Can any book be more quintessentially English than The Wind in the Willows? I blame it for my early stages of Anglophilia, but I’ve only very recently realize it was originally a book. I knew it first through the Thames Productions adaptation.
I have fond memories of not only the show, but also, strangely, of Thames’ intro. When it came up you knew you were in for a treat, and although I know it was also the intro to other shows, in my memory it’s forever attached to The Wind in the Willows.
Ah to be a kid in the 80s in Portugal! I’ve no idea why, but on top of the ones dubbed in Portuguese, we got a huge mix of cartoons dubbed in other languages (originals were usually Japanese) and then subtitled in Portuguese. I can still sing parts of the generic of Alice im Wunderland and Ferdy the Ant in German, Les Mystérieuses Cités d’Or in French, Captain Planet (We‘re the Planeteers, you can be one to!) in English and Boes Boes in Dutch. Others were left in their original language and only subititled, like the soccer cartoon Tsubasa (Japanese – do you remember the Japan vs. Brasil game? A classic!) and The Tale of Tsar Saltan (Russian).
But I digress. The Wind in the Willows was very different from I was expecting. The biggest surprise was that Grahame alternates the adventures of Toad, Mr. Badger, Ratty and Mole with slower chapters that, although still involving the characters, are more lyrical and focused on things like love of home, friendship and the wonder of small things. In theory, these changes in mood could become contrived, but Grahame does it so naturally that you can’t help feeling that all works wonderfully.
It was a great and beautiful discovery, these thoughtful and happy sections. More nostalgia-happy than puppy-happy, and some parts got me all teary.
My favorite moment was when Mole, who had lived with Ratty a long time and was having too much fun to notice time fly, noticed a familiar smell while walking in the forest. The smell of his long-forgotten home.
Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day’s work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.
Also loved the descriptions of food, in particular of Mr. Badger’s winter storage. Could his home be a better safe haven, especially after you were lost in a cold, unknown and dark forest? Grahame’s descriptions of domestic bliss can only compete with those by Mrs. Gaskell.
Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment.
I understand the chapter “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is the general favorite and I can well understand why. This is the moment when The Wind in the Willows really goes beyond “children’s book” and becomes, simply, a “Classic”. Still, my favorite, the one that really made the book for me, was “Wayfarers All”. It’s about how the Water Rat gets seduced by the nomadic lifestyle of his friend the Sea Rat. It appealed to my wanderlust streak and rang true in many moments. It starts:
The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why.
I read this in a tattered second-hand copy but want to get a beautifully illustrated edition for my collection, to read to any future children.
I’ll leave you with the gang singing The Open Road:
Other thoughts: Just Books, The Literate Mother, somewhere i have never travelled, Rebecca Reads, Books ‘N Border Collies, A library is the hospital of the mind, Books Under Skin, Books for Breakfast, Drinks for Dinner (yours?)