Wednesday, 7 September 2011

September 2011: Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" and our next book

We're enjoying getting together on the first Wednesday morning of each month in the Children's Activity Room at Bath Library to talk about our books - old favourites and new discoveries.  Today was our fourth meeting, and we discussed Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908).

Once again, this has been an interesting experience for us all.  Experienced readers, we thought we knew the book well through various audio, TV and theatre productions, but quickly discovered that the unabridged text holds many surprises.  Lyrical and highly descriptive, with its anthropomorphic animal characters reminiscent of something of a "boys' club",  the book has two distinct threads - the jolly and rumbunctious stories of Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad underlining the value and nature of true friendship, sitting alongside the mystical and nostalgic commemoration of Nature; an allegory perhaps for the passing of a more rustic age.

We talked about Grahame's own life - his disrupted childhood, his unfulfilled academic ambitions and the early death of his only child - and how these aspects may have influenced his writing.  We also discussed the "A A Milne effect" and how Milne's dramatisation of Toad of Toad Hall has probably helped succeeding generations to become familiar with the inhabitants of the Wild Wood without needing to deal with the more lyrical and challenging aspects of the text.

Next month we are reading The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954), the first - and probably the best known - in her series of seven novels loosely tracing a family of the Roman Empire and then of Britain.  The book was filmed as a movie (The Eagle) which opened earlier this year to mixed reviews.   Directed by Kevin MacDonald it is now available on DVD.

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