Saturday, August 31, 2013

A shout out to a friend, who's trying to make the Phnom Penh music scene more available to the wider world with his Internet radio channel: Radio Free Equinox.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/27/197823/us-allowed-italian-kidnap-prosecution.html#.UfPSDo2Tg8s#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

J. Edgar


            I’ve got mixed feelings about this film. On the whole I’m glad I watched it, and I appreciate its ambition.  But at the same time, the story lacks forward momentum, and can be hard to sit through.
           
            To be fair, it’s a difficult subject to condense into a 2 hour movie.
            Biopics in general can be difficult to do as movies, because real life doesn’t always follow the classic Hollywood 3 act structure.  Most people’s lives are a series of unconnected events rather than a continuous story that is leading up to a single climax followed by a tidy resolution.
            Of course some lives adapt themselves to movies easier than others.  With movies like Spartacus or Braveheart, it’s pretty clear what the central conflict should be, and where the final climax should fall.
            But the life of a government bureaucrat doesn’t lend itself to screenwriting.  Hoover served for 48 years under 8 Presidents, and during that time was involved in some way with most of the political or social events of the United States.  But how do you make one single story that combines the Palmer raids, the Lindbergh Kidnapping, prohibition, the gangster era, Hoover’s vendetta against Charlie Chaplin, World War II, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Freedom Summer murders, the Vietnam War, student radicals, the Black Panthers, Cointelpro, Nixon, and, of course, Hoover’s famous vendetta against Martin Luther King Jr.?  (And that’s only to name a few of the events Hoover was involved with.)

            What approach would have worked best for a J. Edgar Hoover biopic is still an open question.  I think a J. Edgar Hoover biopic is worth doing, but I’m still not quite sure what the best way around the problem would be.
            What I can say, however, is that this film doesn’t work.  It tries hard, and it makes some decisions that I’m sure must have looked good on paper, but in the end it just doesn’t add up to an engaging film.

            The first problem is that this film focuses too much on J. Edgar Hoover’s personal life. 
            It’s an understandable mistake.  The film is trying to humanize J. Edgar Hoover, and portray him not simply as a monster, but to understand what made him tick.         
            This is a common problem with Hollywood biopics.  And yes, it does help to humanize J. Edgar Hoover by showing he had relationship issues in his private life.  But it’s possible to overplay this.  We all have relationship issues in our life.  The thing that makes Hoover’s story unique and worth telling is not the fact that he had mother issues or that he formed an attachments to another man—no one would have cared about any of that if Hoover had died an anonymous businessman.  The thing that makes Hoover’s story worth telling is how it impacted our history, and the relationship issues are interesting only in so far as they shed light on Hoover’s historical actions.
            Unfortunately, although the film spends a great deal of time on Hoover’s personal life, the film never makes a connection between Hoover’s personal life, and his actions as the director of the FBI.  (Or at least no connection that I could see.  If I’m missing something, let me know in the comments section.)
            Hoover’s relationship with Clyde Tolson at times threatens to become the main focus of the film, and make all the historical events look like simply little incidents that happened along the way of our main story: Hoover and Clyde and their unrequited love for each other.
            Also, since the exact nature of J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson’s relationship is the subject of speculation, it’s my understanding that most of what the film portrays between them is just the screenwriter’s imagination, and not historically accurate at all, including that big, ridiculous, drawn out, overly melodramatic scene of them fighting in the hotel room.

            So that’s one problem.
            The other problem is the narrative structure of Hoover dictating his memoirs, which causes the movie to jump around in time.
            I’ll admit there are some clever ideas here.  And it was an interesting Rashomon like touch to show how Hoover’s memories of historical events always differed from what really happened. 
            The implication was that Hoover had been telling listening to his own propaganda and lies for so long that he had begun to believe it, but (in what I’ll admit is a clever move) the audience isn’t let in on this until near the end of the film.
            But this cleverness comes at a cost, and in my opinion the negatives outweigh the positives.  Jumping around in time, and revisiting the same events, just kills any forward momentum the film might have had.  It fragments Hoover’s story even more, and makes it impossible to get absorbed in the story.

