As I mentioned, I nearly cried as I finished reading my son Winnie-the-Pooh a few weeks ago. I determined to find another book like it.
I recalled watching a movie as a child about a Mole and a Badger and a Toad. I hardly remembered the story of The Wind and the Willows, but knowing it had the distinction among some as a classic, I determined to read it next. Surely, I thought, this world of talking animals would have some of the same magic as Christopher Robin’s world of imagination and animals.
I was sorely disappointed.
The Wind in the Willows differed in many ways from Winnie-the-Pooh’s world and it lacked any degree of magic. (Note: I accidentally picked up a “slightly edited” version that left out two entire chapters. Only when I went back and read the complete text did I realize how much I missed. Why do editors cut the parts that they cut?)
First of all, while the characters are talking animals (Mole, Rat, Badger, Otter, and Mr. Toad), they are grown-up animals. The animals sit and smoke; the animals drink beer; Mr. Toad drives a car and gets in trouble with the law. For one expecting a world of imagination I was sorely disappointed: they were simply human-like characters in animal disguise.
Secondly, the writing felt stilted and passive. While I know styles of writing change through time, many “older” books are still pleasant and easy to read (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll comes to mind). I didn’t feel like this style of writing drew me in to the action at all. As I read aloud to my son, I found myself stumbling over passages and rereading them for my own comprehension. Maybe that’s my own ignorance revealed, but I did not love reading this aloud. (Some passages have nice imagery, but overall, I didn’t like it.)
Finally, to me, I felt that the major plot was lacking. While some chapters were stand-alone stories, the adventures of Mr. Toad were a constant thread throughout the book, and those adventures left me with a sense of “you mean he got away with it?!” (Caution! Giveaways in this paragraph! Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know.) Mr. Toad is very pompous and never believes he deserves punishment; he is above the law. In this book, he steals a car and drives away. When he is apprehended, he fights the officers. He is sentenced to 20 years in prison and then he escapes from prison. The subsequent chapters follow his repeated escapes from other people. In the end, Mr. Toad has supposedly learned to be humble. He stops bragging. He sends money and a thank you to the people who helped him escape, and so forth. What bothered me was he didn’t go back and do his time in prison. Yes, 20 years is a long sentence. But one can’t expect to escape from prison, go home, and live a reformed life. Mr. Toad needed to make up his debt to the community.
Because I was expecting more and comparing this book to Winnie-the-Pooh, I was very disappointed. However, there were some beautifully written passages; maybe if you approach it as a story for older children it would be more satisfying to read. For me, though, the lack of just rewards for Mr. Toad, who was actually a criminal, takes away anything that I liked about this book. I feel he wouldn’t really have learned his lesson unless he did some of his time in jail. After all, what is this teaching the reader?
Have you read this book? Did Mr. Toad bother you? Or, am I just too critical of “classic” literature?
I guess I would not consider this book “classic.”