Six Degrees: From Rhun to Mr. Toad
The genre-jumping, world-hopping, mind-bending tour which is Six Degrees of Kool Books continues this week with yet another twist (if you’re new to this whole Six Degrees business, you can fill yourself in by reading this post). Last week, Jenelle Schmidt introduced us to Gurgi and the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. She made it sound like an awfully good series with loads of interesting characters. I personally love it when the main character comes from humble beginnings the way it seems to in the Prydain books, but it wasn’t the main character I chose to hone in on for my Six Degrees connection, it was Rhun, the impulsive prince.
Jenelle described Rhun as “impetuous”, “a dreamer”, and “too scatter-brained to stick with any particular plan long enough to see it completed.” And if there’s one character that just screams impetuosity in my reading experience it would have to be the wild and flighty Mr. Toad from Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows.
Mr. Toad is so famously unpredictable and madcap that at one point he even had his own ride in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the aptly named “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” (which I actually went on as a child, though I don’t remember much about it). Mr. Toad seems to have no capacity whatsoever to deny his obsessions, whatever they may be, casting aside all common sense and the well-being of those around him in the pursuit of whatever happens to strike his fancy at the moment. He claims to have learned the error of his ways at one point in the story, but shortly thereafter he appears to fall back into his old habits.
The Wind in the Willows is filled with other memorable characters who try their best to keep Toad out of trouble. The story begins by introducing us to the affable Mole. This timid fellow is in many ways the opposite of Toad. He is reserved and a home-body, but eventually his affection for his friends and his curiosity allow him to be drawn out of the safety of his underground home and into the Wild Wood.
Ratty is Mole’s chief companion for the first part of the book. Ratty is an easy-going, sociable sort. He introduces Mole to life on the river and invites him to enjoy life instead of staying in his stuffy old hole. Ratty eventually introduces Mole to Badger. This elder statesman amongst the animals is every bit as rough and stubborn as you might expect a badger to be, yet he is as faithful and true as any other animal in the woods. When it comes time to stand up to Toad and his antics, it is Badger who has the inner fortitude to give Toad the “tough love” he so desperately needs.
The main villains of the story are the weasels and The Chief Weasel is the worst of the lot. Running his crew like a mafia boss, he moves into Toad’s abandoned estate after the hapless amphibian runs off on another of his escapades. The Weasels put up a good fight, but they are no match for the hardened Badger and his crew when they return to set things aright.
There are a host of other animals in the story and even a few humans, but for the most part the story sticks to the four animal friends and the adventures they share. It’s a delightful story, though Toad can be a bit frustrating to read about at times as he is impetuous to the point that at times it almost borders on mental illness. The story is evocative of a simpler time and the animals, despite their fur and tails and warty skin are Englishmen through and through. And oddly enough, their animal natures actually accentuate their true nature rather than distract from it.
A lovely story that can be enjoyed by young and old. And hopefully good material for next week’s Six Degrees of Kool Books!