Wind in the Willows

Amy Harlib aharlib at
Sun Jul 6 07:41:36 EDT 2003

aharlib at
I do love the film version of The Wind in the Willows made by the Monty
Python blokes.  Anybody see this one?
'Tis a delight!

> 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
> 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
> 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
> >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?
> >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
> and they "aren't to be trusted".  (I think the unspoken "they will eat
> 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
> 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?  Also
> because they are armed, and one of them has fired a gun at the Toad, and
> take that seriously.  I do, anyhow.  If someone fires a gun at me I tend
> 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
> >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
> >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".  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.
> >But for Toad to be deprived of the opportunity
> >to fritter away the rest of his inheritance, it's made very clear, would
> >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"
> 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
> >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
> Hooray could pay it, and the townie couldn't.  This is blatently unfair;
> 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
> 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
> 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
> which presumably counts as theft?)
> >> Not liking the Mustelidae in general (Badger and Otter excepted) is a
> >> reasonable thing for any country-dweller, anyhow, without any stuff
> >> 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
> >> 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
> >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
> Grahame did, was what I was pointing out.  I was refering to The Badger
> 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
> and special...  Maybe he just liked the way they look.
> >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.
> 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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