The Wind in the Willows
I’ve finally read this book. I knew the story before. Surely everyone knows the awful Toad escaping from prison dressed as a washerwoman, solid Badger, the entrancing friendship of Ratty and Mole, and the fight for Toad Hall. All powerful images that have ensured the story’s popularity.
Terrible animations based on this story. “Poop poop!” The mournful longing for the excitement of a car. The strange intermixing between animals and humans. The easy access to food that even mice can access at their local shops. The idea that Toad can escape from prison, return home and there be no one in authority to think of re-acquiring him. (It is almost Kafka-esque in its bizarreness.) There are so many reasons to dismiss this book as childish nonsense.
And yet, it is a story that has the power to move one into thinking that your life has been changed because of it.
There are two particularly beautiful scenes in this book which both emphasise to me how different my viewpoint of books is to the general public. There is plenty of ‘action’ and ‘excitement’ in this novel to keep what I imagine the average reader is, satisfied. These sections are to me distractions: like car chases, or fight scenes in movies – time to make a cup of tea, to have a wee, or glance at twitter.
I don’t believe I can ever be a successful writer without pampering to this desire for action that I don’t understand. I can’t explain the glorious feeling of bewilderment, off-ness, and yet at the same time glorious enrapture I get when contemplating Kafka and the two scenes I’m about to talk about in this book. I want to capture this feeling with my writing – perhaps only for one in a hundred, one in thousand readers but to those readers the feeling will be precious. I don’t know if I have the skill. But I have the desire. Is that enough?
Back to the book. Sometimes I feel like Toad. My enthusiasm runs away with me. I become too full of myself. I need taking down a peg or two.
These two scenes then.
First there is the time that Otter loses a child. Mole and Ratty can not sleep and decide to go down the river in a search. They are overcome by a sense of yearning, of longing. Music intertwined with perfect silence that shows the world in all its glory – colours and scents that surpass normality.
“Trembling he … raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked into the very eyes of the friend and helper; saw the backwards sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight,”
They come face to face with Pan, the God of wild animals and between his hooves they find the missing otter child. This is such a beautiful moment of rapture. It makes the senses stir. Language used like wine.
The other scene happens later. Ratty meets a sea rat and listens to tales of adventure, of the sea, of warm sun-lit lands. Tales that transform themselves into sea- shanties, sea-gulls cries and “the soft thunder of the breaking wave.” Ratty is mesmerised and begins to follow the sea rat to his next voyage before Mole comes and holds him back and eventually cures him of this unbearable longing to find adventure.
Yearning! This is what I think the two scenes have in common. In each of them you can feel the longing which is a pleasant sensation even when the need is not met, perhaps even more so when left unfulfilled.
Author’s Meandering Homage
by Aaron D. Key