Furthermore, it’s clear that the cartoonification of both the text and illustrations of “The Wind in the Willows” is no accident, no amateur mistake. Taken as a whole, it appears the Great Illustrated Classics has a mission, that being to make all the classics as accessible, and ultimately as vacant, as a third-rate comic book. There must be good marketing in that, since commerce and busy parents don’t always have time for art.
It’s painfully ironic that today’s children — whose alarmingly low reading rates are the subject of endless educational debates — are nonetheless willy-nilly expected to read the classics to themselves earlier than children of any previous generation. ABDO has created a self-perpetuating marketing niche. The more parents buy their series, the less reading aloud will go on, so the more children will fail to gain the sophisticated literacy it would take to read the original for themselves, so the more they will need watered-down versions. Even if these watered-down versions go unread, there will be well-meaning parents who will buy them anyway, hoping.
There’s another force to be reckoned with in this process, and that is the Walt Disney Co.
If the Great Illustrated Classic of “The Wind in the Willows” is actually faithful to anything, that would be the many animated versions that have spun off from Grahame’s book over the years. When Disney ate Milne’s treasure, the evidence was everywhere. There are the trademark cartoon figures; there is the text that retells the popular cartoon more than Milne’s stories. Fittingly, the Disney versions are to be found under “D” in our library’s children’s section. Under “M” you may, if you are lucky, find “The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh,” by Milne himself, intact and full of their original wit.
But the Disneyfication of “The Wind in the Willows” is more insidious. Because, as Evil Clones are wont to do, Disney’s Toad has gone back to wipe out the original, replace it with himself and cover his tracks. Only those who know to poke around will discern the plunder, and by that time the real treasure may be long gone. When our library’s vintage copies of “The Wind in the Willows” finally wear out, the Great Illustrated Classic, with its sturdy library binding will be all that’s left. And the only hint of the desecration will be the ambiguous but friendly “adapted by” bit on the title page. We’ll find Mole sick of cleaning. Toad flinging horrid little wagons. Mole sitting in his chair with a bubble of Badger over his head. Cleansed of “divine discontent and longing,” bereft of “poetry of motion,” with Mole never taking time out to smell Home, Little Portly neither lost nor found, and no Pan pipes to be forgotten by Rat or reader. Greatly diluted and poorly illustrated “classics” will be the literary legacy left to our children.
[…] Childhood is a sweet time, and an innocent one. But my child knows pain, sorrow, desires and their restraint, friendships tested and found true, people who let you down again and again and you love them anyway. Kenneth Grahame spoke from his heart, bestowing a gift that my daughter can open more and more fully each year. My daughter deserves nothing less than the gifts of artists. What I want for her is precisely what the Great Illustrated Classics wants to leave out. The unfathomable mystery of intimacy and glimpses of its inner workings. A taste of the dangers of the world. The jaw-dropping beauty of language. The heartbeat of the artist.
Beware the white binding with the red and black letters.