Max’s Map to Where the Wild Things Are

My choice of music probably dates me, but that’s okay: I admit that I am a child of the 60’s. Click on the arrow to listen because I want you to have this song on your mind as you read my last post. I imagine that Max’s mother is singing this song to him as he returns home from his adventure:

“Wild thing…you make my heart sing…

You make everything


I said wild thing…

Wild thing…I think I love you

But I wanna know for sure

Come on, hold me tight

I love you.” Etc

These are not the most complex of lyrics, but then, the message is simple: Wild thing…I think I love you. In Where the Wild Things Are, poor Max feels so unloved. So he envisions another world where he can have a little fun, live by his own rules, and forget about his troubles.

Again, there’s no map to guide us to this world. Max’s journey is the hardest one to imagine because it’s such a personal, private, and inner odyssey. But nephew ET has stepped into the breach, and he insists that he’s got this covered. So…hand-drawn map. Check. Amateur guide. Check. Novice cartographers. Check. No problem (well, except that there is no compass either!)

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are Map
Original Artwork by “ET”

  A New Map of Where the Wild Things Are (2012)

Map Name  Where the Wild Things Are
Cartographer “ET” 
Artist/Colourist “KLEW”
Publication Date July 4, 2012
Physical Description Hand lettered, coloured in pencil crayon. Relief shown by hachures.
Size 21 cm wide x 28 cm high
Compass Not noted
Cartographic Elements On Wildland, Some topographical details, locations of bays, lakes, and rivers, some settlements, mountains, ocean showing waves. Other landmass devoid of any elements except for two rivers and lakes.
Decorative Elements Ship named Max with one small boy at the helm, sea monster, Wildland shows plants such as pineapple or palm tree. On mainland is a small house with coniferous trees.
Nomenclature Sparse: Island named Wildland; unidentified Ocean. Other land mass unnamed.
Donated to ImagiNation Blog July, 2012

*Thanks to Professor Found, of the Faculty of Environmental Studies and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York University, whose map collection informed my knowledge of displaying information about maps July 23, 2012.

Interview with the Cartographer

Nancy: Why is there no compass on your map? 

ET: I thought Max was wild and that he didn’t need a compass just because of the kind of person he was.

Nancy: How did you do the lettering?

ET: I took it from the book because it would make the map look more like the book. Wildland is more colourful because that is where the adventure begins.

Nancy: Why do you think the author didn’t include a map?

ET: Because the author wants you to come up with your own story. The author wanted the reader to make it about his or her personal story, not just what he put on paper.

During a prolific sixty-five year career, Maurice Sendak wrote or illustrated more than 100 books and received numerous awards for his work. He was a first-generation American, born to poor Polish-Jewish immigrants. He lived through the Depression, and his family experienced unspeakable loss when their relatives in Europe were annihilated in the Holocaust. Maurice (or Morose as some people called him) used his own memories of childhood as inspiration for his work. He modelled his “Wild Things” on relatives, who visited him when he was ill (Wood 1) and wanted to “eat him up” (Rosenbach Memorial 1). His deep interest in childhood was “fuelled by going into therapy.” Because he believed that “the traditional portrayal of childhood was inaccurate, … he sought openly to confront children’s everyday fears and frustrations” (National Post 1). He examined both subjects when he wrote Where the Wild Things Are in 1963. You can listen to Sendak talk about his childhood and Where the Wild Things Are with NPR’s Terry Gross by clicking here.

There is no doubt that young Max is upset and frustrated. He has been mischievous, “his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’” (Sendak 5). Having argued and talked back to his mother, she sends him to bed without his supper. From the look on his face, it is easy to see that he is angry. His mother doesn’t consider his feelings or ask him what’s wrong—she just threatens him. In his life, he has no say, no power, and no agency. However, he does have the imagination to create a world where he can have all of those abilities. The trip that Max then takes is an emotional one and is a direct result of his agitated state. He doesn’t want to dwell on what just happened; he just wants to get away. So he calls up “an ocean…with a private boat…and he sail[s] off…to where the wild things are” (Sendak 13, 15).

"Let the wild rumpus start!"

