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Posts Tagged ‘The Wind in the Willows’

“Dulce Domum” from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. First published 1908, many editions. Pictured here, illustrated by Michael Hague, Henry Holt 1980.

When my kids were growing up, our Christmas Eve tradition included a viewing of Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. About the time the kids could all quote long passages from the movie by heart, they began objecting to this and insisting on an alternative choice. Still, for a Christmas story, it’s hard to beat Dicken’s classic, both in one of the many movie forms and the book itself, which is still a good read.

Another old favorite of mine is the Wind in the Willows. I probably have a soft spot for these stories because, in the tradition of Kenneth Grahame himself, who first told the tales to his young son, my Dad used to tell me the stories at bedtime when I was young. He wouldn’t read the book, but rather would recount the stories in his own words, and even made up a few new tales himself.

At this time of year, I enjoy rereading “Dulce Domum”, Rat and Moles’ Christmas adventure. While returning from a day out, tired and hungry, Mole is suddenly stopped in his tracks by a scent, the scent of home. He is so overwhelmed by the memory of his old abode that Rat leads the way back to Mole’s old residence. The place is dreary and dark, but soon Rat has a fire roaring and they are hunting up a bit of supper in the nearly-bare cupboards. Just as they settle down, the sound of singing, outside Mole’s door, reaches their ears! It’s a chorus of young field mice carolers, singing one of the old-time carols of their forefathers. Rat and Mole invite the youngsters in for refreshments by the fire, and everyone enjoys a pleasure-filled evening.

I like the way in which, even though the animals are anthropomorphically represented, Graham still imbues the story with a sense of the wildness of the natural world. Consider this passage, when Mole catches the scent of his home:

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal’s intercommunications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word “smell,” for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while as yet he could not remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.
Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!

Home. At what season does the appeal of home pull more strongly than at Christmas? The depiction of Mole’s cozy little lodging, the merriment of the field mice, all speak of the warmth of the Christmas season. And was there ever a better friend than Rat? No one could ask for a better companion to spend the season with.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Illustrated by Beth Peck. Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

A Christmas Memory was first published in 1956 in Mademoiselle magazine, and was later included as one of four short stories with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was where I first came across it. It has been recorded, and adapted for TV and otherwise popularized, but is still not as well known as some other Christmas classics.

Set in 1930s Alabama, the story is largely autobiographical. It tells of a Christmas shared by the young narrator, Buddy, and an aging relative, who inhabit a world that excludes their “elders and betters” and share a warm love for each other. The touching story speaks of their bond, the seven-year old boy and the sixty-something cousin, as they make fruit cakes for Christmas, hunt for the perfect Christmas tree, and craft gifts for each other, two kites. His friend has never been to a movie, traveled more than five miles from home or worn cosmetics. But she has never wished someone harm or let a dog go hungry.

Inevitably, the pair are separated as Buddy is sent off to school. One day a message comes:

And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expect to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

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