Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Hour of Toad

Although my parents encouraged me heartily as a reader, and their efforts bore abundant fruit, their personal choices in which literature to send my way was not, as I've discovered, typical of a child of my age and gender.  They leaned heavily toward more contemporary material, such as a Little Golden Book called Make Way for the Throughway.  My mom also couldn't resist anything having to do with kittens.

If traditional fairy tales or bible stories found their way into the house, they were probably brought in by Dad.  His work took him to various gathering places in the Bronx and upper Manhattan; now and then someone would pass him a volume, which ended up in my hands.  Mom tended to turn her nose up at those.  Probably because they came from Dad, which made them instantly suspect.

What also didn't make the cut was the type of literature you will normally visualize in the hands of a soft-focus Thomas Kinkade-rendered little girl in a crinoline dress, seated by the fire.

That sort of thing just didn't resonate with my mother.  I'm sure previous posts have touched on this subject, but Mom simply didn't go in for anything 1) rural 2) European or 3) traditionally "feminine."  Though science fiction tended to make her uneasy, there was a huge swath of themes and authors that she was okay with, so that's where my literary forays remained throughout my school years -- the exceptions being those assigned by teachers.  1984.  The Good Earth.  Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack.        Mom didn't question that last one, but she immediately took exception to the made-for-TV version.   Something about the dialogue in it bothered her; I no longer remember what. Actually, I think there was a Jesus reference she objected to.

After leaving home, I started trying to catch up with the classics, but rather than checking out kid lit, I dove headfirst into William Faulkner and Theodore Dreiser.

Slowly, slowly, largely due to my own status as a parent, I finally had the opportunity to discover, for the first time, the titles I'd missed.  The Secret Garden.  A Little Princess.  Anne of Green Gables.  Black Beauty.  Little Women.  The Wind in the Willows.

Kenneth Grahame's tale is preoccupying me at the moment.  I'm sure I would have enjoyed it in childhood, even if I was basically unused to the English syntax.  Just the idea of animals living underground and exploring the forest (I loved forests, the darker and greener the better!) would have hooked me.  The friendships portrayed among the characters might have done me some good in terms of helping me develop some social skills, too.

If you, like me, were among the deprived, let me whet your appetite.

'The hour has come!' said the Badger at last with great solemnity.
'What hour?' asked the Rat uneasily, glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece.
'WHOSE hour, you should rather say,' replied the Badger. 'Why, Toad's hour! The hour of Toad!"

'Right you are!' cried the Rat, starting up. 'We'll convert him! He'll be the most converted Toad that ever was before we've done
with him!'

Now, c'mon!  Aren't you ready for some seriously converted Toad?

Disclaimer:  I still haven't gotten around to many of the other classics mentioned above, but am working on it. There's time.  Or, there had better be...


Kay Dennison said...

As an English/Spanish major, what I didn't read as a child, I read to the Dynamic Duo and we all had a blast!

Hesiodos said...

The Wind in the Willows is one of my favorites. I hope you are reading an unabridged version as they often cut out the part about the visit of Pan and about the wayfarer Rat, both good stories although definitely off the main path of the book.

Volly said...


I did a quick scan of my downloaded .pdf and both your references are included. Interestingly, Pan is not referred to directly, though the phrase "Pan-pipes in his hand" is a decent clue. Instead, he is called the Friend and Helper. I wonder if Grahame originally called him Pan and then changed that to avoid taking heat from Christians? I'll have to check that out. This is a Gutenberg Project edition, which is probably why it's unabridged.