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

In Deconstructing the Hero, Margery Hourihan suggests, “The wild things symbolize both the external ‘others’ and the hero’s inner fears and passions” (Hourihan 107). In this wild land, Max comes face to face with the monsters. Here, he wants to conquer and control the “wild things” because he lacks this ability and has no control over his own life. Here, where the wild things are, he has autonomy, he has power, and he has authority. He dominates the monsters with his eyes, with his command, “BE STILL” (Sendak 19), and with his crown and sceptre. During his short but enjoyable time with the wild things, Max wonders, “What do they have that I don’t?” Well, they know how to listen and how to control their emotions. They know how to howl at the moon, at the insanity of the world, and at the unfairness of life. They know how to live in the moment. They can laugh, have a good time, not take things too seriously, revel in the rumpus; and they can love.  These are skills or qualities that Max lacks, but they are necessary if he is going to grow up and navigate successfully in the adult world. Hourihan states, “We must all make the journey from childhood to adulthood and overcome the disabling doubts and terrors that beset us on the way” (Hourihan 107). In a way, Where the Wild Things Are is a healing text and could be part of what Freud calls “‘the talking cure’” (Crago 181). Hugh Crago says, “The basic idea of bibliotherapy is to…have a ‘reading therapist’ [suggest] a story which in some way bears on [a specific] problem” (Crago 184). This book, used as bibliotherapy, could help parents and children confront and discuss the “dark, dangerous and frequently rebellious” world of childhood (National Post 1).

As ET said in the interview, it’s personal: everyone’s journey is different. It is difficult to plot or map a journey of emotional growth and realization. We each have to find our own way. Well, even without a compass, we did it! We found our way ‘there and back again’. Thank you for joining KLEW, ET, and me on this journey into ImagiNation. I hope you have enjoyed the adventure and that you will look on every book (with or without a map) as being full of potential and possibility. And remember, as Alexander McCall Smith says, “Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives” (Smith, Love Over Scotland).

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Interesting to read the reasons for challenging/banning James and the Giant Peach.

Tween Book Blog

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl; illustrated by Quentin Blake

Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 978-0-375-81424-2

Reason for challenge/ban: Magic/witchcraft, communism advocacy, racism, drug/alcohol references, offensive language

Synopsis: After his parents are killed in a terrible rhinoceros accident, James Henry Trotter goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The two women feel no affection for James and make him do most of their chores and sleep in a tiny room with a very small window. One day in the garden, James is met by a peculiar stranger who hands him a bag of magic worms, telling him that if he eats them, wonderful things will happen to him. Unfortunately, James trips over the roots of the old peach tree on the way to the house, spilling the contents of the bag and causing extraordinary things to happen. A peach begins to grow from…

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A Map of James’s Journey

When The Staple Singers sing “I’ll Take You There”, they are talking about Heaven. The videographer uses many pictures of people who are abjected because of poverty, racism, and tragedy. The message is that there is no safe haven on earth, and they will have to seek salvation and refuge in Heaven. James, too, lives in a terrible situation with two horrible aunts. He is an outsider, he doesn’t fit in, he is verbally and emotionally abused, he is unloved, and he needs to find a way out. He needs to find his own safe harbour and a better way of life.

Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach (1961), felt like an outsider as well. Although he was born in Wales, his mother maintained strong ties with her Norwegian homeland by speaking the language and taking the family home for annual holidays. The family lived in the English countryside but, while “Dahl was proud to be British and though he craved recognition and acceptance from English society, for most of his life he preferred to live outside its boundaries, making his own rules and his own judgements” (Sturrock 19). Biographer Donald Sturrock felt that “Roald was always an outsider, the child of Norwegian immigrants, whose native land would become for their son an imaginative refuge, a secret world he could always call his own” (Sturrock 20). When Roald was only three, his seven-year old sister Astri (his father’s favourite) died; then his father came down with pneumonia, lost interest in living, and died a month later. Interestingly, many of the central characters in his books have lost one or both parents, which Dahl at first denied as being true but then declared as being a “‘trick to get the reader’s sympathy’” (Sturrock 16). Dahl began his writing career by telling stories to his children. He had the uncanny ability “to mesmerize almost every child who crossed his path….[and] to recreate and understand the child’s point of view” (Sturrock 40).

