Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Goofy at the Gates of Dawn? (lost posts, great links, and spring cleaning...)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Goofy at the Gates of Dawn? (lost posts, great links, and spring cleaning...)


"The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat."

- Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows"
This Mole has been doing some spring cleaning of his own lately, tidying up the blog to close out a sporadic winter blogging session and begin anew, spring in the air and Netflix in the DVD player. But as I reformatted the layout, re-read posts in preparation for an Overlook summary, and attempted to correct erroneous labels, a funny thing happened. I accidentally deleted one of my posts. Now, thankfully, it was the one post I can afford to lose - my republished essay on two chapters in The Wind in the Willows, which I can simply (if tediously) re-transcribe tomorrow. Nonetheless, the incident was disconcerting, so let this be a warning to all of you. See that harmless looking "delete" button, right next to the label dropbar? The one that looks like it applies only to the labels on the checked post? Well, it doesn't. Don't touch it.

Despite my frustration, the experience actually bore some unexpected and much appreciated fruit. While Googling the illustration of Rat, Mole, and the Piper which originally adorned my Willows post, I discovered a rather striking and humorous image, one which I had to reproduce here. The link led to a fascinating 5-year-old Salon article by Hilary Flower, "Abridged Too Far" which explores one facet of the Willows chapters I discussed - namely their deletion from newer editions of Grahame's classic. Furthermore, as Ms. Flower discovers, "updated" classics often rewrite the author's prose and dump lavish illustrations for newer, less evocative sketches. I can't imagine adaptor Malvina G. Vogel and the unnamed illustrator of the Great Illustrated Classics are especially pleased with Flower's take on their work, but for the rest of us, it's a marvellous read and I truly urge you to follow the link.*

The essay proceeds to delve into A.A. Milne's role in the streamlining of Grahame's work, the dumbing-down of childhood (insidiously facilitated by the Disney corporation - though not, as the amusing but misleading illustration implies, through this particular book series), and the possible bipolar implications of Toad's manias. (The latter point is especially ironic since I was only hours ago discussing "grandiosity" and prescription drug abuse - in relation to Rush Limbaugh, no less.) Finally, Flower's essay explores the perils and pitfalls of adaptation, a theme which I myself will tackle in my upcoming Willows series. Her work provides a good jumping-off point for that adventure, and a stirring encouragement to write it well. At any rate, if this is the sort of discovery to which deleted posts lead, then delete away! (No, I really, really don't mean that...)

As for my own spring cleaning, hang it! (To Vogel's credit, she does keep that marvellous phrase intact, albeit in the process of her own spring cleaning which sweeps away much of Grahame's delightfully bumbling and bubbling narration). I'll be back tomorrow with a refreshed Willows post and hopefully a kickoff for the coming season. Six weeks ago, the groundhog saw his shadow but today Mole is kicking open the trapdoor and exiting his burrow. Spring has arrived at The Dancing Image, so enjoy the weather and the writing. And remember, don't touch that "delete" button...



*(A quick aside before this once-brief, now lengthy vernal kickoff winds to a close. More Salon links - somewhere Glenn Kenny is gnashing his teeth. Proceed to Gary Kamiya's recent loving tribute to Willows on its 100th anniversary, taking up Flower's celebration of Grahame's rich language and proceeding to tie together the author's work and life...really it's as if Mr. Kamiya stepped into my mind, stole everything I was thinking, and gilded it up to read more smoothly. Also check out these letters to the editor regarding Flower's article. They contain some praise, a few defenses of Disney, and even - wait for it - some soulful pleading for the legitimacy of comic books, stemming from an aside buried in the essay. Most fascinatingly, there are a couple letters eviscerating Flower's writing - one calls her out for favoring autobiography and personal observation over journalism, while the other takes this line of criticism even further, castigating Flower for "obnoxiously [referring] to her children's father repeatedly as her 'partner'" and informing the reader that "she had different bedding in grad school than she does now." The angry reader concludes, "sadly, this seems to be one instance where the writing hasn't been abridged nearly enough." Hmmmm - opinion over journalism? Too much personal detail? Too little editing? Something tells me Ms. Flower was a blogger before her time.)

3 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

I invested quite a bit of time in reading Hilary Flower's "Abridged too Far," but ah, it was well worth it! What a fabulous piece, and the final three sentences were quite moving. But nothing can match with that emotional meeting with Kenneth Grahame:

"Kenneth Grahame was an old man when I went to see him. Not sure about this new illustrator of his book, he listened patiently while I told him what I hoped to do. Then he said, 'I love these little people, be kind to them.' Just that; but sitting forward in his chair, resting upon the arms, his fine handsome head turned aside, looking like some ancient Viking, warming, he told me of the river near by, of the banks where Rat had his house, of the pools where Otter hid, and of the Wild Wood way up on the hill above the river, a fearsome place but for the sanctuary of Badger's home, and of Toad Hall. He would like, he said, to go with me to show me the river bank that he knew so well' ... but now I cannot walk so far and you must find your way alone.'

A.H. Shepard's illustrations are among the supreme treasures of children's literature, and it is with heavy heart but valid disdain that a number of editions and illustrators have severely compromised and even violated the intimacy of the originals. (I don't think I can read those 'soulful' pleas for comic book editions amongst the letters) and this is coming from someone who grew up on those wonderful Classics Illustrated and Classics illustrated Jr. comics. I collected these for many years, and still have some in the house here now, which I subsequently reacquired on e bay.
I agree with the connection here between WIND AND THE WILLOWS and E. B. White's CHARLOTTE'S WEB, the latter of which is rightly the most celebrated children's book ever, and surely the most beautifully-written. (in 1952, CHARLOTTE'S WEB lost the Newbery Medal to Ann Nolan Clark's now-completely forgotten SECRET OF THE ANDES, perhaps the American Library Association's most infamous decision)

Loving (and lovely) recollections here Movie man, of Mole, Ratty, Badger et al, and fascinating clarification of mysticism (and of course in the novel, morality) that might be seen as darkening the work. Again that visit with Grahame was really priceless.

MovieMan0283 said...

Yes, that was a great anecdote. However, I do have to admit that I grew up with a different illustrated version of Wind in the Willows, one more ostentatious (perhaps too ostentatious for some) but which I greatly appreciated nonetheless. Still, perhaps as a Willows lover I will buy the Shepherd version. You can't have too many editions of that book sitting around.

MovieMan0283 said...

By the way, you've got to check out that Wind in the Willows at 100 piece. It's even longer but also even more stuffed with great anecdotes about Grahame.