18 December 2018, The Tablet

The biggest treats of all: Jonathan Tulloch revisits three books that capture the spirit of Christmas


The biggest treats of all: Jonathan Tulloch revisits three books that capture the spirit of Christmas

Artwork for The Wind in the Willows by Philip Mendoza, produced in the 1960s for a children’s magazine
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Every year, The Tablet’s much-loved nature writer returns to three classic books that he feels capture the spirit of Christmas

Christmas is coming! The food, the craic, the music – and three books that I read every year. This Christmas, I’ll start with The Wind in the Willows. And taking it down from the shelf for its annual outing, no doubt I’ll be thinking: is there a better book title or finer evocation of the lowland British countryside in the literary world? How did Kenneth Grahame conjure up Toad? Are there any other literary Moles who, tiring of their safe, tidying and interior-decorating obsessed life, suddenly shout: “Hang spring-cleaning!”?

A book for all seasons, but it’s the winter scenes that have established The Wind in the Willows as a Christmas fixture. Fires roaring on the hearth, carol singers at the door, the sudden silence of falling snow, and the weirdness of winter woods. As well as a riveting plot, this book acts like a guide on how to get through winter, advocating long chats, longer naps and bracing walks through the wild wood (urban readers – the local park works just as well). The Danes and Norwegians have hygge, that companionable embracing of the winter slowdown; we have The Wind in the Willows. There’s even a description of animal etiquette during the cold time: don’t do too much, and never expect much from others, just sit with them and snooze…

Yet as wonderful and refreshing a piece of seasonal escapism as it is, The Wind in the Willows offers more. Never have animals been more human. Which character are you? Moley, spending his one unique life on interior decorating until suddenly experiencing the “divine discontent and longing” for horizons beyond himself.

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