Dahl certainly understands the child’s point of view in James and the Giant Peach. James journeys across the Atlantic to the United States with his fellow outcasts, without a plan and without a map. Perhaps the author thinks if his characters don’t have a map, then his readers shouldn’t have one. Perhaps he thinks that it is a well-travelled route, and we all know our way. Perhaps the route cannot be plotted. Well, my intrepid cartographer KLEW thinks differently; therefore, since she is coming with us on this adventure, here is her map to accompany us on the literary voyage.


James’s Journey in the Giant Peach – Original Artwork by “KLEW”

Interview with the Cartographer

Nancy: Tell me about your map. Why did you draw the Empire State Building and not the USA? 

KLEW: That is the main point of the story.

Nancy: What are the key features of your map?

KLEW: You’ll notice the two flags–they signify where James started and finished his journey. The Empire State is red and England is blue. Also, there is no water in the map because James and his insect companions flew over the water for much of the journey. I put the peach on top of the Empire State building because that was what happened in the book. Spot on!

Nancy: Why do you think the author didn’t include a map?

KLEW: Because everyone knows the route and where the travellers are going: England to New York.

Well, as KLEW said, everyone knows–except James and his insect shipmates. They don’t necessarily know where they are going, but anywhere is better than where they have been. The British Empire and its citizens have not been supportive of James. No Children’s Agency has stepped in to remove him from his abusive home. He has had a horrid life with Auntie Sponge and Auntie Spiker. The insects agree that “nothing could be worse than [his] desolate hilltop and those two repulsive aunts” (Dahl 44). James is an abject human being. In the Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva says, “The abject refers to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other” (Powers as cited in Felluga 1). Kristeva uses the concept of death to demonstrate her idea:

A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph, for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, in true theatre, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being. (Powers 3 as cited in Felluga’s Introduction).

In other words, Auntie Sponge and Auntie Spiker revile their nephew James and refer to him as a “‘disgusting little beast’ or …[a] ‘filthy nuisance’ or… ‘miserable creature’” (Dahl 2). Aunt Spiker orders James to “get out of my sight, you disgusting little worm” (Dahl 9). However, they also want to keep James in their odd little family to do chores for them and to be an outlet for their wrath. Felluga explains this need to keep the abject close as an inescapable pull: “[W]e are, despite everything, continually and repetitively drawn to the abject” (Powers 29 as cited by Felluga 2). Despite the Aunties’ sickening need, James escapes.

The Empire State welcomes James and his insect friends.

Inside the giant peach pit, James finds a community of insects who are also abject creatures; and he is horrified. Just as his aunties reviled him, so he recoils in disgust from them. These insects are not normal-sized; they are “as large as a large dog” (Dahl 33). He meets an “Old-Green-Grasshopper”, “an enormous Spider”, “a giant Ladybug”, a Centipede and an Earthworm “reclining comfortably in curled-up positions”, and “something thick and white”—a Silkworm; and they are all “absolutely terrifying to behold” (Dahl 33-34). All of these abjected beings form a community. Although they all begin the journey with very poor opinions of themselves and they continually insult each other, they soon learn to find each other’s strengths. Together, they overcome obstacles on the journey. They each contribute to the group and learn to work together. In New York (the Empire State), the Empire State Building welcomes them by stretching its pinnacle up and embracing their peach craft. They arrive to great fanfare, and each claims happiness. In this re-imagined New World, their individual weaknesses are recognized as strengths. For example, although Earthworm is blind, is a “slitherer”, and a “slimy beast” (Dahl 37), New Yorkers praise him for his “lovely pink skin”, and he becomes a spokesperson for a women’s cosmetic company (Dahl 143). Change occurs because each creature is “recognized and loved by others” (Humphreys Lecture May 24). Dahl’s message is that change must begin inside each of us, but it is possible. Each of us must recognize and celebrate the good in ourselves. In doing so, we renegotiate our selves. By sharing, James and friends “create a new, re-imagined community” (Humphreys Lecture July 19). They look for and find their “Promised Land” (Dahl 57).

