Friday, January 05, 2007

Things I dig: The Wind in the Willows

Winston Churchill once famously said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." That doesn't really have anything to do with anything, I just thought I'd quote ol' Churchill in order to raise the tone of this post which is essentially just me rambling for a couple hundred words about how many times I've re-read what is essentially a children's book.

The children's book in question is The Wind in the Willows which is, embarrassingly enough, probably my second favourite book of all time. Written by Kenneth Grahame it charts the charming, well written adventures of four talking animals Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad in an idealized depiction of rural England.
The plot is kind of hard to summarize because it is somewhat episodic but I guess the overall story is wrapped around the specific character arcs of Mole and Toad, with Mole learning to be more assertive and brave and Toad learning to be less of a massive asshole.

Of the four main characters, Mole sort of acts as the POV for the whole book with the whole world of the novel introduced through him. Initially he finds the novel's setting overwhelming which is kinda cute if you've ever been to rural England and seen it's overwhelming combination of cows, hedges, drunken old hobos and more cows. But Toad is totally the star. He's a cheeky, naughty, self-involved, indulgent, spoilt, materialistic, fickle bastard whose selfishness almost gets all his friends killed, but he's so charismatic that you can't help but love him anyway. Ratty is likeable enough as well. And Badger is appropriately mysterious; when I was a kid he was my fave. They don't really have story arcs like Mole and Toad but they're pretty well drawn regardless.

The books centres around two different themes. On one level, it's narrative revolves around an aesthetic appreciation of the bubolic English countryside somewhat indicative of Romanticism. You know, all that Wordsworth/Coleridge "I love flowers!" nonsense you were probably forced to read in secondary school but here it's actually good and stuff.

On another level The Wind in the Willows works as a nice little critique of Britain's class system at the start of the twentieth century. For example, Toad is clearly intended as a critique of the indulgent frivolousness of the British aristocracy, especially when he completely takes over the book in its second half. The river bank characters like Ratty and Mole obviously represent the Middle Class because they both have nice little houses and don't have to work all that hard for what they've got. And the Wild Wood characters are probably the working classes with the weasels and stoats representing football hooligans or something. Hmm...talking animals critiquing British class systems? Nice plagiarism George Orwell!

But despite being a charming look at rural England, and class structures, the book also contains a batshit crazy chapter in which Ratty and Mole have some sort of trippy spiritual awakening involving the greek god Pan. It's a little bit great, more so when you consider that it was written by a conservative British banker. Funnily enough, the title of the chapter would later inspire the name of probably my favourite album of all time, Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn which is a nice bit of synergy between all my fave things. I'm still actually looking for the link between Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the best actor in the history of anything ever, Bill Murray.

The Wind in the Willows has been the subject of several live action adaptations. I've only seen two of them, the Monty Pythony one and the 80' stop-motion one. The Monty Python one is really weird and features Eric Idle and Michael Palin running around in face paint. It's total arse. I used to love the stop-motion one when I was a kid but I watched it again a few years ago and it wasn't all that good either. So forget all film adaptations of Wind in the Willows. Just read the goddamn book ya pleb!


Hoardmeister said...

A deep, dark confession that you must tell no one, my dear Captain.

I have never read this book.

Oh, dear, I forgot, blogs are public. Whoops.

Captain Great said...

That's alright.

I've never seen Citizen Kane but we'll keep that one just between us. I have my reputation as a cultured bon vivant to think of!

Hoardmeister said...

Thank GOD. Now I safely feel superior to you again.

However, you are indeed a cultured bon vivant, as we both know.

Johnny Strike said...

Citizen Kane is overrated.

Captain Great said...

Yeah, I had a feeling it would be.

I mean, I've heard people call it the best movie of all time but everyone knows the best movie ever made is Gremlins 2: The Next Batch!

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Anonymous said...

As A.A. Milne stated, the book Wind in the Willows takes you on - you don't take it on.