Thursday, 22 October 2015

LETTERS TO THE MOUSE WHO TURNED INTO A TOAD...


Cover:  Watercolour by ERNEST H. SHEPARD
(from Private Collection)

Anyone who knows anything about The WIND In The
WILLOWS will probably know that it started (like some other
'children's' classics, apparently) as a bedtime tale for the author's own
offspring (in this case, Kenneth Elspeth Grahame's only child,
Alastair), and continued in a series of letters to him while holidaying
separately from his parents with his governess in Littlehampton.  This
was because the child, known as 'Mouse' didn't want to miss the
animal adventures his father recounted to him each evening in
order to get the restless infant off to sleep.

A page from one of the letters

These letters, thoughtfully preserved by the governess
(Naomi Stott) and returned to the Grahames, became the
basis of Kenneth's enduring classic of literature, loved by gen-
erations  of children (and adults) ever since it was first published
in October 1908.  The above book reproduces all the letters, and
makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the genesis
of the finest story of its kind ever to appear in print.

Photo:  Alastair - by RICHARD SPEAIGHT

If not for Alastair, the Riverbank tale might never have been
written, but, alas, there was no happy ending for the boy who was
the template for Mr. TOAD.  A difficult, troubled lad, he suffered
from poor health throughout his life (being born blind in one eye) and
committed suicide two days before his 20th birthday by lying on rail-
way tracks while an undergraduate at Oxford University.  Out of con-
sideration and respect for his father, Alastair's death was officially
recorded as accidental, but it was a tragic end to the mouse
who inspired the most famous toad in the world.  

2 comments:

Phil said...

Well thanks for bumming me out dude....now I can never look at Mr Toad the same way.

Kid said...

That's funny - I can. Good little book, Phil - see if your local library has a copy.

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