So, how do you draw a map of the journey to the Promised Land? Everyone has a different idea of his or her promised land. Every journey is different. The destination can be an imaginary place or concept, or it can be a real place on a map. In Genesis, God gave land to the Israelites and this land was called the Promised Land; the Mormons thought their Promised Land was the United States. Each of us are looking for the Promised Land, in one form or another. Some of us are looking to better ourselves, some are looking for a life of ease, and some want to leave lives of extreme hardship and difficulty and immigrate to a new land. Now, here is some Bruce Springsteen to take us home to…The Promised Land.

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A Map of Narnia and the Surrounding Countries

In sharing my posts, my practice has been to give you some biographical information about the author, show you the imaginary map from the book, and then discuss a few pertinent ideas. However, in this post, I present you with a map first. Bear with me; I have a reason. Notice that in this fantasy space, it shows a number of interesting features, all of them having to do with stereotypes and prejudices. Thought-provoking, isn’t it? Note the mystical land with magic (Asia) in the upper right corner. I believe this stereotypical view of the world, with Europe at the centre and all other countries on the margins, mirrors C.S. Lewis’s world view when he created The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950.

Clive and his brother Warner (Jack and Warnie) grew up in an upper middle-class household in Belfast. As a child of privilege, Jack’s parents employed a housemaid, cook, and governess, but he spoke dismissively of them in his childhood diary. His mother died when he was ten—it is telling that he speaks in geographic terms of the time after her death as “sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis” (Lewis, SBJ 23). Subsequently, his father sent him to join his brother at boarding school, as was customary. His father was an important role model, and he absorbed his father’s political talk. As a young and largely solitary boy, he combined his interest in geography and his lessons in politics to create the imaginary world of Animal-Land. He then joined Animal-Land with his brother’s island of India to create the single state of Boxen.  The Boxen Manuscripts are peppered with words of conquest and imperialism, of masters and servants, of lords and little people. Educated in the United Kingdom during the early 1900’s, he learned to think of other countries in an imperialistic way; he learned bigotry and racism, too. Lewis learned to stereotype, which he repeated and expressed in his writing. (Lewis, Boxen Introduction).

Now, let’s look at Narnia. On the western side, we see the Wardrobe–portal to and from Narnia–and the Lamp-post, which the children use as a guide or connection point back to the real world. Note that in the land of eternal winter, good and evil reside next to each other in Aslan’s Camp and Witch’s Camp; the large body of water in the East is the Great Eastern Ocean. While Lewis derives some of his place names from old English and French, he also mines Greek, Latin, Persian, and Turkish languages for names. The map shows intriguing and mysterious place names, adjacent countries, islands, and wild forests. Because Mr. and Mrs. Beaver accompany the children, they do not need a map to guide them. However, Lewis provides one to help the reader follow the quest.

Although two boys and two girls enter Narnia and each performs heroically, Father Christmas, Aslan, and the Professor choose to recognize only Peter and Edmund as heroes. Lewis subscribes to the belief that “heroes are traditionally male and the hero myth inscribes male dominance and the primacy of male enterprises” (Hourihan 67). Margery Hourihan suggests that the reason for this is that “[h]eroism is gendered” (Hourihan 67). Lucy begins very bravely in her hero’s journey. She is the first to enter Narnia through the wardrobe, and she not only confronts Mr. Tumnus but also convinces him to change his plan of kidnapping her by appealing to his conscience. However, after a brave start, her role diminishes. Susan, Edmund, and Peter minimize her by describing her as “batty”, “silly”, and “a goose” (Lewis, LWW 24, 25). When she and Edmund enter Narnia together, he continues to denigrate her by saying, “‘Just like a girl…sulking somewhere, and won’t accept an apology’” (Lewis, LWW 30).  On their return through the wardrobe, Edmund discounts their adventure by calling it “playing—pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true” (Lewis, LWW 45). When all the children enter Narnia, Peter becomes the leader, and Lucy and Susan look to him for answers. The girls take on domestic duties with Mrs. Beaver and help her prepare dinner for the males. Father Christmas gives Lucy a bottle of cordial which she can use to nurse her friends hurt in battle and a small dagger to “defend herself”, but he tells her she will not be “in the battle” (Lewis, LWW 109). He gives Susan a bow and arrows, but he does “not mean [her] to fight” (Lewis, LWW 108). Then he gives her a horn to blow so that she can call for “help of some kind” (Lewis, LWW 108). In mourning Aslan’s death, Lucy and her sister represent the biblical Mary and Martha as they minister to him. Finally, Aslan rebukes Lucy for nursing Edmund first and making others wait. Once Lucy and Susan become Queens, they live peaceful but passive lives. Lucy is “gay”, “golden-haired”, and “valiant”; Susan is “tall”, “gracious”, and “[g]entle”. Both are prized for their beauty (Lewis, LWW 183-184). In contrast, the men are rewarded for their brawn and brain; King Peter becomes a “great warrior”, and King Edmund is “great in council and judgement” (Lewis, LWW 184). On their return through the wardrobe, the Professor does not speak of the girls as Queens but says, “Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia” (Lewis, LWW 188). It seems that in life, as in Narnia, girls are handmaidens, not heroes.

