The wound in the willows
March 11, 2018 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Every famous story inspires fan fiction, but Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908) has inspired an unusual number of book-length extensions and reinterpretations. I’ve spent the last few months reading some of those tributes, discovering in the process a darkness just beneath the skin of my favorite children’s book.
posted by smoke (15 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
That was lovely, thank you for posting it! I need to go seek out Kij Johnson's work now.

One thing I accepted as a child but find puzzling as an adult is the humans, who seem to accept the animals as people and largely leave them alone. Now that I know a bit more about Grahame, I wonder if the animals are Scots and the humans are English. I'd have to reread it to see if that stands up. What a chore!
posted by Athanassiel at 1:57 PM on March 11

I need to go seek out Kij Johnson's work now.

That you most certainly must do. The Wind in the Willows has more or less been my favorite book since my father first read it aloud to my pre-school aged brother and me, and I reread it annually. Kij Johnson's book is as good a sequel and complement as I can imagine. Its corrections to the sexism and classism in the original are gently applied throughout rather than layered on too thick. And the main character exhibits the same streak of heroism and forgivable foibles I love in all the original Grahame characters. Last point and most important one, Johnson writes Ratty and Mole and Badger and Toad quite properly; you and I suspect Grahame would recognize them and approve of their portrayal here.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 2:27 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

I've probably read The Wind in the Willows 50 times, but I've never read any of these reinterpretations! Thank you for sharing, I'm definitely going to check some of them out. The book's world is very rich and interesting, in part because there are so many strange things about it that beggar explanation. Certainly the "proletarian uprising" bit about the stoats and weasels taking over Toad Hall occurred to me as well.

What's never occurred to me: any of the principals marrying a female animal of any sort! Even as a kid totally unaware of what homosexuality meant, I reckoned Rat and Mole were as good as married.
posted by potrzebie at 2:31 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

The thing about the humans that bugged me was how they don't appear until the automobiles do.

Now this isn't really that strange, except that before this moment you have a conversation between Badger and some of the other animals about how he built his palatial vaults.
‘It WOULD be astonishing indeed,’ said the Badger simply, ‘if I HAD done it. But as a matter of fact I did none of it—only cleaned out the passages and chambers, as far as I had need of them. There’s lots more of it, all round about. I see you don’t understand, and I must explain it to you. Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city—a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever.’
So before we have Mr Toad's fateful first glimpse of a motorcar, we are painted this picture of a world in which some past civilisation built grand cities and edifices that have now fallen to abandoned ruin. I always imagine this as a post-apocalyptic post-human sort of setting, right up until the paradoxical humans are crammed in and my headcanon falls to pieces!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:39 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

space hobo, I assumed Badger had moved into a buried Roman ruin, in keeping with the blatantly British setting.
posted by potrzebie at 2:41 PM on March 11 [16 favorites]

Yes, that makes perfect sense, but I was raised in the US and nowhere near any of the ancient ruins like Chaco Canyon. Still, it is the only hint that humans might have fit into the universe right up until they're ubiquitous.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:43 PM on March 11

From another review of TWitW:
The Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Grahame, a middle-aged banker, in a shining decade for children's literature. Much of what we know as the canon was produced between the years of 1902 and 1908: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter Pan, The Railway Children.
Which may be an indictment of childrearing in the 1880s and 1890s. The last Gilded Age and globalization.
posted by clew at 2:49 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

If you like Wind in the Willows, you really do owe it to yourself to check out The River Bank. I just bought the ebook and it's just perfect so far.
posted by potrzebie at 2:59 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

Yes, the Kij Johnson book is very, very good. One thing I enjoy - we see how Beryl gets her money. Even when I was a little kid, I didn't really understand why no one seemed to work but still had things that they'd obviously bought - Toad is recognizable as an independently wealthy person and lives in a house which was bought with human money, but the economics of the rest of the society was confusing to me.
posted by Frowner at 4:07 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

It's a pity that for some they don't realize the potential depth that can be found in children's literature. To be able to read with a child and to talk about what is read with the child is a remarkable experience. To have books that can talked about is required.
posted by njohnson23 at 5:34 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

I remember not liking this book , but maybe what happened was, I didn't like the person who read it to us in preschool, or the way they read it.
posted by thelonius at 5:41 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Good essay; Acknowledges weasels & stoats, but also touches on the haunting aspects.
posted by ovvl at 6:57 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

This really moved me. Thanks for posting it. The “honor of disbelieving” is such a true and kind aspect of one’s love of a book shaped by the inevitable failings of its author.
posted by peppercorn at 9:41 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I love The Wind in the Willows, but for me it's impossible to separate the book from Michael Hague's illustrations (like the one in the article's header). They are so pitch-perfect and so evocative that although I only read the book half a dozen times as a child I pored over the pictures hundreds of times. The picture of the piper at the gates of dawn, for example, forms a huge part of my personal childhood mythology.

I later became obsessed with Michael Hague's art, I've collected dozens of books he's illustrated, and although they are all wonderful, none of them comes close to The Wind in the Willows. I'm not sure there's ever been a better author/illustrator pairing.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:55 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

So go! And never darken our towels again!
posted by storybored at 9:00 PM on March 12

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