Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (TJed)

I recently finished reading “The Wind in the Willows” to the kids. Despite a little initial grumbling about “We already saw the movie” and “Didn’t we already read that one?”, as usual once the story started, they were drawn right in. By the end of the first chapter, they were bellowing “One More Chapter!”

I love this book in large part because of the language. It was originally published in 1908, long enough ago that author still considered eloquence in language not only a noble pursuit, but an essential tool in word craft. The descriptions of the natural world are so tantalizing, they make me want to bolt down the street of my tidy little suburb in search of some Wild Wood to get lost in. I am certain that if I turn just the right corner, it will be RIGHT THERE, waiting for me. I can almost smell it as I turn the pages of my well-worn old hardcover book. Okay, maybe that’s just mustiness; my copy is about fifty years old.

I also love this book because of the character. Not the “characters”, as much as the “character”. Rat and Mole, each in their own unique way, embody goodness, rightness, and the greatest of friendship. When Ratty is tempted to follow the relentless and soul-wrenching call to the South, Mole gently and very firmly holds Ratty until he begins to come back to himself. He begins talking of the beauties of home and hearth and the life that they live, until Rat realizes that he does not truly wish to give up the home that he knows and loves. But, Rat is still despondent, and Mole does not leave him in that state. Nor does he give Rat a “pep talk” to try to get him out of his depression. Mole shows an extraordinary empathy and understanding of his friend by quietly offering Rat a focus and outlet for his restless urgings.

“Presently the tactful Mole slipped away and returned with a pencil and a few half-sheets of paper, which he placed on the table at this friends elbow.
“It’s quite a long time since you did any poetry,” he remarked. “You might have a try at it this evening, instead of – well, brooding over things so much. I’ve an idea that you’ll feel a lot better when you’ve got something jotted down – if it’s only just the rhymes.”
“The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discrete Mole took occasion to leave the room, and when he peeped in again some time later, the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good deal more than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at least begun.”

I cried when I read that part to the kids. They, as usual, looked at me kind of funny. But, I think they’ve almost gotten used to me tearing up (okay, sometimes emitting a gasping sob) during the really touching, happy or sad parts of stories. There was just something so beautiful in that passage about the friendship and dedication between two friends, and something so deeply touching about one friend knowing the other so well that he could offer, in just the right way, just the right cure to another friend’s woe.

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