In my first post on returning from holiday the other day, I mentioned that my holiday reading had included Robert de Board’s Counselling for Toads, in which Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows undergoes counselling after his friends Rat, Mole and Badger find him in a very depressed state and are “worried that he might do something silly”.
While the book is mainly concerned with Toad, de Board’s psychological acuity and insight into Kenneth Grahame’s characters shows up from the very first page, with his description of Mole’s frustrations with Rat:
He felt that he was rarely able to be himself because he was always standing in Rat’s shadow. If they went boating, Rat would usually tell him that he was not doing it right, like not feathering his oars properly. When they moored, Rat would check the painter to see that Mole had secured it properly and invariably gave it another turn around the post.
If they got lost, Rat always knew the way, just as he had done when he rescued Mole in a snowstorm in the Wild Wood. Or that time when, on a long walk, they chanced upon Mole’s old house and, not unnaturally, Mole was overcome with emotion. Not so the ever-capable Rat, who took over, got the field mice to buy food and drink and organised a splendid evening.
The trouble was that the Rat did seem to be more capable than he was. He could scull better, he knew more knots and bends […] and he really did take care of Mole. But in spite of the friendship and kindness, Mole felt dissatisfied. He wished that Rat wasn’t quite so capable and that he would let Mole try out things in his own way, even if that meant getting it wrong.
Of course, this had happened, like the first time he was in Rat’s boat and grabbed the oars – and inevitably tipped the boat over. Rat had rescued him with great good humour and yet Mole thought, “If I hear Rat tell that story at dinner ever again, I shall scream!”
Mole’s resentment is further fuelled as he continues on his walk and passes a group of rabbits. While they greet him politely, poor Mole is still unsettled by the encounter:
[D]id he only imagine that he heard one say in a rather horrid way, “That’s strange. You don’t often see Mole on his own.”
Mole’s political leanings are then hinted at in the closing chapter of the book, when Badger has been expatiating on his belief that “there should be One Nation and, therefore, One Wood”, with “those of us who have been blessed with this world’s goods [having] a responsibility towards the deserving poor”:
Well I’m blowed, thought Mole. He’s a blessed Tory and it’s as if he’s giving us his election manifesto. I’m not having that. Does he think that I’m one of his deserving poor. I’ll show him!
Great fun, thoroughly convincing as regards both Mole and the paternalistic Badger, and a good example of how de Board’s book adds new depth to one’s enjoyment of Grahame’s original.
Hopefully I’ll be able to go on to some of the more central content of the book, namely the principles of “transactional analysis” used by Toad’s counsellor, Heron, some of which struck me as having interesting applications more broadly, particularly as regards the church.