Month: May 2018

4. Children’s Classic: The Wind in The Willows

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Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago.”An appealing invitation.  As I suggested previously, it wasn’t that I “somehow missed” The Wind in the Willows, it was that I deliberately avoided it.  I loved the title; I didn’t like the movie.  I was very picky about my talking animal stories (I pretty much liked only Narnia books in that category).  So, though the movie’s theme, “soon, soon you will forget” haunted me with a sweet painfulness, I didn’t read the book.

Would I have liked The Wind in the Willows, if I had read it some thirty years ago? Mr. Toad’s plot with its ups and downs, with its constant sense of threat, and with his mercurial manipulative character would doubtless have made me nervous. I know because it made me nervous even as an adult and there were a few times I skimmed quickly to make sure nothing terrible was about to happen before I could relax and read every word. The constant amused affection with which the author follows the miscreant may have been lost on the younger me.

I’m sure though I would have loved the lyrical chapters starring Rat and Mole. This is where the sehnsucht and the numinous music that I heard in the book’s title come in. There is even a gnostic/pagan/crypto-Christian religious element to be found here, a spiritual dimension akin to the Magic of Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden.

The Wind in the Willows sits in a friendly way next to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia (and, as I saw another blogger mention, to Tolkien). From the descriptions of cozy meals shared by friends and snug underground houses to the aching quality of Joy in its pages, it was as if a band Talking Beasts from Narnian realms had crossed the border into the human world. It was perfect to read curled up on a couch, while the rains and winds, the sleet and snow, of mid-April howled around our house. So, all told, my inner child was satisfied with this one.

 

-Mrs. Aldertree

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2. 20th Century Classic: The End Of The Affair

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A book that leaves you  wanting to read more by and about the author is a success, and when I returned this book to my shelves, I was gladdened to find a few other unread Greene novels. (I love how a library evolves, whenever you read a book and put it away, you see the collection anew. ) I was also  happy to discover that Greene was a catholic and even happier to find that he disliked being called a Catholic novelist; He preferred to be known as a writer who happened to be Catholic.

When I picked out this book for the back to the Classics Challenge, I didn’t know what to expect.  When I started it, I was immediately pulled in. Mid-way through, I became rather comfortable with my projected outcome. But when Greene failed to tie up loose ends, I began to see that the focus and the trajectory of the novel was not at all what I expected. Greene took a sharp and surprisingly mystical turn, a turn that gave me goose-bumps.

The story begins with Bendrix, a writer by profession, recounting the end of his affair with Sarah Miles, the wife of a civil servant Henry Miles. Bendrix is tormented by its end. He describes how, driven with jealousy, he hires a detective to find out if another man was to blame. But instead of uncovering another affair,  Bendrix, a self proclaimed atheist, discovers a beautiful story of a soul.

As the novel moves on, Greene is able to broaden the narrow scope of  first person narration and keep the tone intimate by incorporating letters and Sarah’s diary. The act of writing itself is a reappearing theme in the novel. In fact, there are several stirring scenes that involve the written word. I particularly loved the one where Bendrix discovers Sarah’s childhood books and begins to read her inscriptions inside. And near the end, it is both the detective’s simple letter and Sarah’s juvenile inscriptions that take on spine chilling, mystical and mysterious meanings.

In an age of atheism and rationalism Greene reminds us that religion is still relevant- Catholicism still alive and those who practice it may not find the path easy, most likely they find it to be a constant internal battle with oneself.

The novel ends with Bendrix’s weary prayer,

“O God, you’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever”

and that is enough, God can work with that, His heart yearns for souls and His grace is sufficient.

Next on my list Rumer Godden.

Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.