Wind in the Willows

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Jul 5 15:56:39 EDT 2003


Charlie replied to me:

>I'd agree that the rabbits and
>field-mice to resemble a type of working class person who 'knows their
>place', and are thus not going to be found threatening. Unlike those
>anarchists who take over empty buildings and have the temerity to live in
>them...

One might reply (having had a certain amount to do with the squatters'
movement) that there is a difference between the peaceful occupation of
vacant premises, and the armed and forcible eviction of the caretakers of a
premises.  "A band of weasels, armed to the teeth", accompanied by "a body
of desperate ferrets" and "a company of skirmishing stoats who stuck at
nothing", were what invaded Toad Hall, not a couple of unarmed homeless
persons who made a point of finding an open window or door, since "breaking
and entering" was a criminal offence.  (Well, all right, one to break the
window and another an hour later to gain access through a window that was
broken when we found it, honest guv.)  "They took and beat them with
sticks, those two poor faithful creatures", I seem to remember.  Which is
assault and battery, potentially grievous bodily harm, not mere trespass.

As far as I know it is never suggested that the hundreds of mustelidae
involved had no homes of their own, BTW.  They appear to have been ipso
facto owners of a large tract of woodland in which they lived until they
made their foray into Toad Hall.  They return home after their eviction.

>Criminality may be in the eye of the beholder here. Toad, for example (the
>only convicted criminal in this book), has been guilty of reckless driving,
>multiple counts of robbery,

Two?  No, three: two cars and a horse, counting the car he drove into the
pond, but that's not technically robbery, I don't think, because the owners
were still in it at the time so he didn't "intend permanently to deprive".
Maybe he kidnapped them?

>and breaking jail. His friends are all
>accessories (in that they did not report his whereabouts to the
>authorities), and the whole lot

four including the Toad; ie three of his friends

>of them engage in a mass physical assault on the stoats and weasels

by whom they are outnumbered very considerably

(Not the stoats *and* the weasels, anyway.  The elitist weasels were
occupying the house; those less-equal animals, the stoats, were on
sentry-duty in the garden.)

>I just ask - why do we take
>the criminality of the stoats and weasels seriously, and not that of toad
>and friends?

Because it is clear that the area they generally occupy (the Wild Wood) is
a no-go area, as witness the terrified rabbit whom the Mole encounters and
the fact that the Mole is warned not to venture there because it isn't safe
and they "aren't to be trusted".  (I think the unspoken "they will eat you"
is probably understood by the child.  Like "your father had an accident
there: he was put in a pie by Mrs McGregor" in Peter Rabbit.)  Also because
of the Mole's terrifying evening in the Wild Wood: though they are not
named at the time, we know when we meet them later that the little
wedge-shaped faces that looked at him with malice and hatred and then
vanished back into holes, and the unseen whistlers and the unseen patterers
who were hunting him, were the stoats and the weasels -- don't we?  Also
because they are armed, and one of them has fired a gun at the Toad, and we
take that seriously.  I do, anyhow.  If someone fires a gun at me I tend to
take it very seriously indeed.

Also of course because the Toad is a buffoon, who takes himself so
seriously that nobody else can.

>Why are some kinds of crime, and of criminal, more alarming
>than others?

Armed violence is generally more alarming than robbery without violence, I
think.  I find it so, anyhow.  (And the crime for which Toad gets fifteen
years, cheeking a policeman, isn't what I'd call particularly alarming!)

>Is it not partly to do with the fact that Toad is a landed
>squire, and that his crimes - no, 'larks', perhaps - therefore don't really
>matter, and that the structure and narration of the book all militate
>towards this conclusion?

It might be partly to do with the fact that the Toad is acting alone and
without using unprovoked violence (in fact his theft of the horse occurs
only after he has himself been assaulted) and can therefore be seen at
least slightly as a Lone Outlaw; which is a type the English have always
had a soft spot for.

