Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Badgers and Bandersnatches
A couple of years ago I proved beyond doubt that The Wind in the Willows was a major source for Hamlet. On reviewing the evidence, I can't help wondering whether it was also an influence on The Hobbit - or at least, whether it was part of the mental template for "children's literature" that determined the mode in which Tolkien wrote the latter work, and hence some of the decisions that he came to regret. Has any serious work been done on this?

There are a few obvious points of correspondence, of course. Both start with bourgeois homebodies succumbing to the urge to leave their burrows in search of adventure; both end with the return to a home being ransacked by intruders. Both feature characters notable for their gruff hospitality, who offer succour to our weary protagonists and who live securely in the midst of a hostile territory, impregnable by virtue of their physical strength. Badger and Beorn are by no means twins, but their resemblance is fairly striking, and perhaps more so than the first two features on this list. After all, many adventures begin at home, and you don't need to be a too doctrinaire a Freudian to see something womblike in a burrow; while heroic (and mock-heroic) returns are often tricky: Grahame even makes that point explicit by calling his chapter "The Return of Ulysses". But I can't think of too many Badger/Beorn equivalents. C. S. Lewis, of course, identified Badger as something very specifically English:

Consider Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows, - that extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness. The child who has once met Mr Badger has ever afterwards in its bones a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which it could not get in any other way. (‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children’)

How far could one say the same of Beorn?

I think the really interesting study, though, might be one involving narrative voice. How far is Grahame audible in Tolkien? The influence isn't as obvious as Nesbit's on Lewis, but I've a suspicion that there's a tincture. Making that good would take more effort than I have the leisure to spend at the moment, though - and perhaps someone's already done it?

A couple of years ago I proved beyond doubt that The Wind in the Willows was a major source for Hamlet.

I'm so so so tired that I read that sentence three times before it occurred to me what was wrong with its proposal. The first two times I mentally shrugged and thought "Sure, why not?"

I think you're right about Tolkien, though. Both The Hobbit and Wind in the Willows privilege similar visions of a kind of countryside, idyllic English-ness from which women are completely excluded.

from which women are completely excluded.

Oh yes, I'm glad you mentioned that! The absence of named female characters (and indeed children, except for Portly, who is unconscious) is certainly striking.

I'm glad I met Badger and the others several decades before that became an issue to readers.

I doubt this particular "knowledge of humanity and of English social history" could get far into the bones of someone who had the issue in mind, which Badger certainly did not.

Have you read Hope Mirrlees' Lud-in-the-Mist? I've often wondered if Tolkien borrowed from it, at least for his vision of The Shire.

I have indeed read it, though not very recently. I know what you mean, although I think (as far as I remember) that Lud-in-the-Mist has overtones of the Low Countries, which I assume wouldn't be characteristic of Hobbiton and suchlike bustling townships. I may well be misremembering though.

Some discussion here:

There appears to be a recent short book called From the Riverbank to Middle Earth and Beyond, by Pat Shirley.

It looks from your first link as if the job's already been thoroughly done - which makes me glad I haven't spent too much time on it! Thank you - very interesting material.

I think I have read other comments on this, and will let you know if I remember where they were.

Thanks, I'd be interested to read them.

Haven't Tolkien and Lewis both been accused of avuncularity? I don't feel that Grahame or any other one person, or one school, would be their primary source for it; I doubt if it had a primary source, in that century.

If we separated some markers of 'avuncularity', we'd find several of them elsewhere. Twain used a lot of second person intimate authoritarian, so to speak. Kipling too, plus 'o best beloved' (though he may have got that from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which prefaces almost every page with 'My dear'.

They certainly both use the avuncular style at times - though I don't think that a matter for accusation, of course! It's a style that could use more refined analysis, I believe, though you're right that it was too widespread for questions of influence to be easy to trace. Occasionally one can be a little more specific. For example:

A sudden cold pain caught at Anthea's heart... (If you don't know what a cold pain is, I am glad for your sakes, and hope you never may.) (Story of the Amulet)

'Wherever is this?' said Peter's voice, sounding tired and pale in the darkness. (I hope you know what I mean by a voice sounding pale.) (LWW )

I didn't know that about the Book of the Dead! Wouldn't it be lovely if the Book of Revelation began every chapter with "Come here, me little chappy, now I've smoked me baccy"?

I'm uncomfortably reminded of that Scots translation from the Psalms Lewis quotes somewhere --

"O blessed may that trooper be
Who, riding on his naggie,
Will tak thy wee bairns by the taes
And ding them on the craggie."

:) It's a popular Sunday recreation in Govan.

Lewis cf Nesbit takes me back to 'avuncular' vs ... 'aunt-ly'? Nesbit's attitude was defintely 'auntly'. She wasn't a heavy bearded authoritative old man by the fire (or even the Professor), talking down to the children in adult language from an adult 'gaze'. Nesbit was a graceful, elusive satirist, talking in the children's own language and gaze, making sly fun of the grown-ups (and occasionally of the big brother).
Everyone got its legs kicked or its feet trodden on in the scramble to get out of the carriage that very minute, but no one seemed to mind. Mother, curiously enough, was in no hurry to get out; and even when she had come down slowly and by the step, and with no jump at all, she seemed to wish to see the boxes carried in, and even to pay the driver, instead of joining in that first glorious rush round the garden and orchard and the thorny, thistly, briery, brambly wilderness beyond the broken gate and the dry fountain at the side of the house.

The rest of the paragraph gets complicated, but even in giving the mother's often-expressed thoughts, it's still mother-seen-through-the-telescope-backwards: small, doll-like, from a distance.

Edited at 2014-02-04 02:38 am (UTC)

Yes, I love that para. Nesbit is generally far more likely to poke fun at her protagonists than Lewis (not that he never does this). For all that, he picked up a lot from her stylistically, as well as in other ways (the parts of The Magician's Nephew set in London are virtually Story of the Amulet fanfic).

I like the way Nesbit uses "everyone...its" (not something Lewis copied). I think she certainly had the representation of both sexes in mind.

Incidentally, the Psammead is most definitely an It and not a He. Rudyard Kipling, for one, got that resoundingly wrong in his fan letter to Nesbit.


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