An Ambivalent Text: Chayan Samaddar

I heard that Children’s Literature was ’Impossible’, I heard it was an amorphous entity, I heard that there was no readily definable body of Children’s Literature any more than there is something that could be clearly labeled as Adult’s Literature. And, after going through Keneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ a couple of days back I am inclined to agree with everything I have heard. If this is Children’s Literature then William Golding’s ‘The Lord of the Flies’ should fall into the same category as well. However, this deeply ambivalent book has been dubbed as one of the undisputed classics in the field of Children’s Literature since its publication in 1908.

Apparently, this is an animal story: a series of misadventures by Mole, Rat, Badger and the irrepressible Toad. There is fun,frolic and burlesque. There is no sex or violence. Therefore, it must be a children’s book. What else can it be?  But, the very animals make one uneasy. They do not come across as animals at all. For all their superficial fur there is nothing ‘cute’ about the animals. Mole is a respectable householder, Badger is a country squire, Rat is a gentleman of leisure not much unlike Bertram Wooster and Toad is a moneyed land owner. This is a world of grown-ups with very grown up preoccupations. And what about those slow moving chapters like ‘DulceDomum’ or ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’? How can a child ever identify with them?

One cursory glance at the Gates of Dawn would suffice to prove that we are in the midst of a Wordsworthian world. “A wide half circle of foam and glinting lights and shining shoulders of green water, the great weir closed the backwater from bank to bank, troubled all the quiet surface with twirling eddies and floating foam streaks and deadened all other sounds with its solemn and soothing rumble” .The language is strongly evocative of The Prelude! Then again, if one takes a look at the DulceDomum chapter he is certain to feel that here is an assemblage of fond emotional responses to the world of Reading : there are resonances of Wordsworth and Shelley, echoes of Charles Dickens. Here Mole asks Rat to make a play all but himself and dares him to act as mice are natural actors. It does not matter that he gets tongue tied and cannot perform. What matters is that Grahame evokes the enchantment of theatre, the seduction of role playing, the world of The Master of Shadows: William Shakespeare. But the Specter is contained almost as soon as it is raised for such histrionics has no place in the putatively domestic fantasy of ‘savory comfort’.

WND_13058093220This very longing for comfort brings to the fore a clash between two cultures. The Edwardian England and the stable Victorian World the author was brought up in. It is very easy to see that a fear of change permeates the book. One is almost forbidden to break out into the dangerous Wide World. And if anyone does break out, they are punished (symbolized by the Mole’s terror in the Wild Wood ) or regarded as bad (Toad is put behind the bars by the Law as well as locked away by his friends). It is not difficult to sense the author’s anxiety about the noisy, speedy, automobiles encroaching on the bucolic countryside and destroying the traditional ways of life, the growing strident voice of the working class and the recognition of women’s place in the society. For this reason Toad Hall is reclaimed by the forces of conventionalism, the deviant Toad is frowned upon and any reference to women is either derisive or condescending. Substituting sex with food here an anxious Englishman who fears women power tries to retreat into a rustic upper middle class idyll where all male bonding reigns supreme.

However, all said and done, nobody can gainsay this book’s appeal to children. Despite all the nuances a body of children did enjoy it across generations. Still does, as a matter of fact. The reason may be the farce, the burlesque or the image of Toad as an archetypal trickster. It can be a number of things which brings us back to square one. We cannot but resign ourselves to the fact that Great Literature knows no boundaries and resonating with a plethora of complex emotions can captivate just anybody.

Acknowledgement: 1) Children’s Literature—Peter Hunt

                                    2) Children’s Literature: A Very Short Introduction —Kimberley Reynolds.

                                   3) Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter—Seth Lerer.

About author

Chayan Samaddar
Chayan Samaddar 1 posts

Chayan Samaddar (b. 21.03.1972) is an avid reader. An English Teacher by profession Chayan is passionate about Literature and is extremely fond of Indian Classical Music and children. Chayan lives in Calcutta with his mother Smriti and wife Debanjana and gives vent to his feelings on his Facebook page চয়নের হিজিবিজি/Chayan's Scribblings.

