Wanders Through the Willows

A little while ago my friend Suz made a comment to me that has stuck in my head. I can’t remember for the life of me which book it was but I had put a photo up on Facebook of a book and she said she “wished she’d read it as a kid”. I made a reply along the lines of us still being able to enjoy books as adults but she insisted there are some things she wish she had read then.

There’s a lot I remember reading over and over as a child, and there’s a lot of books I probably should have read, but didn’t. I had read a Little Princess dozens of time but never Secret Garden, for example. You might be surprised that I’d never read Wind in the Willows. Oh it had been read to me in Primary School, many, many years ago, and probably an abridged picture book version. But I had never read it myself.

Sometime last year I decided I wanted to read it. Oddly spurred by Craig finding some live-action version with the Monty Python guys in it on TV one afternoon, I remember being perplexed at Toad stealing a car. My vague memories of the Willows stretched to the River, Ratty and cold stew.

Cold stew because I had played Toad in a play in Primary School after they had read us the book. I barely remember a thing other than sitting on a “river bank” talking to Ratty and eating cold stew with a horridly uncomfortable paper mask on. It had a rather insulting long red tongue dangling off it.

And as books have the strangest way of happening upon you, only a few days after I had stared thinking about reading it I found an Everyman’s Classic edition, with illustrations by Rackham to boot. And by some sheer luck I decided not to read it right away, because a few weeks after that I found the sequel by William Horwood, the Willows in Winter, which I had no idea existed.

And so several weeks in the Willows began.

And when I say “In The Willows”, I mean I was completely absorbed in that place. I was absolutely enthralled, captivated, beguiled and enchanted. When I got to the last chapter and saw the tile, I actually had to put it down, especially after seeing this illustration by Rackham…

Oh no I didn’t want it to end! But I had the sequels by William Horwood to read.  Mind you, I got into an absolute panic after discovering there were another three sequels after The Willows in Winter and thought they wouldn’t arrive in time so I had to order a DVD to tide me over. I got a lovely old animated version. However the books arrived in time. So I got to stay in the Willows a while longer. And they were so superbly authentic I didn’t feel like I was reading a different author at all.

I can’t deny I cried at the end of The Willows and Beyond. I almost put off reading the Willows at Christmas, which is set just after Wind in the Willows and before The Willows in Winter. But I couldn’t help myself, I read it anyway, knowing I would suffer a post-Willows depression.

So do I regret not reading the Wind in the Willows as a child? I can’t say I do. I couldn’t say it for any book I “should have” read in childhood. There are not a lot of times I can truly capture that feeling again you got as a child when you were truly and absolutely transported to another time and place and when you longed for a story to never, ever, ever end. And if I know there are more of those books out there then I know I still have that to look forward to.