            So, those are my criticisms.
           
            On the other hand, even though this film never came together as a coherent narrative, there were parts of it I found fascinating: the Palmer raids, the deportation of Emma Goldman, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case (and the resulting media circus), the development of criminal science, Hoover’s attempts to take personal credit for all arrests made by the FBI and his vindictiveness against any other FBI agent who became too famous, Hoover’s blackmailing of American presidents, and Hoover’s pathological hatred of Martin Luther King, and his attempts to discredit King—all fascinating.

            And for that reason, despite all the film’s flaws, I’m going to give it a cautious recommendation anyway.  It is worth seeing, even if it is a little hard to sit through all 2 hours.  (Perhaps it’s best watched in segments rather than all at once.)

Was the Film Too Nice to Hoover?
          There are a couple of reviews on Salon [links HERE and HERE], that accuse this film of white washing J. Edgar Hoover by leaving out all the really nasty stuff he did—for example, the infamous Cointelpro (W) program which Hoover’s FBI used to sabotage black radicals and which, in some cases, even went as far as assassination against prominent Black radicals (W) is completely absent from this movie.
           
            Was Cointelpro, and the other similar abuses, left out of this movie because Hollywood is too conservative to reveal the whole truth?
             Or was it left out because you just can’t include everything in a two hour movie?
            Or perhaps a bit of both?

            At the very least, I’ll give this film credit for not shying away from Hoover’s attempts to destroy Martin Luther King. 
            Although back in his own day Martin Luther King was hated by conservatives, nowadays Martin Luther King is considered an American icon.  So, if you’re trying to tell a story to a mainstream audience, and you’ve only got two hours, and you want to do it economically, and you haven’t got time to get into the whole history of Black radicalism and Cointelpro, then simply showing J. Edgar Hoover’s attempts to destroy Martin Luther King is a nice short hand way of conveying the message: this guy’s gone too far.  You don’t really need to show a lot more than that—once he’s on the wrong side of Martin Luther King, he’s lost the sympathy of the audience.  So I’m inclined to cut the movie some slack on this one.
           
            (…of course that being said, it is a travesty that most Americans don’t know about the history of Cointelpro because the schools and the media never talk about it, and,like a lot of other things in history, this just gets swept under the rug.  But that’s a separate issue.)

            At any rate, this movie is an improvement over previous movies like Mississippi Burning, which re-wrote history to make the FBI the champions of the Civil Rights Movement.

            On the same subject, here’s a note from Wikipedia, here is a small historical fact note:

            I can understand why the movie wanted to have J. Edgar Hoover himself dictate the letter—from a cinematic standpoint that scene of J. Edgar Hoover yelling out that letter to his secretary makes for much more interesting viewing than a scene of Hoover delegating the task.
            And yet, from a historical standpoint, it’s worth remembering the letter was delegated, because it means that the FBI’s attempts to destroy Martin Luther King wasn’t just limited to Hoover’s personal idiosyncrasies, but was something the whole organization was responsible for.
            (The movie Mississippi Burning, for example, attempted to explain away Hoover’s hatred of Martin Luther King as something that didn’t really affect the rank and file members of the FBI, which the movie portrayed as the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.)
           
Notes
* The movie, and the DVD extra featurette, both made a big deal about how J. Edgar Hoover was responsible for making the use of fingerprints mainstream in criminal investigations.
            I’m not sure about the exact history of this.  It may well be that J. Edgar Hoover made the process mainstream, but as far back as 1894, the idea of using fingerprints to solve mysteries was already appearing in Pudd’nhead Wilson by MarkTwain.

* The first Gulf War happened when I was in 7th grade, and Norman Schwarzkopf was in the news a lot back then.  I remember my history teacher at the time pointing out to us that Norman Schwarzkopf"s father, Norman Schwarzkopf senior, was the very same police officer who had bungled the Lindbergh kidnapping case.  (Just something I thought about when Schwarzkopf appeared briefly in this movie.)