Edmund and The White Witch

Lewis continues to demean women through his portrayal of Jadis. He looks to the East for his source of Evil, which “exposes the complicity of Western scholarship and writing with imperial power” (Milz 2). In his study of Orientalism, Edward Said discusses the subject “as a Eurocentric style of thought based upon binary notions of Orient/Occident or West/East and as a discourse that confirms the need for colonial power, domination, and hegemony” (Milz 2). Lewis mirrors those viewpoints in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and admits that “[h]is opinions about other cultures [are] second-hand”, and he thinks that Chinese are “human (or roughly human) in form but in nothing else” (Colbert 164-165). Hence, it is not surprising that he draws the lineage of the White Witch (Jadis) from an amalgam of Adam’s first wife Lilith, “a demon who seduced men and stole children” (Colbert 27), a Jinn, which is mentioned in Arab folklore and Islamic mythology, and a race of giants. (Humphreys Lecture, June 19). Jadis is evil personified. In the dual role of Satan, she tries to rule over Narnia, she attempts to lure Edmund with Turkish delight (like the apple), and she is “defeated when Aslan gives his life to save Edmund’s soul” (Colbert 30).  While it is difficult to understand the poor treatment of females and people of other cultures in Narnia, I take heart in the eternal message of Narnia, which is, in the words of Shelley, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” (Shelley, line 70).

STORM WARNING: ROUGH SEAS AHEAD. For the next two posts, we are going into uncharted territory. We have no maps, we will not have a compass, and we will have to use all ATON (Aids to Navigation) that we can. My two cartographers are joining us on the next two voyages to lend a hand. Check back in a week to read about James’s Journey in the Giant Peach!

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Wilderland and Thror’s Map

The impetus for Tolkien’s writing career lies in the incredible suffering he experienced and witnessed in the trenches in World War I. On his return from France, he began to write; in writing The Hobbit, he “created a mythology for England” (Carpenter 100). His intent was to “make a body of … connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story…which [he] would dedicate simply: to England; to [his] country” (Carpenter 101). However, his entire life up to this point helped him to create and put flesh on the bones of this body. His early interest in language and his need to give his language a history and genealogy, coupled with his love of calligraphy, drawing, and poetry, work together to imbue The Hobbit with depth and substance. We don’t need to travel to this world. Through his words and maps, he draws us in and we are there, living as inhabitants of The Hill.

Wilderland is conventionally oriented with north at the top of the map. We see rivers, roads, walking paths, access points, mountains, and directional signs. Tolkien, the cartographer, notes in detail the treacherous areas of Mirkwood (spiders, ElvenKing’s Halls) and the safe places (Rivendell, Beorn’s home). With this map, the reader can orient herself to the landscape, become aware of the dangers, and prepare for the journey.

