steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Wilfulness in the Willows

It's not easy writing blurbs. I know, I've done a few, and they're all pretty leaden. So I don't mean to criticize whoever wrote the blurb for the (US) Penguin Wind in the Willows, which I've just been re-reading. But I was taken by surprise by the first sentence, listing some of the book's familiar characters: "Meek little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad."

Now, I don't say any of those descriptions is wrong, exactly. Mole is indeed meek - when he's not being wilful and petulant. Badger is indeed a confirmed bachelor - but not a jot more so than Ratty, surely? Ratty can occasionally be wilful - though he's far more often generous, thoughtful, and wistfully romantic, and in the wilfulness stakes is far outstripped by his amphibious neighbour, and even by Mole, whose foolish insistence on taking the oars, or on exploring the Wild Wood alone against all sensible advice, is far more wilful than anything Ratty does in the entire book. I suppose Toad is occasionally and briefly petulant - but is that what anyone remembers him for, as compared with his vainglorious boastfulness, his irrepressibility, his fragile sense of morality, and his childish good nature?

It's hard to reduce multi-faceted characters to single characteristics, and a shame to have to try, but this made me notice how many characteristics in WitW are shared amongst the major characters - almost to the point where they take turns with them. Also, I wonder what single adjectives one could apply to these characters that would capture them more effectively? Ingenuous Mole? Braggadocio Toad? Gruff Badger? None of those is very good, but I despair of even coming close with Ratty.

All suggestions welcome.
Tags: books
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