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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.
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."