Thursday, December 10, 2015

Several fantastic things I forgot about The Wind in the Willows

You've probably read The Wind in the Willows. It's a well-regarded children's classic. But you kind of need to read it as an adult if you want to appreciate its glorious weirdness in full.

From my repeated readings as a kid, I remembered that Rat and Mole are close friends. What I did not remember is how that friendship came about. Mole meets Rat on the river bank; they go for a ride in Rat's boat; Mole isn't used to water travel and tips the boat over, drenching them both; Rat invites Mole home, where he promptly puts Mole in a dressing gown and slippers; AND MOLE NEVER LEAVES.

They become platonic life partners. They have picnics.

Rat is aggressively masculine, with his brace of pistols and knowledge of the Wild Wood, and Mole's bosom literally heaves at least once.

I also remember, of course, that Toad is addicted to motorcars and his friends have to lock him in a bedroom "till the poison has worked itself out of his system." Never mind the heavy substance-abuse and intervention undertones, how did I miss this?
At first Toad was undoubtedly very trying to his careful guardians. When his violent paroxysms possessed him he would arrange bedroom chairs in rude resemblance of a motorcar and would crouch on the foremost of them, bent forward and staring fixedly ahead, making uncouth and ghastly noises, till the climax was reached, when, turning a complete somersault, he would lie prostrate amidst the ruins of the chairs, apparently completely satisfied for the moment.
Don't pretend you're above giggling at this sort of thing.

And then . . . AND THEN, Otter's son goes missing, and Mole and Rat go out in the middle of the night on a search-and-rescue mission. They're rowing along when Rat hears mysterious heavenly music. He's completely enraptured by it and follows the sound to an island, where things get weird.
"This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me," whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. "Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!"
And then Mole is suddenly struck with awe, too, and there's all this flowery language that I won't make you read, which leads up to him lifting his head and---
He looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just falling away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward.
GOD IS A FAUN. Or a centaur. I'm not 100 percent clear on that. But even for someone who was obsessed with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this is an unusual development. And let it be noted that there's no mention of a deity before or after this. It's just animals wearing clothes and rowing in boats and eating cheese by the fire and---BOOM FAUN GOD.

Then they find the missing baby otter asleep between Faun God's hooves, and Faun God makes Mole and Rat forget that they ever saw him, because otherwise "the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the afterlives of little animals helped out of difficulties."

No, I mean, kids can totally relate
to the concept of soul-deep ennui.

And I haven't even gotten into the time Toad dressed up as a washerwoman and had to endure off-color jeers from all the men he passed on the street.

Everyone read this to your kids. Start now.

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