* One of the interesting things I learned from Sideshow by William Shawcross is that after the wave of campus violence following the invasion of Cambodia, Nixon’s team favored a surveillance program of American citizens that was so invasive that it appalled even J. Edgar Hoover, who refused to even sign the document until he had all his objections typed out onto it, and quickly rescinded parts of it afterwards.  (See sections quoted in my review of Sideshow by William Shawcross).
            It was interesting to read that Hoover, of all people, was being the voice of caution in the room.

            I’m not sure if this was the general pattern throughout the Nixon White House, or not, but this movie also implies that Nixon’s team was so ruthless it surprised even Hoover.

* I wish the story of J. Edgar Hoover's relationship with Clyde Tolson would have taken up less time in this movie.  Nevertheless, I admit to being educated.  I previously had no idea who Clyde Tolson is.  Now that I know, I'm better able to understand who that mysterious figure was with J. Edgar Hoover in other movies, such as Oliver Stone's Nixon.

Link of the Day
The Highest Degree Odious - PATRIOT, Cointelpro & Watergate

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Truth About Climate Change
(I came across this article because it was included in some of the teaching materials at my school.  It's 4 years old now, but still quite a sobering read.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser




            This book finds Flashman in the middle of the first Sikh War (1845-1846).
            Since I knew absolutely nothing about the first Sikh War, I got quite an education from this book.  And being a history geek, I enjoyed every minute of it.  (If you like history, these Flashman books are a real treat.)
           
            There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this book.  George MacDonald Fraser pulls off an exotic tale at the frontiers of British India that has plenty of espionage, intrigue and bizarre twists, most of which actually turn out surprisingly to be historical.
            George MacDonald Fraser also highlights some of the more colorful European and American adventurers in India during the period, such as Alexander Gardner (W) and Josiah Harlan (W), the latter of whom was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King.

            The book also includes some very interesting descriptions of the great battles of the Sikh War.
            Something that both George MacDonald Fraser and our narrator Flashman are at pains to emphasize is that, contrary to common misconception, the Sikh War, and many of the other British Imperial wars, were not fought against disorganized unarmed savages, but instead fought against a well-armed army trained on the European model.  To quote from Flashman: “That was the thing about the Khalsa [Sikh Army]: it was Aldershot in turbans. It was an army.
            That’s worth bearing in mind when you hear some smart alec holding forth about our imperial wars being one-sided massacres of poor club-waving heathen mown down by Gatlings.  Oh, it happened, at Ulundi and Washita and Omdurman—but ….our detractors never mentioned armies like the Khalsa, every bit as well-armed and equipped as we were.  So how did we hold India?  You’ll see presently.” (p. 58)
            The story culminates, then, with some great battles involving heavy artillery that to me seemed more like a Napoleonic battle than an Indian War.  One of the battles is even described as the “Indian Waterloo.”

            If you’re curious about this period of history, and you like a good exotic adventure story, this book is a lot of fun to read.

Historical Accuracy
          I know nothing about the Sikh Wars, so don’t put too much stock into my opinions.
            However that being said, one criticism I have heard about the Flashman series in general is that George MacDonald Fraser relies too much on sensationalist Victorian era reports instead of more sober and balanced histories.
            I suspect that might be the case here.  As always, George MacDonald Fraser has everything in the book meticulously backed up by historical endnotes, but some of the details in this book about the debauchery, orgies, and intrigue in the court of Lahore seem to read like they may have been exaggerated by credulous Victorians. (Although again, I really don’t know anything, so I’m not in a position to make a judgment.  This is just my suspicion.)
            As with some of the other books in the Flashman series, this book is probably an example of orientalism (W)—the kind of book that emphasizes the exoticness and strangeness of Eastern cultures to create a more interesting story for Western audiences.
            Of course whether this is a negative point or not depends entirely on your perspective.  I have a good friend who is a fellow Flashman fan, and when I mentioned this point to him he replied, “I’d actually say that’s the best thing about the Flashman books.  Some people may criticize George MacDonald Fraser for using sensationalist Victorian sources, but I’d praise him for it.  He’s correct to go back to the most exciting and interesting sources and use those to make his story.  That’s the kind of history that’s the most interesting to read.”
            And he may be right.  I just bring up the issue so that a potential reader knows beforehand what they’re getting into.  But if exotic oriental adventures sound more your thing than a sober boring history, then this is the book for you.

The Politics
          I’ve mentioned this before in previous reviews, but it seems to me that the politics of these Flashman books have changed along the way.
            The first 5 books in the series seemed to be a criticism of the British Empire and the imperial mindset.
            Starting with book 6, Flashman’s Lady, the books actually became a defense of British (and sometimes American) imperialism.
          One of two things happened: either 1) George MacDonald Fraser got more conservative as he grew older, or 2) he had actually been conservative all along, and I just thought the early books were anti-imperial because I was mistakenly reading my own views into the books.  (At some point I should probably re-read the early Flashman books and see how they fare under a second reading.)

            The early Flashman books focused on the British disaster in Afghanistan, the pointless bloodbath that was the Crimean War, and showed the results of British misrule in India during the Indian Mutiny.

            In the later Flashman books, George MacDonald Fraser defends the British imperial legacy in Borneo, the second Opium War, and in Ethiopia, (and at least some aspects of the United States policy against the American-Indians).

          In this book, George MacDonald Fraser defends the British policy during the Sikh Wars.  He portrays the British government as simply wanting peace and stability in the Punjab, and forced into a war by the aggression of the Sikhs.
            Sir Henry Hardinge, who had hoped for a more peaceful resolution to the Sutlej crisis, is represented as short-sighted and arrogant, and those favoring a more aggressive British policy (George Broadfoot and Sir Hugh Gough) come off as much more competent and far sighted.
            George MacDonald Fraser is aware that some other historians have placed the blame for the origin of the Sikh War on the British government (he cites Cunningham’s 1849 work History of the Sikhs), but he attempts to write a rebuttal of this in one of his appendixes:
            It is easy to say that with a powerful, arrogant Khalsa bent on invasion, war was inevitable; no one in the Punjab could restrain them (or wanted to), so what could the British do but prepare to meet the storm? Something, according to Cunningham, a most respected historian, who believed that, while the Khalsa took the initiative, the British were “mainly to blame” for the war. His conclusions have been eagerly seized in some quarters, but his argument boils down to the suggestion that Britain, “an intelligent power” faced with “a half barbarous military dominion”, should have acted with more wisdom and foresight.  It is rather lofty, even for 1849, and perhaps “equally” or “partially” would be fairer than “mainly.” (Appendix 1: The Sutlej Crisis, p. 365)

            Which view is accurate?  Someone who actually knows their facts will have to answer this question.  I have no idea.  For all I know, George MacDonald Fraser may well be right.

            And yet, there are parts of this book which lead me to suspect that our narrator Flashman (and our author George MacDonald Fraser) have started to view history through a more belligerent and pro-imperial stance that would have been out of place in the earlier books.
           
            For example, in one of the earlier Flashman books, Flashman at the Charge, these are Flashman’s thoughts as he surveys the wreckage after the battlefield at Crimea.  (The Crimean War occurred after the Sikh War, but it comes from an earlier Flashman book because they are not always written in chronological order.)  Here Flashman is talking about what he'd like to do to the War-mongers back in England who had started the whole slaughter.

            The camp ground was littered with spent shot and rubbish and broken gear among the pools of congealed blood – my stars, wouldn’t I just like to take one of our Ministers, or street-corner orators, or blood-lusting, breakfast-scoffing papas, over such a place as the Alma Hills – not to let him see, because he’d just tut-tut and look anguished and have a good pray and not care a damn – but to shoot him in the belly with a soft-nosed bullet and let him die screaming where he belonged. That’s all they deserve.

            Contrast that, if you will, with Flashman’s thoughts after witnessing the slaughter of the Sikhs in this book:
            They say ten thousand Khalsa died in the Sutlej. Well, I don’t mind and I still don’t.  They started it, and hell mend them, as old Colin Campbell used to say. And if you tell me that every man’s death diminishes me, I’ll retort that it diminishes him a hell of a sight more, and if he’s a Khalsa Sikh, servers him right.
            Knowing me, you won’t marvel at my callousness, but you may wonder why Paddy Gough, as kindly an old stick as ever patted a toddler’s head, hammered ‘em so mercilessly when they were beat and running.  Well, he had good reasons, one being that you don’t let up on a courageous adversary until he hollers “Uncle!”, which the Sikhs ain’t inclined to do—and I wouldn’t trust ‘em if they did. Nor do you feel much charity towards an enemy who never takes prisoners, and absolutely enjoys chopping up wounded, as happened at Sobraon and Ferozeshah both. Even if Gough had wanted to stop the slaughter, I doubt if anyone would have heeded him.
            But the best reason for murdering the Khalsa was that if enough of the brutes had escaped, the whole beastly business would have been to do again, with consequent loss of British and Sepoy lives. That’s something the moralists overlook (or more likely don’t give a dam about) when they cry: “Pity the beaten foe!” What they’re saying, in effect, is “Kill our fellows tomorrow rather then the enemy today.” But they don’t care to have it put to them like that; they want their wars won clean and comfortable, with a clear conscience. (Their consciences being much more precious than their own soldiers’ lives, you understand.)  Well, that’s fine, if you’re sitting in the Liberal Club with a bellyful of port on top of your dinner, but if you rang the bell and it was answered not by a steward with a napkin but an Akali with a tulwar, you might change your mind.  Distance always lends enlightenment to the view I’ve noticed. (p. 344-345—tulwar means Sikh sword in Hindi)

          As Flashman is an anti-hero, I suppose I should be cautious about assuming his views are synonymous with George MacDonald Fraser (although Fraser will usually make a note in the endnotes when he wants to disassociate himself from Flashman’s analysis, something he doesn’t do here.)  Either way, this is a far cry from Flashman’s views in Flashman at the Charge.
           
            And so, as with several of the previous Flashman books, I’m not sure I entirely approve of the pro-imperial politics of this book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the story.
            Put this down as another guilty pleasure.

          [Lest I be unfair, there’s at least one passage that harkens back to the old Flashman, the critic of Victorian morality.  Flashman is put in a position where it may be to Britain’s advantage if he can seduce a foreign princess and he notes with pleasure how uncomfortable the whole thing makes his superiors.  As Flashman relates: He [George Broadfoot] had the conscience of his time, you see, Bible-reared and shunning sin, and the thought that my success in Lahore might depend on fornication set him a fine ethical problem.  He couldn’t solve it—I doubt if Dr. Arnold and Cardinal Newman could, either. (“I say, your eminence, what price Flashy’s salvation if he breaks the seventh commandment for his country’s sake?” “That depends, doctor, on whether the randy young pig enjoyed it.”) Of course, if it had been slaughter, not adultery, that was necessary, none of my pious generation would even have blinked—soldier’s duty, you see. (p. 49-50).]

Notes
* As you can see from some of the above quotes, Flashman our narrator uses a lot of Indian words as he tells his story. 
            I suspect this is to give the story more authenticity.  I’m told that the British community stationed in India picked up a lot of the local words, which they would intermix with English in their conversations with each other to develop a unique sort of expatriate dialect.  (The expatriate community in Japan does the same thing, by the way, so I can easily imagine it).  And George MacDonald Fraser spent some time in India, where he apparently acquired some of this lingo himself.
            However, I’m not sure I entirely sure I appreciated the linguistic education.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find all those trips back to the glossary a tad annoying.

* I have now finished all 12 Flashman books (see list above).  I read the books slightly out of order because I’m in Asia and it was difficult to track the books down exactly in order. So I’m actually finishing on book 9 out of 12, but this is nevertheless the end of the Flashman series for me.  Although I’ve noted my quibbles with this or that along the way, on the whole it’s been an enjoyable reading experience.
            Although this is the end of the official Flashman series, Flashman and his family do reportedly make cameo appearances in some other George MacDonald Fraser books: Mr. American (A) and Black Ajax (A).  And Flashman also reportedly pops up in yet other books by other writers (W). 
            I’m not sure yet if I’ll get to these other books or not, but as always if I read them, I’ll add them to my book review list.

* For another review with a similar point of view to mine--SEE HERE

Link of the Day  

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame




Why I Read This Book
          Aside from the fact that this is one of those classic books that’s been on my to-read list for decades now, there were a couple things that pushed this book to my attention recently.
            A couple brief excerpts from this book are featured on the audio book anthology 1000 Years of Laughter  which I’ve been listening to, and I decided I liked the humor.
            And then, somehow in my Internet wanderings, I came across this interview with Guillermo del Tor, where he was talking about how he pulled out of the Disney movie project: "It was a beautiful book, and then I went to meet with the executives and they said, 'Could you give Toad a skateboard and make him say, 'radical dude' things,' and that's when I said, 'It's been a pleasure...'" .  I decided I wanted to read the book and find out why he thought it was so beautiful.
            The final reason is that I was going on a beach trip with a few friends, and I needed a short, light read that I could kick back at the beach with, and finish off in a couple days, and this seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Children’s Book or Adult’s Book
         I’d be curious to hear about other people’s experience of this book.  Did you read it as a child, or as an adult, and what age did you think this book was most appropriate for?  Do me a favor and leave a comment if you’ve already read this book.

            In my case, my mother actually gave me a copy of this book when I was a child (around 4th grade I think) and for years it just sat on my bookshelf mocking me.  I tried several times to read it, but could never get past the first few pages.  It was just so boring and slow moving.

            Now that I’m an adult, I have a lot more patience, and I can easily put up with the long descriptions of natural settings or domestic life or daily animal habits.  But as a child I lacked this patience.
            The style of the book is episodic with many different chapters containing separate stories.  (The exception being the stories involving Toad, most of which happen near the end.) The stories in the beginning chapters are very simple: Mole meets Rat and has his first trip down the river, Mole and Rat get lost in the woods for a while until they find Badger’s house, Mole gets homesick and re-visits his old house, et cetera.

            There’s perhaps a temptation to imagine that simple stories are ideal for children, but I think the contrary is true.  Children, perhaps especially young boys, need a lot of fast paced action to hold their attention.  If you want to see the ideal book for a ten-year old boy, check out Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It’s all non-stop action, and very little time wasted on describing anything. 
            The Wind in the Willows, however, is the antithesis of Burroughs.  It’s very little action, and a lot of description.

            The publisher’s introduction to my paperback (Jane Yolen, 1988, Tor Books) tackles this awkwardness head on, and admits that parts of the book are more suited for middle-age than childhood.  The book was apparently written as part of a middle-aged crisis for Kenneth Grahame when he was feeling very nostalgic about his childhood.  It was combined with a series of stories about Mr. Toad that Kenneth Grahame had been telling his son, and the Mr. Toad stories are much more child friendly.
            But, although the adventures of Mr. Toad are what everyone remembers from this book, the bulk of the book is actually filled with nostalgic descriptions of the English countryside and domestic life in rural England.
            I can appreciate the beauty of all of this now, but I would never give this book to a child.

            A couple of the chapters are even overtly about middle-aged crises.  In one chapter, Rat, who has lived all his life in peaceful domestic bliss on the same river, encounters another rodent who has sailed over the world and has stories from every port town.  Rat has a moment of crisis in which he wonders if he’s missing out on life by not travelling and having adventures, and he almost packs up his things and sets out to see the world before he is eventually talked out of it by Mole, who brings him back down to earth by talking about English pastoral life.  Casually, then, and with seeming indifference, the Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons, and their straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves. He talked of the reddening apples around, of the browning nuts, of jams and preserves and the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he reached midwinter, its hearty joys and its snug home life, and then he became simply lyrical.” (p. 145-146)

            There’s another chapter when Rat and Mole encounter the nature god Pan.  It’s a beautifully written passage (and often very beautifully illustrated [LINK HERE]), but the primary emotion is a sense of painful nostalgia for something lost.  Again, it’s not something I would recommend to a child.

