Santa in his/her infinite wisdom presented me with the “New Annotated Wind in the Willows” for being a nice boy during last year. I have this book in a myriad of editions designed and illustrated by a myriad of artists. This huge volume sums them up with footnotes and insights to the time, place and circumstances of the author, Kenneth Grahame.
I discovered “Wind in the Willows” in Mrs. Ector’s 5th grade class at Leesburg Elementary School. She, noticing my constant doodles of Batman and Hulk, and my fevered reading of Robert McCloskey’s brilliantly written and drawn, “Homer Price” (McCloskey was so much more than just “Make Way for Ducklings”, dammit), handed me a small tattered green-clothed book. The cover had gold embossed letters and a illustration of wildlife creatures looking up at a huge centaur-looking fellow playing a flute; it was my first look at “Wind in the Willows.”
In it was a world inhabited by Moles, Water Rats, Badgers and Toads all anthropomorphised with dandy vests, shoes, hats, hell, even motor cars. This wasn’t new, growing up on Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw, this was a universe known to all kids. But reading their adventures and how they seamlessly interacted with “human” society and taking on the mores of the society was a mind blowing experience. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that I even knew what “mores” were as a 10 year old boy occupied with The 3 Stooges, comic books and English rock and roll, but even then, these characters had me.
The shy to courageous Mole, the steady loyal Rat, brave, wise and stoic Badger and the wild, gregarious, iresponsible Toad (of Toad Hall), all taught me lessons of friendship, responsibility and courtesy I still try to hold on to today. And the most mysterious character of all I never grasped until later readings, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. His role of spiritual protector and the river-maker of all things natural and pure in a world of hopelesness and loss rings true in all our lives.
So whatever book holds a beloved spot in your soul from childhood, I ask you to rediscover it today, read and view it with your older eyes and let it take you to new journeys you thought long gone.