Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Wind in the Willows

We were reading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame to our kids last night. It’s one of those classic children’s books. But we were surprised and delighted by its absurd moments.

The easy-going, affable and happy water rat, for instance, is quite the little absurd water rat. He lives along a riverbank, where he is content with things as they are. In describing how he loves to go “messing about in boats,” the water rat says:

“In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all...”

That’s a nice summary of an absurd life. The rat lives for every moment and the experience of that particular moment is less important than enjoying the moment itself.

Another character, the mole, has some flashes of absurd insight he discovers by hanging around the water rat. The rat’s infectious joy of life seems to rub off on mole. As one point mole is charged with packing the picnic basket. Grahame writes:

“Packing the basket was not quite as pleasant work as unpacking the basket. It never is. But the Mole was bent on enjoying everything…”

This, too, is an absurd insight. In a world where nothing matters, each experience is as good as any other. Mole does his best to enjoy the experience of life, even mundane experiences such as chores.

We’re not finished reading the book, but so far we are pleased with its absurd subtext. Such wisdom in a children’s book! We could all learn a little something from the water rat and the mole.

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