Whenever an iconic and beloved series is jump-started, revamped, or revisited, there is always anxiety among devoted fans. Whoever’s heading the project has a demanding task ahead of them: make it relevant to the modern day, please the existing fanbase, connect with new audience, be true to the original material, don’t repaint Daleks in technicolor!
Now I didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, until I was an adult, so Willows doesn’t have the nostalgic aura surrounding it that it does for many readers. However, I think author Jacqueline Kelly does a cracking job ensuring that the Willows we return to is quintessentially the same Willows we left at the end of Grahame’s tale. For starters, the narrator’s voice is spot on: avuncularly British (though why I associate the two words, I don’t know. None of my uncles are British), charmingly old-school, languidly pastoral, and slightly superior, especially in matters of taste and culture. Familiar friends Ratty, Mole, Toad, and Badger haven’t changed a whit, either, although Toad’s taste in vehicles has grown more extravagant.
Okay, I complained about the love interest, but they’re cute together, so I had to draw them.
But Return to the Willows isn’t just a rehash of its predecessor. It’s no easy task to write funny, much less the kind of funny that spans a century, but as a contemporary reader, I enjoyed the lovely mix of slapstick, situational humor, and witty characterization–especially when certain characters fail to realize the joke’s on them. Kelly also introduces several new characters to shake up Ratty, Mole, Toad, and Badger’s idyllic life: the nephew, the urchin, and the love-interest. Humphrey, Toad’s nephew, a shy young inventor befriends Sammy, a good-hearted weasel from the wrong side of the woods, and their friendship sets into motion one of the more climactic plotlines. And then there’s Matilda. At first, I was wary that the only female character Kelly introduces is Ratty’s potential love interest, but thankfully, Matilda turns out to be brave and clever, able to hold her own in Ratty, Badger, and Mole’s long-standing old boy’s club. (Still, why could she not have a name like Squirrel, or Hedgehog, or Vole–if you want her to be the same species as Ratty–and be the definite animal of her kind, the way Ratty, Mole, and Toad are?)
In short, I had a great time revisiting Willows (and Clint Young’s illustrations won me over completely), although I wonder what hardcore fans of the original think. Were you as charmed with this sequel as I was?
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