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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


The Wind in the Willows

The Annotated Wind in the Willows. By Kenneth Grahame; introduction by Brian Jacques; edited with a preface and notes by Annie Gauger. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 384 pages. 978-0-393-05774-4. $39.95.

The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition. By Kenneth Grahame; edited by Seth Lerer. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard U.P., 2009. 273 pages. 978-0-674-03447-1. $35.00.

The Illustrators of The Wind in the Willows, 1908-2008. By Carolyn Hares-Stryker. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009. 192 pages. 978-0-7864-3948-5. $55.00.

(This review originally appeared in Mythlore 107/108. Portions of this review on Hares-Striker’s book will appear in Reference Reviews.)

Reviewed by Janet Brennan Croft

Three major books are out this year to celebrate the 2008 centennial of The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s classic fantasy of the Edwardian English countryside.

Annie Gauger, in the acknowledgments to the Norton annotated edition, reports that an advisor once told her that “doing an annotated ‘Willows’ is roughly the literary equivalent of building the space shuttle single-handed” (371), and indeed it must have been a daunting task, considering that the two annotated editions between them still leave work to be done, allusions to be ferreted out, and mysteries to be explained.

The Norton edition includes a great deal of supplemental material, much of it biographical in nature. It begins with an appreciation by Brian Jacques, himself a well-known author of anthropomorphic animal fantasies. Annie Gauger’s preface is primarily biographical, though there is some publishing history in addition to material concerning Grahame’s childhood, career, and marriage. The following section, “Alastair Grahame and The Merry Thought,” concerns the “newsletter” Grahame’s only child produced with the help of his nurse, Naomi Stott, and includes letters and reproductions of illustrations. Alastair, alas, died young at the age of twenty, most likely a suicide (though it was ruled an accident). The next essay, on illustrators and editions of The Wind in the Willows, covers only the major early illustrators, but offers some fascinating analysis of the influence of the figure of Pan on other literature and art of the period. For more contemporary illustrators, Hares-Stryker’s book is far more complete. Illustrations by various artists are reproduced throughout the text of the story, but the non-glossy paper makes a surprising difference in the brightness of the colors and the sharpness of the lines compared to the same pictures in the Harvard edition.

Annotations of a work as firmly set in its historical milieu as this one should give the reader a familiarity with the mind-set of the place and time as reflected in such diverse things as its costume, entertainments, superstitions, domestic arrangements, children’s games, food, popular culture, forms of transportation, slang, and so on. Alas, there are a number of distracting errors in the annotations in this edition. For example, on p.274 the characterization of Badger as “never a [...] a very smart man” is taken to refer to his intelligence rather than his appearance, in spite of the clear evidence of the context of the quotation; on p.278 the annotation for the word “salon” initially confuses the two meanings of the word (a room for receiving guests and a literary/social gathering); on p.280 the annotator seems unaware that “I’ll learn them” was indeed once proper English and meant exactly the same as “I’ll teach them,” in spite of its later non-standard associations (see the OED, learn, v., section II); and on p.288, the example given for the literary antecedent of Mole’s war cry, “A Mole! A Mole!” is Richard III’s cry of “A horse! A horse!” in Shakespeare’s play, which makes no sense — a more apt Shakespearean example would be “A Talbot! A Talbot!” from King Henry VI part 1, II.1, for a traditional battle-cry of this sort is based on the family or clan name of the warrior.

The book concludes with several additional appendices. The Letters section reproduces a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son Alastair during 1907 which formed the basis of Toad’s adventures, and over fifty letters from Alastair’s nanny Naomi Stott to his parents covering the same time period and a little beyond. Additional appendixes include a list of the contents of Alastair Grahame’s library in 1911, excerpts from selected reviews of The Wind in the Willows (showing a very mixed critical reception), a report of Grahame’s views on abridgement, and Grahame’s essay “The Rural Pan” from his collection Pagan Papers. Gauger’s bibliography is a little broader in scope than Lerer’s, including more general sources and contemporary literature. The volume is unindexed.

The Harvard annotated edition includes a 43-page introductory essay by Seth Lerer which usefully locates the book within its Edwardian milieu, the post-Victorian turn towards “the mysterious and the unseen” (3), as well as within the whole body of Grahame’s work. The Edwardian era, source of so many of the classic children’s fantasies which were strong childhood influences on the Inklings, was a liminal period poised between nostalgia for a golden, bucolic vision of an idealized Victorian past and the half-eager, half-uneasy anticipation of a fast-paced, exciting, nearly science-fictional future full of “technological possibility” (3). Lerer speaks of the tension between home (invoking Ruskin’s ideas on contentment and orderliness) and the open road, and the importance of margins, gates, and rivers for Grahame as markers of the boundaries between them and as means of escape and return.

