Daily Archives: April 11, 2007

Messing About in Boats

`This has been a wonderful day!’ said he, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. `Do you know, I`ve never been in a boat before in all my life.’

`What?’ cried the Rat, open-mouthed: `Never been in a — you never — well I — what have you been doing, then?’

`Is it so nice as all that?’ asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

`Nice? It’s the only thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing — about — in — boats; messing — — ‘

On Sunday PBS aired a new production of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and I’m not sure what I think about it. Now I admit that I am not a fan of live action animal personification. I just don’t like grown-ups dressed-up as furry beasts — it creeps me out most of the time. So I did like that Ratty, Mole, Toad, and Badger were played as people with a few animal-like tics. And I did like that they were more or less playing either overgrown schoolboys (Rat, Mole, and Toad) or kindly schoolmaster/uncle (Badger). I mean, Grahame’s Edwardian children’s book seems basically a schoolboy’s dream —-lots of wonderful meals, games, adventurous play, and so forth. It was delightful to catch a glimpse of Anne Maxwell Martin as the jailer’s daughter and I have no complaint with any of the actors actually. The script writers over-focused on Toad, no doubt figuring that his story was the most exciting, but it made for a rather lightweight production overall.

The weakest aspects of the production for me were Ratty and Mole; while still sweet and humorous they are simply not sufficiently well developed as characters. Both are so poignant in the book, especially Mole. I think few of us who love the book can forget the scene when Mole finds his home, months after abandoning it to go play with Rat.

`I know it’s a — shabby, dingy little place,’ he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: `not like — your cosy quarters — or Toad’s beautiful hall — or Badger’s great house — but it was my own little home — and I was fond of it — and I went away and forgot all about it — and then I smelt it suddenly — on the road, when I called and you wouldn’t listen, Rat — and everything came back to me with a rush — and I wanted it! — O dear, O dear! —

Frankly I can’t imagine many kids enjoying the production. much less being intrigued enough afterwards to want to read the book. In fact, it made me wonder how many kids read it today. Now I’ve written often here and elsewhere of my attraction to the so-called classics. I just finished reading aloud Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and soon my class will be reading the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But both of these work today — I’m not so sure about The Wind and the Willows.

The story has such a dated feel; it is very much about a bunch of old boys (in the British public school tradition) and no girls “messing about,” there is some ugly class commentary (when you get to those inhabitants of the Wild Wood), one of the oddest odes to paganism or something ever, and there is hardly a female to be seen (not surprising since it sort of replicates a boys’ school).

So do kids read The Wind in the Willows much today? And if so, what do they think of it? Anyone want to convince me that this production was better than I think it was? Or anything else about this story, classics, and/or Grahame? I’m all eyes and ears!

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