river raced past outside their windows with a speed that mocked at boating of any sort or kind, that he found his thoughts dwelling again with much persistence on the solitary grey Badger, who lived his own life by himself, in his hole in the middle of the Wild Wood.

I have often been fascinated by someone to the point of distraction, just like Mole and his curiosity about Badger. And so I was drawn to Mole and the teasing way in which Ratty tells him that, `Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.'  - because it turns out to be not entirely true. It is just a sort of lazy surmise that has done the rounds. The truth about Badger is far more compelling and delightful. It becomes later an encouragement to seek out people and form your own impression. That said, WitW is never preachy, and despite it being about small furry animals, never strays into sentiment.  The story itself is a page turner; this chapter among many, leads Mole to go of into the Wild Wood on a journey fraught with danger, to the point of death by exhaustion, and it is this which resonates with contemporary events and must have struck a chord with those who read this chapter in the light of Scott’s doomed journey to the Antarctic, five years later.

Of course, the whole thing is animals with human characteristics, but this very thing enables you to imagine the world of the Wild Wood, the world of nature unbound, and the daily struggle for life and survival that all creatures on this earth must undergo. Perhaps the chapter that most exemplifies this is the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” – yes, famously borrowed for a Pink Floyd Album title; a chapter redolent and rich with pagan imagery and the thin veil between that which is temporal and that world which we cannot see, but for some reason, we need to believe in.

10 comments:

Ruth@VS said...

Nice to see you back, WW. I too love Wind in the Willows, and still have a 30+ year old copy in my bookcase. Lots of layers of meaning, and you can always take something from it.

Jim Baxter said...

The chapter titles are as evocative as ever and part of my earliest memories. The Wild wood was always my favourite. Youse can stick your petite madeleines in yer soop to yer heart's content - there was never anything like the Wind in the Willows again, not after it had been read to you by your crazed much older brother by a night-light that cast more black shadows than light, in a dark room in a really dark part of the middle of the last century. You listened, fascinated by every word, but also knowing that sooner or later the boy reading so beautifully to you now would once again lock you in the wardrobe and leave you there until you stopped screaming, saw his point of view, and learned to like it there and love big brother. As long as he would read that book to you again.

Richard said...

I don't think I read TWITW when I was a child - my first recollection of it was when I read it in my 20s. I was particularly struck by Mole's description of how his home called to him across the fields when he could not return. And of course, the Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a masterpiece of imaginative writing. Your description of it is spot-on. Pity that writing like this has been replaced with Stig-of-the-Dump realism in our gritty, relevant schools.

Jim Baxter said...

'the thin veil between that which is temporal and that world which we cannot see, but for some reason, we need to believe in.'

That in particular, has had me trying to think all night. I've been trying to think about it for some years now.

My thoughts have led me to this. All I lack is a 'need' to believe. But I have no need to believe anything.

Then, I think there is a lot that we cannot see. I think that what we can see - let's say 'perceive' equates to what bugs can perceive in the cracks of an elephant's foot.

They know nothing of the other cracks, or the bugs within them, to say nothing of the surface of the foot, to say nothing of any of the rest of the thinking, feeling, elephant.

This is an old idea. A very old one. But It's the best one that I can perceive.

Dave said...

I learned something new tonight WW. "Piper at the gates of dawn"
It's 1967 again, except it's colder and I'm older.
Welcome back Ged

denverthen said...

The Weasel returns! Top drawer. And I see I have some backreading to do (you've been busy!).

You know, WW, to readers like me (rather than writers like me - if you've seen the kind of nonsense I generally post, you'll know what I mean) blogs are sort of autobiographies that are still in the process of being written. They are, like the Dickens works of yore, published in instalments. They are not really diaries (no one usually gets to read those - nor should want to ordinarily. Remember Kenneth Williams'?!). If they are autobiographies, though, then they are sort of real-time autobiographies, functionalised by the technology through which they are distrubuted. They're an emergent form, I suppose, in that sense. But content is king, of course, so it's a little bit of a wrench for readers when the author gets writer's block for whatever (usually very good) reason and abandons his project mid-chapter, so to speak.

Mind you, Dickens was only really in it for the money. A labour of love is much harder - but, possibly, no less rewarding (if you're in the right frame of mind, that is - and can write).

Sorry, I'm rambling (see, not a writer :). Suffice to say, it's great to be reading the latest episodes in the story of your thoughts, which I, for one, always find entertaining, informative and thoroughly engaging.

Kind regards,
A. Reader

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Through a glass darkly. WitW has many layers of meaning and I could really only skim the surface. One could write a whole PhD about Mr Toad's fascination for modernity ephemera and his lack of stickability. Come to think of it, I am probably more of Mr Toad than Mole or Rat or Badger.

Dave, I have always been amazed, on a regular basis, to find how well read some rockers are.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Denverthen,

You must have been writing this whilst I was replying to the earlier comments.

I used to think this blogging lark was so ephemeral but I now believe it will be around in a thousand years, if humans still exist. My reasons for writing are not the money, though if someone paid me to do it, it would be nice, and I agree with you about Dickens, he lived in the shadow of his father's financial ruin and was propelled by fear of the same.

I had to stop and get off the carousel. I had become a slave to the blog and I was losing my way. I felt I had to clarify what I was doing and why I was doing it. There are of course, many reasons, but needing to write is a good one, just as artists need to paint and musicians need to play - even if it is only of interest to a few, but on the latter, that is crucial, for if nobody was interested, it becomes like the street born ranter who speaks to the air.

One day, perhaps my children will want to know who I am and what I was. Although my father was distant and drunk, he led an interesting life, though he was rarely up to telling me about it. This is perhaps the most compelling motive; that when the young weasels want to know, it is mostly all here, and they will cease to see me as an old man and remember that once, I too had a life.

Mrs R said...

You've made me realise that, although I've "seen" the story many times, and also read children's versions, I've never yet read the story in its original form.

I think I ought to remedy that some time soon.

denverthen said...

Brilliant stuff.

This burgeoning document of yours should provide pretty solid proof to the young weasels - and to their, even younger, weasels - that their dad not so much 'had a life' but, quite simply, loved every bit of the life he had (and, of course, will still love for many years to come!).

Joi de vivre is probably the only "thing" worth passing on from one generation to the next - because all else follows.

I suspect, and I suspect you do too, that any dusty memorystick that contains everything created on this particular outlet for that "love of life" gift will certainly one day become a treasured possession for future generations, but, interestingly, not only of new weasels.

That's assuming, of course, that once the final exhalation catches up with you, the dreaded "adminisrators" won't delete your online literary hard yards from the internet because they need the server space. "Server blocking" I'm sure they'll call it, and not long from now.

Back up your files!