The Wind in the Willows

October 18, 2011 at 10:09 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Worship | Leave a comment

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.  It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.

So begins the marvelous adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad in the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.  We recently finished reading this century-old novel together as a family, and we loved the escapades of the critters and the colorful, picturesque language.  This little book is full of fun yet good lessons in friendship, faithfulness, hospitality and circumspect behavior.  We were especially anxious to find out what happened to Toad on his wild and trouble-filled romps with a motor car.  Though I’ve complained about wordiness in other contexts, in The Wind and the Willows, the long, wordy sentences were very vivid and awe-inspiring.  The only negative was the difficulty of listening to such long sentences read out loud.  For instance, when Toad is put in prison, the description of where they locked him up is a one-sentence marathon going 231 words, which is roughly equivalent to the two paragraphs of this blog from the beginning to here!

Here is another great example.  When Mole and Ratty are on an outing, they come near the home Mole so quickly deserted in the beginning of the book, and something in the air grabs him.

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal’s intercommunications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word ‘smell,’ for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling.  It was one of those mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was.  He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him.  A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in its fullest flood.  Home!

In one of the more touching scenes, Mole and Rat are looking for a lost otter child and come across the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” a Christ figure and the One who completes their quest by drawing them to the missing child.  The chapter is a great description of what it means to fear God.

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground.  It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.  With difficulty he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently.  And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious.  He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden.  Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, 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 humourously, 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 fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in utter peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter.  All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never!  And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

If you are looking for a challenging, yet fun read for your children; if you want to read something together with them, even if they are teens like my daughter, then check out The Wind in the Willows.

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