>(No scene showing how the bargewoman became destitute after the
>theft of her horse, for example, or how the laundry-woman lost her job and
>had to go to the workhouse...

I think you'll find that "the bargewoman was, with some trouble, sought out
and the value of her horse discreetly made good to her".  And there seems
little evidence that the washerwoman lost her job: she is carefully (at her
own instigation) gagged and bound and dumped in a corner, in order to
convey the impression that she is "the victim of circumstances over which
she had no control".   I bet the gaoler's daughter made sure her Aunt was
not left in difficulty over the matter.

>But for Toad to be deprived of the opportunity
>to fritter away the rest of his inheritance, it's made very clear, would be
>real disaster!)

I'm sure the various boatbuilders and canary-coloured-cartwrights will be
delighted if he is allowed to do so!

>In this book, as in the society in which it was written, double standards
>apply.

As in every society, really.  The real double standards are those of and
about the Toad, who is constantly being described as "an honest fellow" and
other such rubbish, usually just before he does something underhand, tells
a lie, or pretends to a penitence he doesn't really feel and certainly
doesn't act on.

>When an Edwardian undergraduate of Oxford University
>commits criminal damage he may get a night
>in the cells to sober up, but his coeaval from the Town may well get sent to
>jail. That's just the way it was (is?) in England.

More likely they each got a night in the cells to sober up, and then, from
the magistrate the following morning, got the same fine; but the loathesome
Hooray could pay it, and the townie couldn't.  This is blatently unfair; or
rather it is utterly fair, but unjust.  (And if the Hooray had socked a
policeman, rather than just trying to steal his helmet, he quite likely
would get a prison sentence.)

I don't think that twenty years' imprisonment is exactly a smack on the
wrist.  And the criminal damage committed to eg the Water Rat's boat, or to
the structure of Toad Hall, is not followed by prosecution, and nor is the
battery committed on the Mole and the Badger or the criminal assault on the
Toad, so we have no idea what sentence a stoat would have got for these
offences.  (They also consume the food and drink they find on the premises,
which presumably counts as theft?)

>> Not liking the Mustelidae in general (Badger and Otter excepted) is a very
>> reasonable thing for any country-dweller, anyhow, without any stuff about
>> them representing the working classes. They are smelly, vicious,
>> unreasonable creatures with sharp teeth, in the main, and have a
>reputation
>> (which they absolutely deserve) for going into a mindless killing frenzy
>> when they have once shed blood and smelt it.
>I think you may be mixing up real stoats and weasels with the ones in
>Grahame's book. The latter are threatening, but - like Hannibal Hayes and
>Kid Curry - they never kill anyone. Nor do water rats really go around in
>rowing boats. In fact the book is riddled with factual inaccuracies of this
>sort, as one of its early reviewers complained!

I'm not; but if the book needed villains, animals a country-dweller would
already have reason to dislike make fairly obvious villains, no?

>(Why except Badger and Otter
>from the general country-dweller condemnation of the mustelidae, by the way?

Grahame did, was what I was pointing out.  I was refering to The Badger and
The Otter, individuals whom KG didn't make villainous despite their being
of the same animal family as his villains.  Maybe he thought they were rare
and special...  Maybe he just liked the way they look.

>And I promise you, WitW, really *is* one of my favourite books. That's why
>I'm so hard on it. In America they call it tough love...

One of mine, too, so I do my best not to be too filled with irritation at
the loathesome Toad.  Never did like him.  Like him even less now that I
can't think of him without being reminded of That Man Archer.

My dislike of one criminal doesn't make me like his criminal opponents
better, though.  Toad and the stoats-and-the-weasels are neither of 'em
pleasant; but I do love the Mole, and I find the Rat very sympathetic, and
the Otter is a Good Egg, so I suppose if they and the Badger insist on
taking up the cudgels (literally) in the Toad's defence I am obliged to go
along with what I regard as their wrong-headedness.  I just prefer the
sections in which the Toad is elsewhere.

Minnow


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