Thursday, February 23, 2012
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
I'm just going to say it: Toad gets the shaft.
Many of us place The Wind in the Willows in some idyllic brain-nook, even those of us (like me, until now) who have never read it. Part of this designation must be the title, which just sounds romantic. Perfect. Lovely.
Who better to embody freedom than the Toad? (Not even the J. Thaddeus of Disney fame, but the real Toad himself.) He is the only main character in the book willing to live his life. He embraces those aspects of existence that we wish we would tackle more often: He takes risks. He goes for the adventure even when it's beyond reason. He lets the wind blow through his hair (okay, no one ever said Mr. Grahame was anatomically accurate in his descriptions).
If you like your children's books with morals and "upstanding exemplars," how about this: Toad refuses to bow to peer pressure. He thrives on individuality and resists conformity. He proves entirely resourceful, particularly when he thinks on his feet.
Toad is what we want to be, and what we want our children to be.
What does Mr. Grahame do with this fantastic character? First of all, he refuses to acknowledge that The Wind in the Willows is Toad's story. Toad is his best character, the only one with any plot arc of any worth and consistency, and yet he gets relegated to every other chapter. But then, oh, then the offense grows much worse. Mr. Grahame decides he must grind Toad into a pulp. He cannot have such frivolity, such carefree nature, such abandon running amok through his idyllic landscape, through his neighborhood-association world.
No. Toad must be taught a lesson. Toad must be broken. Toad must learn that civility and decorum are more valuable than expression.
We're meant to finish the book believing that Toad is a changed Toad. That Toad is a repentant Toad. That Toad will never again gallivant in a motor-car or even walk farther than the end of his own driveway.
Poop poop, I say! I haven't believed Toad every other time he reforms. I'm not going to believe him this time, either! And nor should I! A spirit like Toad's requires more than enforced stuffiness to come tumbling down! More than so-called friends dictating his standard of living! Those chains shall contain Toad as well as prison did -- which is to say, Toad will break free!
The Toads of the world always find a way. Poop poop!