Monday, December 29, 2008

Ratty, Mole, Toad and Badger make the century mark

One of the most enjoyable books I read to my son when he was growing up was Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. We shouldn't let 2008 pass without noting that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of that classic.

Gary Kamiya, writing for, is nearly rapturous in his praise of the book:
The pleasures of "The Wind in the Willows" are endless. Take the scene where Rat and Mole meet. Mole is shy. Rat rows across the river. Rat invites Mole to a picnic lunch. Afterward, Rat casually says, "Look here! I really think you had better come and stop with me for a little time." Mole accepts, moves into Rat's house, and as far as we know he is living there still. It's an evocation of friendship right out of a fairy tale, where the prince and the princess fall in love at first sight. But it's a fairy tale that Grahame makes real, capturing that moment when two people suddenly realize, without fanfare, that they'd rather spend time with each other than do anything else. . . .

And always, there is the glorious language. It is apples and oranges to compare Grahame and the two other masters of genre-blurring imaginative prose, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Grahame cannot rival Tolkien's epic grandeur, nor does he possess Lewis' double ability to create completely different imaginary worlds and weave vivid and intricate stories. But neither of those geniuses handle English the way he does.

Kamiya's long article about the book and its author is well worth reading. He discusses how Grahame came to write the book despite a life that was sorrowful and disappointing. Grahame created characters in his turn of the century animal kingdom that were comfortable and interesting.

Most of all they -- Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger -- were friends who, despite their idiosyncrasies and moods, all genuinely cared for one another.

Not a bad book for a child or an adult.

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