However, Thror’s Map draws the reader in to the adventure. Now, we become part of the quest and hunch over the table along with the dwarves as Gandalf commands, “‘[L]et’s have a little light on this!’” (Tolkien 18). We join the secret circle and pore over the map as Tolkien describes the intimate and exclusive setting: “On the table in the light of a big lamp with a red shade he spread a piece of parchment rather like a map” (Tolkien 18). Thror’s Map is a mysterious treasure map and therefore must be deciphered.  East is at the top of the map “as usual in dwarf-maps” (Tolkien frontispiece 2). The finger on the left side of the map beckons us and points to the clue. We must use our knowledge of Anglo/Saxon Runes to translate the symbols into English. So begins our journey with Mr. Bilbo Baggins.

[For a complete and thorough discussion of the Hobbit maps, please go here. Mr. Tam does a monumental job of unravelling the mystery and deciphering the Hobbit maps: I stand in awe of his analysis and only wish I had the time and word count to delve into the study of maps as he does.]

Wit, language, reason, and intelligence are important, and these tools become powerful weapons in Mr. Bilbo Baggins’ arsenal (along with his invisibility cloak) as he fends off the Gollum [click on Gollum to hear Tolkien’s voice], Spiders, and Smaug.  He uses his wits to evade capture by the Trolls and learns that Gandalf is employing the ventriloquist’s trick of throwing his voice and mimicking other Trolls long enough to expose them to the light of dawn and death. He uses language in the form of riddles and the gambit of talking to himself to trick Gollum. He incenses the Spiders by using bad language, calling them names, and hurling insults at them. Being somewhat knowledgeable in dragon-lore, he uses all of the tools in his mental toolkit, including reason and intelligence, to deal with Smaug. Bilbo by turns flatters Smaug, speaks in riddles, and evades the truth for “[t]his is the way to talk to dragons, if you don’t want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don’t want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise). No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it” (Tolkien 206).

As a hobbit, Mr. Baggins is an unlikely fictional hero. He loves his home and his simple, uncomplicated life. In short, he is unadventurous. Tolkien admits that he himself is very hobbit-like in his manner and character: “I am in fact a hobbit…in all but size….I do not travel much” (Carpenter 197). Daphne Kutzer declares that the hobbits “are close relatives to simple English folk who love their villages, their pubs, and their gardens, and don’t really pay much mind to outside worlds unless they encroach upon their own comfortable lives” (Kutzer, 130). Tolkien further suggests that “the hobbits represent the combination of small imagination with great courage which (as Tolkien had seen in the trenches during the First World War) often led to survival against all chances” (Carpenter 197).  In describing the enemy goblins, Tolkien advises that “they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once” (Tolkien 58). This is an apt comparison to World War I, where mass death was inflicted by mass production tools—the very tools that made life modern (Humphreys Lecture, June 21).  Although Britain won the Great War, many lives were lost in the battle. At the same time, Britons were losing empire. Kutzer says, “As the empire began to shrink, the language of nationalism and patriotism became more pronounced” (Kutzer xx). The Hobbit provides a positive view of a community who fight a great battle, win, and maintain their home and country. Through Bilbo Baggins’ quest for treasure, Tolkien gives his country a sense of national pride and a feeling of nostalgia for a rural life, a simpler lifestyle, and lost empire.

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The Wild Wood

We have several reasons to thank Kenneth Grahame for giving us The Wind in the Willows. First, at the time of writing (1908), England is at its apex. The political map of the world is awash in British Imperial red. This feeling of calm and wellbeing seeps into every stream and rivulet of Wild Wood and Surrounding Country. Secondly, in his position as bank secretary at the Bank of England, a ‘socialist lunatic’ fires three shots at him. All of them miss, but this traumatic incident is the impetus for his retreat into the country and into a fictional world. Finally, Grahame works out the details of his book by telling bedtime stories to his son Alistair, also known as Mouse. (Harvey Lecture, June 19).