You might also like

House With Legs & Other Paintings: Santanu Mitra

Santanu Mitra has obtained Bachelor of Visual Arts and Master Degree in Printmaking from Government college of Art  & Craft, Kolkata. His work has been exhibited in several Art Galleries

The Cadaverine Man & Other Poems: Rajosik Mitra

OUR WORLD She shone against the obsidian night, The great blackness of the sky.. Like a half moon, a light from beyond The known, and notions Of life that glue

Zen poems

1) These rain drops Fresh and full Drenched in the Touch of sky Come dancing Like a naughty child   2) A kite   Looks like a swinging dot At

Throne of a Sinking Mind & Other Poems

March   Embryo of death will bloom   I am being lost like a madman Observe my struggle Month of March is lagging behind this journey   These rocks define

Twin Peaks – David Lynch’s Unfinished Masterpiece: Riddhiman Basu

David Lynch as a filmmaker is acclaimed for his surrealist and often mind-bending cinema. The most celebrated among them are the films ‘Lost Highway’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Inland Empire’, which

The Minimal & Infinite

Our time, habits & nuances have been changing rapidly since ‘90s. It started from 1991, through Manomohan Singh’s reform & liberalized economic policies .Then  it started with more sweeping changes

Blues for a Black Cat

Boris Vian (1920-59) led a rather too short life on this earth. But, within that 39 years, he wrote 10 novels, 42 short stories, 7 theatre pieces, 400 songs, 4 poetry

‘Majjhim Pantha’ by Roshnara Mishra – A Review by Anirban Bhattacharya

…..and the search continues. A poet, bewildered, observes the very similitude of every tedium of life, whispering “ekta rasta/hothat-i arekta rastar moto’’ (a street, all on a sudden, seems like

This letter won’t be long…

“But we, by a love so much refined, That ourselves know not what it is, Inter-assured of the mind, Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.” – Chapter 10,

Eternal Mulberry: Manindra Gupta

Translator’s Note: Akkhay Mulberry Vol.1 [Trans. Eternal Mulberry] is an auto-biographical sketch of Manindra Gupta – an eminent writer of Bengal who has been penning poems, short stories, and novel

Don’t Fear an Apology & other poems

  MANDU Too hot to hide under sheets Mandu lay naked in bed Her back sticky from sweat A voice echoed in her head     Get up, get up,

Krakow, Poland: Swagata Basu Pajor

The first thing that you notice upon landing on Krakow’s John Paul II International airport is the crisp fresh air. The drive down to Nowy Sacz is truly a sight

Every day is Sunday: A Reading of The Sense of An Ending

“Every day is Sunday”…… as Tony wanted it to be. Once you open the book and start reading the novel, you will find the first line written, “I remember in

The formula of taking over & Other Poems

Columbus Columbus You have picked up my life from dusty roads! You have carried evidence like mucus. You have let it loose under the bed at the end of dawn.

Sun and Light in Odysseas Elytis’ poetry

Odysseas Elytis was born in 1911 on the island of Crete and was a descendant of a family coming from Lesbos island. When his insular conscience met surrealism, the result

Heartcage v/s Sealedlips, Shuteye: A Reaction on Reading Tanvir Ratul’s Bawkkhopinjawr Bawnam OshThho aar Chokhbawndher Kobita

Tanvir Ratul first started writing when he was at the end of his high school. Over the time, the list of his published books grew to a considerable number along

Christmas & Other Poems

Birth of a feeling And the dogs groan … to make them satiate and sedate a night was made Intercourses, cold – to be performed crossing the greedy voyeurs of

Paradelle on Love & Other Poems: Lyn Coffin

Lyn Coffin (born November 12, 1943) is an American poet, fiction writer, playwright, translator, non-fiction writer, editor. She has published fiction, poetry and non-fiction in over fifty quarterlies and small

Freedom, I Cry & Other Poems

everyone thinks they used to be happier thump thump you wake up to the sound of your heart pounding against your ribs anxious to go back back to the day

Anathpindat & other Poems

Anathpindat* Rotten sea shell gashes your opium dream Before the morning prayer dance floor dishevels. While taking coffee in this bordello city Sleep evaporates from checkered table cloth. With cloud


No Comments Yet!

You can be first to comment this post!

Leave a Reply