Sunday Lifestyle

Toad Hall revisited

- Raymond A. Martinez -
I thought Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was simply a horror novel because I often see willow trees in scary movies. However, my mom was quick to dispel my mistaken notion by telling me that it’s actually a classic fable for children. So much for the proverbial adage "Don’t judge a book by its cover." I remember my mom telling me one Sunday after she attended our local church that a visiting pastor from Europe took the pulpit and recounted a few interesting chapters from the novel and encouraged the congregation to get hold of the book. I don’t know if the others did, but I’m glad I did.

I think what made me read The Wind in the Willows was my assessment that if a grown-up was able to appreciate Grahame’s storybook, then a sophomore college student like me (at the time) was likely to appreciate the beauty of the novel as well.

I decided to search for the title in the library, and luckily enough, I discovered the book on the shelves albeit covered with dust. For a few days I tried to steal some time with it during my free hours in school or my lazy hours at home.

As I read every page, the colorful life of car-possessed and self-absorbed Toad; the impish and exuberant Water Rat; the reclusive but good-natured Mr. Badger, who, unknown to society, loves children; and the gullible, kind-hearted Mole, sprang out of the pages.

Grahame‘s story revolves around the life of Toad who lives at Toad Hall, an imposing mansion that he inherited from his father. Not heeding his friends’ (Rat, Mole and Mr. Badger) advice on showing self-restraint and consideration for other animals’ well-being, Toad continues to claim the road in his "poop-poop-poop" motorcar. At last, out of his obsession for cars, he gets imprisoned when he tries to steal one. Eventually he escapes from prison by disguising himself as a washerwoman. As Toad is busy with his proud adventures that involve running away from the police via train, stealing a horse from a barge-woman, hitching, maneuvering and wreaking a car in a ditch, and other stunts, Ratty, Mole and Mr. Badger, try to wrestle in vain against the lawless stoats and weasels of the wild woods that try to occupy Toad Hall. Only when Toad stumbles upon Ratty in the river during his misadventures that he learns about his dwelling. Now with careful planning and show of might, Ratty, Mole, Toad and Mr. Badger whack the unsuspecting stoats and weasels with stick out of Toad Hall.

After the uproar and after Ratty and Mr. Badger’s stern counsel, Toady finally realizes the error of his ways and makes amends with everyone he has done wrong. Hence, the once car-possessed, self-absorbed Toad now becomes a humble Toad for all the members of the animal society to see. In the end, Rat, Mole, Toad and Mr. Badger try to organize a party for their victory in Toad Hall with all the animals in the woods in attendance.

Truly, Grahame‘s The Wind in the Willows is an amusing, delightful story for children where animals speak, think and act like humans, and where the heroes win and live happily ever after. The book is an easy read with a simple plot, and children could easily identify right from wrong, where the conflict in the story may be considered trivial in the eyes of grown-ups, but could be poignant in our hearts nonetheless.

Indeed, it’s a story unadorned, but with serious underpinnings of life philosophies that speak primarily to us. It encourages us to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. It teaches us to listen to the voice of wisdom and to do the right thing.

The part of the story that strikes me most is the chapter where Mole and Ratty narrate to Mr. Badger how they got lost in the snow-covered wild woods. I like rereading the exact line that always comes across my mind whenever I have a conversation with people: "He (Mr. Badger) never said, ‘I told you so,’ or, ‘Just what I always said,’ or remarked that they (Rat and Mole) ought to have done so-and-so..."

Ever since I realize the power of this "Grahame line," I often catch myself checking my pride and motive every time I strike a conversation with my family, friends or strangers because I might just be bragging on them the things I know, instead of really understanding what they have to say and sympathizing with their situation. Hence, if I happen to chance upon Mr. Badger sneaking out of the book, I’d say: "Thanks Mr. Badger for teaching me the kind of modesty I should show towards people."

If I were to pick my kind of character in The Wind in the Willows, I‘d pick the playful, jolly Ratty who showed me that life should be lived simply and that I should see the beauty of things (nature) around me instead of complaining about them.

Way to go, Rat! You inspire me with your genuine appreciation of things around you.

In a nutshell, The Wind in the Willows makes us feel good inside not only because it ends up happy, but most importantly because we get to see ourselves in Toady‘s self-centeredness, or Mole‘s gullibility, or Ratty‘s good-humor, easy-going life, or Mr. Badger‘s reticence. And that‘s quite all right. It simply means there’s still some room for us for self-improvement, which is what life is all about.

I’ve read some kiddy stories in the past, but they’re not like The Wind in the Willows. This Grahame masterpiece opened my eyes to life‘s important concerns and continues to remind me of them. I’m sure it’ll never fail to do the same justice to other grown-ups who’ll read it with the spirit of youth alive in their hearts.











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