Toad in particular is seen as a locus for these clashing ideas of Victorianism and modernity, of the twin lures of home and the road; and in the introduction and particularly in the annotations for Chapter 6: Mr. Toad, Lerer invokes the Edwardian fascination with the newly emerging study of psychology, and especially the influence of Kraft-Ebing’s Textbook of Insanity, as sources for Toad’s extravagant personality. Also particularly interesting are the annotations to Chapter 7: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Chapter 9: Wayfarers All, which seek out the sources of Grahame’s lush language and nature imagery in the Romantic poets he loved to read. Another, shorter essay after the text comments on “Illustrators and Illusion,” thoughtfully discussing some of the key early illustrators and the way they influenced the positioning and marketing of the book as a children’s story rather than as an adult fantasy. There are black and white illustrations by Ernest Shepard throughout, and a glossy insert of color plates by a selection of artists. The volume concludes with a helpful bibliography of scholarly primary and secondary sources, but does not include an index.

Carolyn Hares-Stryker’s book provides a wealth of information on the many illustrators, both well-known and obscure, who have tackled the peculiar problems of illustrating this tale. Illustrators are presented in chronological order by date of the edition they illustrated. Stills from some animated and stop-motion television and motion picture productions are included. Most entries provide information such as a brief biography of the artist, information on their training and experience, a short analysis of their technique and style, a list of their other works, and so on. Also included are sample illustrations from that artist’s version of the tale, unfortunately primarily in black and white. The most intriguing entries incorporate extracts from interviews with the artists, describing their sense of connection to Grahame’s book, the research they did, their working methods, how satisfied they were with their own work, and so on.

Quite apart from its value as a guide to editions for bibliographers and collectors, and as a source of biographical information on the artists (much gleaned from interviews and not available elsewhere), is its value to students and practitioners of illustration. Hares-Stryker does not explicitly address this issue, but judging from the variety of styles and from remarks by the artists themselves, it appears that there are two major problems the artist must address in illustrating this work. (In fact, the early illustrator Ernest Shepard, best known for his Winnie-the-Pooh drawings, at first counted it among the books he felt should never be illustrated, and was somewhat reluctant to undertake the task.)

The first is Grahame’s ambiguity about the relative size and human-like attributes of the animal characters — should they be natural-sized and unclothed animals, basically humans with animal heads and hands, or mutable depending on their circumstances, sometimes larger and more human, sometimes smaller and more like animals? Grahame himself was singularly unhelpful, saying only that “Toad was train-size” and at the same time “the train was Toad-size” (qtd. in Gauger’s introduction, lxiv-lxv).

The other issue is the somewhat anomalous nature of the chapter “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” with its mystical appearance of the great god Pan in the woods at sunrise. In fact, many abridgments leave this chapter out, saving their illustrators from having to make a particularly difficult decision. Artists struggle with Pan’s representation — should he be shown traditionally as the goat-man of myth, the bringer of panic in wild places, or would a less conventional depiction be more appropriate? Shepard’s classic illustration, not reproduced in this volume but referred to in his entry, depicts only the moment immediately after the god’s disappearance. Other artists have equally intriguing solutions to this problem.

There are some technical bobbles in the production of this book. The same illustration is used on pages 52 and 54; there are typographical errors throughout; a two-page illustration spread on 142-143 is not lined up properly. The index, though I am glad to see one included, is fairly shallow and does not go into the level of detail the serious student of illustration might find useful; for example, a number of artists mention their debts to the works of Beatrix Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien, but these names are not included in the index, so it is not that helpful if you wish to trace and compare the influences on various artists.

So which should you buy? For reading aloud with children, the Norton edition is probably best, because illustrations by multiple artists are inserted at the proper point in the story for maximum effect. But do not trust all the annotations to be accurate enough to teach your listener about Grahame’s world. The Harvard edition is perhaps best for the scholar of Grahame, children’s fantasy, or Edwardian literature and culture, if you can only have one of these titles; Lerer’s annotations tend to reference more scholarship and literary sources than do Gauger’s. Hares-Striker’s book is more for the collector or for the student of illustration, and definitely useful for any library with an interest in the study of children’s literature. All three together provide an excellent overview of Grahame and his place in the history of children’s literature and illustration and his influence on twentieth-century fantasy.