Friday, November 9, 2007

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Funny story: Kenneth Grahame couldn't find a publisher for Wind in the Willows, and so he sent it to the president of the United States at the time, Teddy Roosevelt, who had been a fan of his childhood memoir The Golden Age. Roosevelt didn't care for it, but his wife picked it up and started reading it to their children--and then, as Roosevelt overheard the book being read aloud, slowly came to like it and recommended it to his own American publisher. The rest is history!

I told that story because I didn't have much else to say about this book. I never read it as a kid, but I was pretty familiar with it by the cartoon film and it's various spinoffs. It tells the story of Mole and his friend Rat, and their friend Mr. Toad. Mole and Rat represent different class archetypes--Mole being the lower class and rat the middle class. They do things like go boating and walking through the woods and stuff. These sections of the book, I think, are supremely boring and their main characters awfully dull. The themes--most of which center around an appreciation for the outdoors and "simple living," along with a sort of wistful suggestion of childhood's implicit innocence. Boring.

But I did like Toad--the wealthy proprietor of Toad Hall--who is the antithesis of those things: vain, proud, extravagant, and obsessive. Midway in the book Toad gets on a kick where all he does is buy automobiles and drive them like a jackass until he crashes them. Awesome. Then, after Mole and Rat try to intervene, he escapes their clutches, steals a car, crashes it, and goes to jail. Awesome. He's the quintessential id-character. When he escapes from jail by dressing as a washer-woman, he ends up back at Toad Hall to find that it's been taken over by stouts and weasels, and so he, Mole, Rat, and the not-yet-mentioned Badger storm it with pistols and swords to take it back. Not only is that badass, it's meant to mirror Odysseus' return to Ithaca disguised as a begger in The Odyssey. Wind of the Willows is loosely modeled on that epic, though the particulars seem to escape me.

WTF moment: At one point in this book, Toad brushes his hair. What.

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