Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Toad Hall and the Washerwoman: Part 1


In The Enchanted Places, Christopher Robin Milne wrote of The Wind in the Willows:

"A book that we all greatly loved and admired and read aloud or alone, over and over and over: The Wind in the Willows. This book is, in a way, two separate books put into one. There are, on the one hand, those chapters concerned with the adventures of Toad; and on the other hand there are those chapters that explore human emotions – the emotions of fear, nostalgia, awe, wanderlust. My mother was drawn to the second group, of which "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" was her favourite, read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose. My father, on his side, was so captivated by the first group that he turned these chapters into the children's play, Toad of Toad Hall. In this play one emotion only is allowed to creep in: nostalgia."

Nostalgia, a longing for past circumstances, events, places, home and family, has now come to mean opposition to all forms of change. Reluctance to be swept along by scientific and technological change-for-the-sake-of-change has come to signify failure to relate to reality. The times are changing, and there's nothing to be done but go along with change in the name of something vaguely called 'progress'.

In The Country of Larks, Gail Simmons relates her walk through the countryside of the gently rolling Chiltern Hills. The book has been described as "both a lyrical account of a walk through place and time, an elegy to a very special part of the English landscape - a part now threatened in the name of progress". As she follows the path taken by Robert Lewis Stevenson in 1874, she notes:

"Wisteria frames doorways, verges are neatly mown. Parked outside, Range Rovers have replaced the haywains. You can quite see how stressed-out city folk and tired retirees want to retreat into this dream of an unchanging England. The careful tending of flowers, the mowing of lawns, the trimming of hedges is a barricade against external forces they can no longer control: forces such as HS2." (p45-6)

The time has come to question the assumption that projects like HS2 do, in any sense of the word, represent 'progress'. And that can best be done, perhaps through revisiting children's literature.

In his latest book, entitled an enchanted place, (Hawthorne Press, 2021) film producer Jonathan Stedall tells the story of an imaginary Middle England NIMBY protest through a set of characters based upon the childhood stories of A.A. Milne (father of Christopher Robin cited above). The skilful notes of humour in Stedall's book are so very welcome in these dark days. The charming book, delightfully produced in hardback, facilitates discussion of the major issues of our times by drawing our attention to the importance of children's literature.

For more on this theme see ESSAYS\YEA Page of .

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