Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Peter Hunt Queries "Wind in Willows"

The greatest case of mistaken identity in literature – and what follows may well seem to some readers as verging on blasphemy!

To judge from a quick poll of friends, acquaintances, students, and the ladies in the village shop,
The Wind in the Willows is fondly remembered, even by those who don’t actually remember reading it. It is a children’s book, it is about small animals – and it is somehow quintessentially English: for almost everyone I spoke to, it conjured up endless summer, boating on a quiet river, large hampers of food, a peaceful, unthreatening way of life. One or two people looked thoughtful and remembered being frightened by being lost in the wild wood, and some thought immediately of the wild and happy Toad, dashing about the lanes crashing motor cars. But for everybody, it’s a classic – a classic Children’s Book. How could it be anything else? We read it as children, we read it to children, and the hundreds of editions in print are clearly aimed at children, and live in the children’s book section of bookshops. It was even (some of my more erudite interlocutors pointed out) written for a child, and was everything that a children’s book should be – fun, safe, adventurous, and innocent. The idea that I had just produced an edition for adults was regarded as distinctly eccentric (although eccentric in a very English way, so that’s not so bad)...

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