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This time of year, I always get in the mood to re-read Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows. A pleasant story about the adventures of a group of sociable woodland animals (and especially their triumphs over the hostilities of winter weather) goes over a treat when the dags are getting shorter and colder.

I first read this story when I was about 9 or 10. A copy of it was a Christmas present, so that may have something to do with my seasonal craving to re-visit the Riverbank and the Wild Wood.

A while back, I saw some “sequels” to The Wind in the Willows at the library, but I already had a good armload of books and passed them by on that day. But this year, when the Willows yearning hit, I thought I’d look into those sequels as well. Now, normally I’m pretty wary of sequels not written by the original author. The various ridiculous follow-ups to Gone With The Wind read like cheezy fan-fic at best. I suffered many violent outbursts of enraged obscenity while reading Allison Fell’s oversexed yet tedious Mistress of Lilliput, which was a supposedly feminist re-imagining of Gulliver’s Travels, as told from the perspective of Lemuel Gulliver’s estranged wife.

So, when I decided to give Horwood’s books a try, I checked the customer reviews on Amazon.com. Most of them were fairly positive and stated that Horwood had maintained a fidelity to style and feel of Grahame’s classic novel. I checked out The Willows In Winter and The Willows & Beyond (they didn’t have Toad Triumphant at the downtown library, but I wasn’t that bummed since Toad isn’t one of my favorite characters anyway).

I definitely found them to be an enjoyable read. Not as wholly enchanting as the original, though I imagine a bit of the magic in my feelings for that book are wrapped up in a bit of the magic of childhood nostalgia. Nonetheless, the stories are well written. The dialogue flows naturally, the settings didn’t come off at all anachronistic (it seems to be set in that furiously-modernizing interlude between The Great Wars, when Bertie Wooster cavorted about under the protective eyes of Jeeves). The characters seem to be pretty consistent with Grahame’s creations, though of course they develop and grow in different directions during the course of the new tales. The tales were well told; events flowed seamlessly along and the reader is pulled into their adventures. You find yourself drawn in and wanting to know “what happens next” which as far as I’m concerned, is the mark of a good story.

My only gripe with these sequels is the extravagant quantity of shirttail relations the original heroes acquire. In The Willows In Winter, Mole reluctantly takes guardianship of an efficient and industrious nephew. Apparently, during the course of Toad Triumphant, the irrepressible gadabout Toad is saddled with the responsibility of raising a penniless but titled nephew who also plays a prominent part in the events in The Willows & Beyond. In that novel, Water Rat also acquires a dependent, the orphaned son of his old friend the Sea Rat. While these new characters are well written and integrated into Grahame’s world, the device of adding youngsters to shore up an aging franchise is a bit transparent. Dozens of sit-coms have been kept on the shelf long past their “best-by” dates by the adoption of an orphan child or the addition of a new baby (planned or otherwise). And Disney egregiously abused the niece-and-nephew trope with Donald, Daisy, Minnie, and Mickey each having sets of identical nieces or nephews differentiated only by the colors of their hats or hairbows. I suppose it is a mercy that there isn’t a fourth book wherein cranky old Badger takes in an abandoned baby Stoat. But my annoyance with “the next generation” is minor at best. They help along the plot in a logical fashion and help frame the aging and maturing older characters evolving personalities.

On the whole, the “new” books are a nice read. I’d certainly recommend them to a kid who just couldn’t get enough of the adventures of Ratty, Old Badger, Mole, Toad, and Otter. Purists may bristle at the audacity of extending Grahame’s classic ale, but I can say that I personally found few objections with Horwood’s new yarns embroidering new tapestries in an older style. I enjoyed them enough that I am going to seek out Toad Triumphant via interlibrary loan and read some of Horwood’s books written in his own fictional world, in his own voice.

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