Wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame
London : Mammoth, 1993. ISBN 0749714131
(Many editions extant)
Many of us are collectors, and those of us who are bibliophiles are usually more inclined to be bitten by the collecting bug than not. Thankfully (or not!), my bibliophilic wife has different taste to me, and her book collecting runs to art, gardening, cookery, and children's classics. One book in particular that she loves is the one under review, and if it wasn't for her I would never have realized how many different iterations of it there have been. She recently brought home the edition listed at the head of this review, and it caught my eye as it had E.H. Shepard's wonderful illustrations included in colour. When I read this book in my childhood the edition I had contained these illustrations in black-and-white, so naturally I picked up the book and ended up reading it again.
And what a joy it was to do so! Memories fade over time, not helped in this books case owing to watching some fine filmed versions of the story over the years, so while some parts were familiar, others only activated very dim memories. As is usually the case, the films don't do the book justice - Ratty, Mole and Badger are curmugeonly figures, set in their ways, and Toad is wonderfully raffish. In fact the book reads in two parts - the familiar quartet of Rat, Toad, Badger and Mole, living like Edwardian gentlemen, and then the sub-plots involving Otter and his boy, and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a dream-like (opium-fuelled?) riff on fauns, satyrs and Pan.
This is less of a children's book than first appears, working on several levels, both as a morality tale and even somewhat of a social commentary. Although the book has lasted as a children's classic for 100 years, I do wonder if it will stay relevant for another 100 - the life that was lived then, on the river and in great houses, is becoming a dimmer memory, and to younger souls today is as distant as the Middle Ages.
Evocative of it's time, and evocative of childhood for many, perhaps I'm being too pessimistic about this books future - at least I know that I'll always have a copy (or two dozen!) on hand.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell