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Childhood classic resonates with real life

In her monthly column, journalist Eve Tawfick discusses how children's literature can reflect modern life.

One of the joys of having children is you get an opportunity to re-live elements of your own childhood, delighting in the introduction of a quite possibly terrible series that will leave your tech-savvy offspring rolling their eyes at bad graphics, low-quality animation and outdated plotlines.

I feel a touch deflated each time my son points out obvious stunt doubles on Charmed or the unmistakable blurring that would forecast special effects on The Worst Witch.

I had hoped he would look past era-related technical glitches and focus on the metaphorical brilliance of plot and multi-layered structure. Alas, theatrical lines I once found thrilling have been rendered cheesy upon a re-watch, and I must confess re-visiting werewolf costumes from the Nineties dampens my appetite for low-budget dated horror shows.

However, one classic that has stood the test of time came in the unexpected form of British film The Wind in The Willows(1995). Feeling nostalgic, I remembered how much I had enjoyed the animated version based on the book by Kenneth Graham.

I recalled with fondness the antics of Toad of Toad Hall, his obsession with motorcars, his indignant, elitist rage whilst dressed as a barge-dwelling washerwoman. The dark vibes of the snow-covered forest re-awakened a once childish fear, as did the snuff-addicted, red-cheeked judge who sentenced Toad to life behind bars.

Memories of beloved characters came flooding back; anxious mole and wise rat, stern badger, water-loving otter and his curious son and of course a host of loathsome weasels that turn aristocratic Toad Hall into their version of Fyre Festival.

What I didn't remember, were the shrewdly embedded life lessons, lyrical prose and deep reflections on the darker points of life.

At 32 years old, I found myself mesmerised as I observed the close bond between protagonists Mole and Rat as they take on the roles of student and teacher. Rat introduces his friend to adventure instead of observation, a message that sees the ground-dwelling introvert cavorting around on boats in a splendid transposal of nature.

In turn, Mole grounds rat when he enters a near-psychotic state at the change of season, forgetting all that is dear to him, including the river, in his desperate need for adventure. Mole reminds him about the joys of harvest, the promise of crisp, springtime apples - that excitement can indeed be found on home shores.

We then observe the duo as Rat helps Mole refurnish his small, neglected home - a habitat that Mole feels ashamed of. The pair soon turn the decrepit hovel into a cosy haven where they enjoy the modest pleasures of simplicity. The touching gesture illustrates the indignity of depression, and that now and then all we need is a friend to help us clear away the cobwebs, without judgment. Mole’s gratitude and his willingness to accept help cements the unlikely friendship at a deeper level. We see this fundamental change take place set during a harsh, cruel winter – a fitting metaphor if any, for the torment of melancholy.

Badger, seemingly grumpy and isolationist, comes out of his home to join Mole and Rat on a mission to help Toad (who infuriates him and is Toad’s emotional antithesis).

The trio attempts to reign in the reckless amphibian, as they bear witness to a pile of destroyed motorcars after the spontaneous but spoiled Toad indulges another costly obsession.

His friends lock him in a room, where he kicks and screams, in his bright red bloomers, entirely undignified.

The scene smacks of helping a friend through the throes of addiction and how destructive addictive behaviours can be - no matter how rich and charismatic one is. Toad refuses to see the errors of his ways and ultimately hits "rock bottom" by stealing a motorcar and then crashing it.

He refuses to learn, even after a prison sentence of 20 years- the arrogant Toad uses his influence to make a great escape but soon lets his narcissism get the better of him.

His home, the elegant Toad Hall, has been taken up by a horde of weasels, signifying the pollution of his own spirit. The place he once called a sanctuary is seen in uproar and ruin – akin to the addictive mind.

Yet with the help of his dedicated friends, Toad manages to overcome his demons and is ultimately seen as a hero in society after casting the weasels out and claiming back his autonomy. Unlike previous years, Toad credits Mole, Badger and Rat with making Toad Hall a safe haven once more.

Triumph is met through struggle, addiction is overcome through consequence and depression is lifted with support and new ventures. Wanton wanderlust is cured by stability and sternness tempered by flexibility and joy.

The story emphasises the bonds of friendship, the struggle of changing seasons and emotions with complex characters that flow and bend just like the river they live by.

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