Toad Lit 101 (The Wind in the Willows)
Continuing “Toad Week” at Frogs Are Green, I thought I’d write about literary toads.
I couldn’t find many books with toad characters, except Frog’s best friend Toad in the classic Frog and Toad books, which I wrote about in an earlier post. I do remember one toad character—Commander Toad, an intrepid toad in space. When my sons were young, they loved The Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen. These easy-to-read books for 2nd to 3rd graders are genuinely funny and absurd.
One toad character, of course, is a genuine literary star: Toad in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, aka Mr. Toad in the Disney version. Toad is an unforgettable character—self-centered, obsessed with motor cars, impulsive, conceited, flying off on every adventure, and constantly getting into scrapes.
It’s possible Toad was Grahame’s alter ego. Kenneth Grahame was a stodgy London banker, who really wanted to be an artist/writer, spending his days in the countryside “messing around in boats” as River Rat so famously says to Mole.
The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908, but without illustrations. I have an edition printed in 1927, inherited from someone in my family. It has only one illustration on the frontispiece:
Ernest Shepard, who also illustrated the Winnie-the-Pooh books, first illustrated the book in 1931. Kenneth Grahame approved the sketches before he died, so this is usually considered the definitive edition. Over the years it has also been illustrated by Arthur Rackham, Michael Hague, and others.
Recently two annotated versions of the classic were published to coincide with the book’s 100th anniversary. One was published by Harvard University Press; the other was published by Norton. Charles McGrath wrote an interesting article in The New York Times, in which he discusses the sometimes questionable 21st-century interpretations of this classic.
I received a copy of the book, illustrated by Tasha Tudor, when I was around 8, the summer after 2nd grade. My mother was part-owner of a bookstore and brought home the newly published book. That summer, I remember thinking I could read anything. I wasn’t intimidated by the book’s size or by the Edwardian prose. But I’m not sure I actually read more than a few chapters. Still, it’s on my bookshelf and has survived at least 10 moves in my life. Maybe this summer I’ll try to finish it.
NOTE: Please send along the titles of your favorite frog books (fiction) for future Amphibian Lit posts. Books with salamanders and newt characters okay too!