            On the other hand, the pastoral scenes in this book are intercut with the adventures of Mr. Toad, and the Mr. Toad parts are obviously written for a child.  They are much faster paced and adventurous, and they also follow a child’s sense of logic.  (After Mr. Toad escapes from jail, he is a fugitive from the law and pursued by the police, but all of this is abruptly dropped from the story as soon as he gets back home.  In the logic of this book, it appears once you get back to your home base you win and the police just go home.  Also, the stouts and the weasels are driven out of Toad Hall by a surprise attack, but for some reason there is never any question of the stouts and weasels re-grouping for any sort of counter-attack, despite the fact that they have superior numbers.   Once they are driven out of Toad Hall the first time, the game appears to be over.)


            To quote from the publisher’s afterward:
            “The Wind in the Willows is not one book but three.  There is the contemplative, pastoral, sentimental, and nostalgic story of those best of old-fashioned friends Rat and Badger and Mole.  There is the rollicking adventure of the irrepressible and trouble-minded toad.  and there is the mystical, magical, even visionary and dreamlike, allegory of Pan with his Pipes at the Gates of Dawn.  Some readers prefer the story of friendship, some prefer the fast-paced adventure; some prefer the dream.” (Jane Yolen, 1988).

            So, although parts of The Wind and the Willows are written for children, and parts for adults, I think on the whole the book is best read by adults.  Adults can enjoy the children’s sections of the book a lot better than children can handle the adult parts.

            But that’s just my opinion.  Let me know what you thought of this book.
            While out on the beach, I did a quick survey of my group of friends.  One person said he actually had read this book as a child.  Even though the book had bored him, he said he was just such a voracious reader as a child that he read anything and everything he could get his hands on, and he plowed on through the book anyway despite the boredom.
            I suspect this is the only kind of child that can read this book.  I was very much the opposite kind of child though.  I liked reading, but it was a slow and laborious process for me, and if the story didn’t move quickly enough, I was very easily distracted by other books which did move quicker. And that’s what happened to me with The Wind in the Willows. 

            My other friends had never even read this book, but had a lot of nostalgia for the characters and the story nonetheless because they remembered it from the various TV shows.  (In my case, I have a lot of nostalgia for the Disney version (W), but from my British friends I learned there was also a TV show based on The Wind in the Willows that ran for several years in Britain (W).) 
            The fact that the characters from this story have worked their way into our collective childhood nostalgia, regardless of whether we read the book or not, is perhaps an indication that this book does have some level of strong appeal to children after all.

The Review
          All that being said, let me put aside the question of who this is for, and simply focus on how enjoyable it was for me to read now at my present stage in life.
            And the answer is: quite enjoyable.  This is a quick read which I easily finished off in a couple of days, and it’s a thoroughly charming.  It has a lot of cute scenes describing animal society, very detailed descriptions of life in the Edwardian English countryside, and it can be quite funny.

          Having been forewarned by the publisher’s introduction that a lot of the book was simply nostalgia about the English countryside, I allowed myself to get in the mood and allowed the author to paint his picture of the simple joys of the river and the forest, and the joys of a cozy home.
            The sections describing home life in Edwardian England were interesting as well.  In this day and age of electric heating, it’s easy to forget how important the fireside was to Edwardians in the winter time, and there are a lot of passages describing how comfortable the fire place was, and describing animals talking to each other while warming themselves by the fireside, or drinking warm ale by the fire.

            I also enjoyed the humor of the book.  And to illustrate this, I’ll indulge myself  by quoting my favorite passage.

My Favorite Passage
          The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song.  He had just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay proper attention to Mole or anything else.  Since early morning he had been swimming in the river in company with his friends the ducks.  And when the ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and tickle their necks just under where their chins would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shaking their feathers at him, for it was impossible to say quite all you feel when your head is under water. At last they implored him to go away and attend to his own affairs and leave them to minds theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called
“DUCKS’ DITTY”
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim—
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Every one for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call—
We are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!

            “I don’t know that I think so very much of that little song, Rat,” observed the Mole cautiously.  He was no poet himself and didn’t care who knew it; and he had a candid nature.
            “Nor don’t the ducks, neither,” replied the Rat cheerfully. “They say, ‘Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them?  What nonsense it all is!’ That’s what the ducks say.”
            “So it is, so it is,” said the Mole, with great heartiness.
            “No, it isn’t!” cried the Rat indignantly.
            “Well then, it isn’t, it isn’t,” replied the Mole soothingly…..