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Mikeharvey

Kenneth Grahame

Kenneth Grahame is, of course, most famous for 'The Wind in the Willows' but he wrote a couple of other books which are ostensibly intended for children - 'The Golden Age' and 'Dream Days'.  I have just read the latter. It's a collection of chapters relating the exploits and adventures of a group of brothers and sisters, and narrated by one of them in the first-person, a nine/ten year old boy. Well, I'd like to bet there aren't many boys with such a highly developed literary skill, style or vocabulary. Even in 1900. I can't imagine that KG seriously intended these two books to be read by actual children. I think they must have been intended as an imaginative and nostalgic retreat into childhood for adults to read and remember. This adult has that kind of response.  The things that happen to these boys and girls are undramatic and everyday. They get into scrapes, go to the circus, visit relations, look at picture books, read,(they're wonderfully well-read), draw, have mild confrontations with grownups - called The Olympians - and especially have wonderful playing lives of the imagination.  Like the splendid chapter, entirely in the storyteller's head, where he imagines himself an intrepid sea captain.  One chapter contains the delightful fairytale 'The Reluctant Dragon'. And there's a lot of quiet humour. The final, lovely section is a kind of Farewell to Childhood where the children rescue some toys that have been parcelled up to send to The Poor, and bury them in the garden by moonlight. Enchanting. Grahame's prose, creating a lost world of late-Victorian/Edwardian childhood, is superb and his book is an absolute pleasure to read and savour.
This passage describing a mechanical toy is typical of the book's style.

There was old Leotard, for instance. Somehow he had come to be sadly neglected of late years - and yet how exactly he always responded to certain moods!  He was an acrobat, this Leotard, who lived in a glass-fronted box. His loose-jointed limbs were cardboard, cardboard his slender trunk; and his hands eternally grasped the bar of a trapeze. You turned the box round swiftly five or six times; the wonderful unsolved machinery worked, and Leotard swung and leapt, backwards, forwards, now astride the bar, now flying free; iron-jointed, supple-sinewed, unceasingly novel in his invention of new, unguessable attitudes; while above, below, and around him, a richly-dressed audience, painted in skilful perspective of stalls, boxes, dress-circle, and gallery, watched the thrilling performance with a stolidity which seemed to mark them out as German.

The boys of this period seem to be inseparable from their catapults. Does the modern boy still employ the catapult I wonder?

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