Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Wind in The Willows: Annotated Editions [Review]

I'm looking at two distinct publications in this review, interestingly both annotated editions of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

Title: The Annotated Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame, edited with a preface and notes by Annie Gauger
Introduction by Brian Jacques
Copyright: 2009, W.W. Norton, New York City (ISBN: 978-0-393-05774-4)
Length: 384 pp.

Title: The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition
by Kenneth Grahame, edited by Seth Lerer
Copyright: 2009, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts (ISBN: 978-0-674-03447-1 -- linked page includes interview with Lerer in mp3 format, as well as a 14-page excerpt in PDF)
Length: 273 pp.

The 100th anniversary of the initial publication of The Wind in The Willows (WitW) was actually in 2008, but these two editions celebrating that anniversary appeared in 2009. I can't recall how the two came to my attention, but I purchased both of them in August of this year in order to see how they compared. One of the most memorable fictional events from my childhood was the Dulce Domum chapter of WitW. Mole, walking along in mid-December, suddenly catches a whiff of his old home and runs urgently back to it with Ratty in close pursuit. Mole is in bad shape, but his supportive friend helps him back to some semblance of himself, with a reassuring preparation of a meal and the arrival of a holiday chorus of field mice singing in the snow outside the door of Mole End. It's one of the most emotionally reassuring renderings of home that I have ever found in literature. Looking at the way in which these two editors handled the annotation of this particular chapter is indicative of the differences between the two editions.

The Norton edition, primarily intended for the trade marketplace, opens with an extended explanation of the chapter's title in latin (essentially, home sweet home), including other uses of the phrase in art and poetry. She makes an attempt at identifiying the geographical location for the fictional Wild Wood. Perhaps most controversially, she notes unspoken themes of homosexuality based on Mole's and Ratty's friendship as evidenced by the 1937 illustrations by Payne. In particular, this chapter contains a dozen illustrations from the various editions of WitW. Because it is so closely aligned with Christmas, despite never being called that in the text, the illustrators could draw from the emotional symbols of that holiday in their contributions. Given that Mole is supposedly a middle class, low-church Victorian sort, Dulce Domum functions as a landmark for showing how far Mole has come in his own journey from an unseen creature laboring in a burrow to being up above ground and out of his natural element on the River. Gauger points this up with an annotation regarding potential allusions to The Odyssey. Gauger has 52 notes to this chapter, some of which are (in my opinion) irrelevant. While it might be valid to tie Mole's unconscious awareness of proximity to his home to a telegraphic signal, it doesn't seem worthwhile to take up space by noting Nelson's use of flags to send the message at Waterloo (England expects every man will do his duty).

By contrast, the more scholarly Belknap Press version, edited by children's literature scholar Seth Lerer (University of California-San Diego), offers no explanation of the chapter title. Where the Gauger edition has 12 illustrations included with this chapter, eight of which are in color, the Lerer edition has only 3 black and white Shephard illustrations. (Note: The single inset of color illustrations in the Belknap edition has 8 glossy pages of illustrations from a variety of editions, not all of which refer to this particular chapter. However, the inset is placed squarely in the middle of this chapter, most likely for production/binding reasons.) Lerer includes 47 notes to Gauger's 52, but his are brief and predominantly tied to his stated scholarly themes. Those include a belief that Grahame was deeply influenced by John Ruskin's thinking on the value of domesticity and a human need for caring shelter. A second theme in Lerer's interpretation of WitW is Grahame's language and the frequent inclusion of examples from the text in the Oxford English Dictionary to illustrate contemporaneous usage. Another contrast between the two interpretations of these editions is that Lerer sees the function of this chapter as differentiating Mole's emotionally valid affinity for his old burrow with Toad's artificial ties to his estate, Toad Hall. The former is naturally appropriate whereas the latter shows Toad in a stone and wood construct, not the natural dwelling place of an amphibious creature. Toad has never found his natural place in the world and Mole still retains that awareness.

I don't think I would be satisfied with owning just one or the other of these annotated editions. Each is a perfect complement to the other. Gauger's edition focuses less on the total body of Grahame's life and work and more on the various editions and body of illustrations associated with The Wind in the Willows. Lerer's effort is at positioning The Wind in The Willows in the larger context of the author's life and historical context. If Grahame's work has any emotional significance in your life, you may also wish to have both on your shelf.

Other useful links:
Interview with Charles van Sandwyck, illustrator of the most recent Folio Society edition of The Wind in the Willows
Web Resources Compiled by Kenneth Grahame Society