Thursday, 7 September 2017

REMINISCING REPOST: THE TOAD CAME HOME...


Cover illustration (E.H. Shepard) to 1960 Charles Scribner edition

Going by the numbers, quite a few of you liked seeing the cover to my The WIND In The WILLOWS paperback a couple of posts back.  I therefore thought you might like to be reminded of how I first discovered that particular cover back in the early '70s, so have brushed down and dusted off this old post which recounts the details of the event in all its ever-loving glory.

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A 1967 edition of the acclaimed classic

Are you all sitting comfortably?  Good, then I'll begin.  My first exposure (ooer, missus) to Kenneth Grahame's 'The Wind In The Willows' was the Disney cartoon 'short' of the same name.  That wasn't the film's original title, which was 'The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad', two animated tales combined in a single cinematic presentation.  Singer Bing Crosby narrated the Ichabod portion and actor Basil Rathbone performed the vocal honours on the Mr. Toad one.

Later, they were re-released separately, and renamed after the  books on which they were based.  I saw TWITW at an inter-schools art competition prize-presentation (of which I was an entrant) in my local cinema on the afternoon of my very last day at primary school before the school holidays began.  The movie was screened, the prizes awarded, and we were then returned to our schools at the end of the day to collect our schoolbags and jackets, and thereafter revel in eight whole weeks of summer fun before some of us started secondary school at the start of the new term.

It was on a lazy afternoon sometime in first year that I chanced upon the novel in the school library, as chalk dust floated languidly in the white glare of the sunlight which pierced the large curtained windows at the side of the room.  I had enjoyed the cartoon (and recognized snippets of it from screenings of 'Disney Time' on TV one Christmas or other) so decided to read the book and promptly got it stamped out.  It was certainly a good read, but it didn't make an overwhelming impression on me of the kind that one might expect from an acclaimed classic of literature.  No, that would come later - and here's how it did.

I was in my local newsagent's one day in 1972 or mid- '73, and, on their paperback spinner-rack, was the book whose cover you see at the top of this post.  There were two copies, one of which I bought solely because the cover illustration and the pristine, sharply-defined newness of the tome fascinated and appealed to me in some indefinable way.  I had no intention of actually re-reading it - I merely wanted to gaze upon it, handle it, and luxuriate in its presence and the sheer joy of owning an item of such aesthetic perfection.

But then disaster struck!  The next day I inadvertently dropped the book over the side of the settee and dunted a corner.  The putrid portrait in Dorian Gray's attic could not have presented a more terrible vision of ugliness and imperfection as that one crushed corner which so transfixed my horrified attention.  There was only one thing for it - to buy its twin with which it had recently shared a space in the spinner-rack of the shop from where I had purchased it.  I had acquired the first copy on a Friday afternoon after school, so, at the first available opportunity - which was Sunday morning - I rushed to the newsagent's and took possession of the doppelganger destined to assume the place of its maimed and mutilated companion.

Now I had two copies - one at which to gaze longingly in rapt admiration and appreciation of its awesome appearance, and one to - what, exactly?  Read?  Well, why not?  So that's precisely what I did!  It was on that second reading that the scales fell from my eyes and the wonder and mysteries and sheer beauty of Mr. Kenneth Grahame's (and Ernest H. Shepard's) captivating classic captured my heart and soul forever.  The River Bank, the Wild Wood, Toad, Ratty, Mole and Mr. Badger - and not forgetting the washerwoman, the pipes of Pan and the Stoats and the Weasels.

If you've never read The Wind In The Willows, do yourself a favour and do so before you die.  As A. A. Milne (the author of Winnie The Pooh and Toad Of Toad Hall) once wrote:  "When you sit down to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgement on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame.  You are merely sitting in judgement on yourself.  You may be worthy:  I don't know.  But it is you who are on trial."

Truer words were never spoken.
    

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read TWITW on your recommendation, Kid - an e-book version which could be downloaded instantly so e-books do have their uses. I can't say I found anything magical in it but I'm glad I read it - another classic crossed off my list :)

Kid said...

That's the trouble with recommending books to people, CJ - it increases their expectations and they're reading it for the wrong reasons anyway. It would probably have been better for you to discover the book on your own (the ideal age would've been between 13 and 16). Still, I'm surprised that you see no magic in it. Perhaps the capacity to recognise and appreciate such a quality must first reside within us. Now read Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner.

Lionel Hancock said...

Quite correct..I read it when I was 12 and thought it was brilliant....and still rate it as one of my favorite books..I even remember listening to the radio adaption ... A classic !

Lionel Hancock said...

I am the Toad..The fearless Toad Parp Parp......haha....great stuff

Kid said...

Yeah, I've got a few audio adaptations of the book, LH, some radio plays, some made for records and CDs. The '70s BBC adaptation of Toad Of Toad Hall (which was A.A. Milne's play based on TWITW) is a good one.

Lionel Hancock said...

The artwork of Ernest Shepherd helped it big time...I will always remember the drawing of Toad in his motorcar outfit swaggering down the stairs of Toad Hall...Perfect... As one got further into the story the Ernest shepherd characters were in your mind as you read. I think you know what I mean...

Kid said...

I've always thought of EHS as the definitive artist of the book, LH, though there have been other good illustrators who did a lovely job too. Kenneth Grahame's ability to blend comedy and beauty throughout the book ensure it'll be much loved for generations to come.

Warren JB said...

My first exposure was the Cosgrove Hall animated series from the 80s, with David Jason voicing Toad. I have to say that I think all other adaptations - the animated version with Rik Mayall voicing Toad; the 'Python' live-action version with Terry Jones as Toad; the BBC live-action version with Matt 'George Dawes' Lucas as Toad; even the Disney version* - pale in comparison to the sepia-tinted, otherwordly stop-motion effect of the Cosgrove Hall series. That, and, much as I just did, they focused too much on Toad and the comedy of his crazy antics, making them even zanier, to the exclusion of all else. No messing about in boats, no Christmas at Mole's burrow, none of Ratty's wanderlust, no night at Badger's, with the Wild Wood closed outside... and definitely no Piper at the gates of dawn. Little of the warm comfort, the idyllic riverbank, the melancholia, the emotion and heart.

I'm the kind of person who thinks a book is always better than the TV/film adaptation, even when I've seen the adaptation first. I have to say that I think the Cosgrove Hall series is the only one that gives the book a run for it's money, or at least is most faithful to the original's feel and themes. With the caveat that that's the nostalgia talking. Any two stories that I think a kid must read? This and The Hobbit.

*I only saw the Disney version recently. Sorry to say, Kid, it lost me as soon as the wisecracking horse and the plot to frame Toad, absolving him of his monomania, turned up!

Kid said...

I'd agree with pretty much everything you say, WJB, but I'd add a few other books to your list. Moonfleet, The Ghosts, Tom's Midnight Garden and The Three Little Grey Men books. As for the Disney version, I saw it when I was 11 years old (so I have a nostalgic affection for it), before I read the book, and I thought it captured the comedy of Toad, but not quite the beauty of the rest of the book (when I eventually read it). It's interesting that the Cosgrove Hall version nicked the Disney ending, so I assume that the producers must have kinda liked Walt's version. (There's some atmospheric imagery in the WD cartoon - give it another try.)

Incidentally, I've just recently acquired The Wind In The Willows game (Rivals, Robbers & Rivers) after seeing it advertised in a catalogue in the early or mid-'90s. I've also got the Reader's Digest version (obtained a few years back). The figures in both games are really nice.

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