steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

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?
Tags: books
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