Wind in the Willows

Charles Butler hannibal at
Sun Jul 6 03:08:30 EDT 2003


> As far as I know it is never suggested that the hundreds of mustelidae
> involved had no homes of their own, BTW.

I don't think I suggested it either, did I?

>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.

They do indeed - cowed into proper deference too! As we were made to sing in
school assembly: "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, He
made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate." And of course the
book sets things up so as to make us feel that this is the right and proper
conclusion, and one in which a 'natural' order is restored.

> >Criminality may be in the eye of the beholder here. Toad, for example
> >only convicted criminal in this book), has been guilty of reckless
> >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
> were still in it at the time so he didn't "intend permanently to deprive".
> Maybe he kidnapped them?

That's an interesting legal question! I don't have the book to hand, so I
may well have missed things, but I'd be happy to settle for taking and
driving away with a good helping of criminal damage. (In mitigation for
Toad, I think it was the same car on both occasions.) But didn't Toad also
bribe the washerwoman, now I come to think of it? So we must add corruption
to the list.

(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.)

You could read it like that (if you're fond of subtexts and such :-)) but I
think it means what it says. The Potter example is a good deal more
explicit - the step from 'he was put in a pie' to 'he was
eaten' is surely more smaller and more natural than that from 'they aren't
to be trusted' to
'they will kill and eat you'.

  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
> who were hunting him, were the stoats and the weasels -- don't we?

Well, he perhaps *felt* they were hunting him - but if they had been doing
seriously Ratty would have found little more than a well-chewed mole carcass
on his arrival, and we'd have been in quite a different kind of book! Giving
him a fright seems nearer the mark, possibly preparatory to relieving him of
his keys and pocket book. None of the animals in this book are shown eating
the food that their real-life equivalents would eat, I think (does Mole ever
sit down to a hearty earthworm salad?) so why assume that the mustelidae are

This episode always reminds me more (I don't say 'means' or 'represents',
mind - I'm just giving my impressions) of a naive chap who wanders into a
rough part of town and loses his way: it conveys vividly the disorientation,
the way everything can suddenly seem threatening. A bit like I imagine I'd
feel if I suddenly found myself in South Central LA, perhaps, or (an apter
example) when those Psammead children find themselves (as I think they do at
one point, though it may be the Bastables) in a dodgy part of the East End.

Didn't someone writer a book which tells this whole story from the stoats'
and weasels'
point of view, incidentally? Which would certainly be relevant to this
discussion. Called Wild Wood, or something similar.

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

Absolutely - this is really the main point I was trying to make. The book
makes it very difficult to take Toad's actions seriously, and deliberately
so. It uses a kind of rhetoric (involving emphasis, selection, focalization,
and all the other tricks of the storyteller's trade) to make us feel the
mustelidae's crimes (and even their horrible wedge-shaped faces!) as hateful
and threatening, and those of Toad as comic, or harmless misdemeanours, or
even justified, and that this rhetoric both reflects and reinforces a
certain ideology (or set of attitudes, if you prefer) partly based on class.

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.

I don't quite see him in the Lone Outlaw category! Though this is very much
how he sees himself in one or two of his more bumptious moments. But he's
not exactly Robin Hood, is he? Friar Tuck, possibly...

> >(No scene showing how the bargewoman became destitute after the
> >theft of her horse, for example, or how the laundry-woman lost her job
> >had to go to the workhouse...
> I think you'll find that "the bargewoman was, with some trouble, sought
> and the value of her horse discreetly made good to her".

Fair enough - I'd forgotten that.

And there seems
> little evidence that the washerwoman lost her job: she is carefully (at
> 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.

I think her fate was much more uncertain - and that though this was indeed
the outcome they were hoping for, they didn't hope with any great

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

Indeed. If I were an ideological critic (which mantle I have assumed purely
for the purposes of this thread, you understand, and will soon cast off!) I
would make this point at every opportunity.

> I don't think that twenty years' imprisonment is exactly a smack on the
> wrist.

It's not - but my Oxford example was based on the real world, and Toad's
sentence is given in a fictional context that makes liberal use of comic
exagerration (and is also designed to increase our sympathy for Toad - that
rhetoric again!).

> >(Why except Badger and Otter
> >from the general country-dweller condemnation of the mustelidae, by the
> Grahame did, was what I was pointing out.

Ah. I wondered if that's what you meant - your original sentence was a bit

> >And I promise you, WitW, really *is* one of my favourite books. That's
> >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.

Oh, me too! He's Archer to a T (a Model-T, probably). Weird to think that
Toad Hall is the Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Thus are two pre-WWI  classics

> 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.

I share all those preferences. :-) My favourites are the Dulce Domum and
Seafaring Rat chapters. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn always gives me a
shiver down my spine too, though I hear it's considered horribly mawkish by
some. But then I'm the one who cried at Charles Lamb's 'Dream Children'...


To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list