At the very beginning of my edition of The Wind in the Willows is a beautiful two-page map of Wild Wood and Surrounding Country. While it is an entirely separate animal world, we can venture into Wild Wood because we have a map showing the idyllic English countryside. The map maker outlines the objects in black and provides a large compass, which continues the illusion that this is a real place. The illustrator colours the map in varying depths of green. The watercolour medium allows the greens to soften and blend, rather dreamily, into a pleasant wash. Green represents nature, new beginnings, and freshness; these are all aspects Grahame wants to address in his book. Notice that there is little outside influence in this map. It is a self-contained world, sufficient unto itself. The outside world is mentioned, fleetingly, as “The Town” and is on the upper edge of the map, outside of the general perspective. We see each animal (Badger, Mole, Rat, Otter, and Toad) in his setting. Toad is motoring in his car, Otter is swimming, Mole and Badger are standing outside their homes. We see the barge—is that the Washer Woman?—hinting at adventure to come. We see Rat and Mole sculling on Ratty’s boat, but we do not see the weasels, ferrets, and stoats fighting at Toad Hall.  That would be too unpleasant to contemplate in this pastoral view of the world.

Although Wild Wood is but a small part of the world, it figures largely in the River-Bankers’ lives, so much so that the mapmaker names his map for this section of the world. Rat describes the inhabitants there as being “all right in a way—I’m very good friends with them—pass the time of day when we meet, and all that—but they break out sometimes…you can’t really trust them, and that’s the fact” (Grahame 19). No individual weasel or stoat has a name; we know them as members of a collective. Because we do not know them, it is easier to objectify and demonize them. Mary Louise Pratt describes how Linnaeus’s systematizing of nature categorizes “homo sapiens and homo monstrosus” (32). Homo sapiens are divided into six categories: Wild Man, American, European, Asiatic, African, and Monster. In the case of Wild Wood, the stoats and weasels are the Socialist Lunatics who create anarchy at Toad Hall. Rat, Mole, Otter, Toad, and Badger are the named “Europeans” against whom the “Monster” stoats and weasels are compared. This creates their feeling of superiority and ownership. They are the landowners who live in comfort as members of the aristocracy. 

“Those were golden days” – Nancy Barnhart, 1922

As creatures of comfort, Ratty, Mole, and Badger seldom venture far afield. They seem content. Yet Water Rat is restless and wants more. He wants to expand his horizons and go beyond “his Mountains of the Moon, his limit behind which lay nothing he had cared to see or to know” (Grahame 215). When Sea Rat, representing the European adventurer, arrives on the scene and meets Ratty, his talk is wide-ranging, expansive, and alluring. Sea Rat, reminiscent of the Ancient Mariner, is filled with wanderlust, “and leaning towards the Water Rat, compel[s] his gaze and [holds] him, body and soul, while he talk[s]”   (Grahame 226). Mirroring the vivid descriptions of Bartram in his travel writing and echoing Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Sea Rat romanticizes the glorious and wide world he travels. Where previously Water Rat calls such adventures to the “Wide World [as] … something that doesn’t matter” (Grahame 19-20), Sea Rat now holds him enthralled. Where William Bartram documents and lists the botany, “corypha palma, magnolia grandiflora, live oak, callicarpa, myrica cerifera, hibiscus spinifex, and the beautiful evergreen shrub called wild lime or tallow nut” (Bartram 112), Sea Rat rapturously catalogues the scenery in his grand coastal shipping adventure:

We … coasted up the Adriatic, its shores swimming in an atmosphere of amber, rose, and aquamarine; we lay in wide land-locked harbours, we roamed through ancient and noble cities, until at last one morning, as the sun rose royally behind us, we rode into Venice down a path of gold (Grahame 219).   

While the lure of the travelling life is strong and he temporarily succumbs to its call, Ratty eventually comes to his senses and plants his feet back on dry land. It is through Mole’s talk of home, land, and country that Ratty realizes the poetry of his own life:

Mole turned his talk to the harvest…the towering wagons…the reddening apples…the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he reached mid-winter, its hearty joys and its snug home life, and then he became simply lyrical. By degrees the Rat began to sit up and to join in. His dull eyes brightened, and he lost some of his listening air. (Grahame 231).

Ratty’s gentry masculinity requires that he obey the call of duty and the call of the land. He may be an armchair traveller; he may be a wayfarer in his mind and in his poetry, but he simply must stay within the bounds of Wild Wood and tend to matters of hearth, home, and country. Everything that matters lies within the borders of the map.

Nancy Barnhart’s Dreamy Rat (1922)


Categories: Books with Maps | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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