Grahame: Dream Days

July 3, 2017

Dream Days
Kenneth Grahame
(Dodd, Mead & Co., 1953) [1898]
160 p.

A few years after The Golden Age, Kenneth Grahame published this volume, which can reasonably be considered a sequel: like The Golden Age it immerses us in the experience of childhood, and at least some of its characters reappear from the earlier book.

Abandoning the beaten track, I then struck homewards through the fields; not that the way was very much shorter, but rather because on that route one avoided the bridge, and had to splash through the stream and get refreshingly wet. Bridges were made for narrow folk, for people with aims and vocations which compelled abandonment of many of life’s highest pleasures. Truly wise men called on each element alike to minister to their joy, and while the touch of sun-bathed air, the fragrance of garden soil, the ductible qualities of mud, and the spark-whirling rapture of playing with fire, had each their special charm, they did not overlook the bliss of getting their feet wet.

Unless I am mistaken, these eight mostly-disjoint chapters are more substantial than the briefer vignettes in The Golden Age. Perhaps my favourite of them was “Its Walls Were As Of Jasper”, a marvellous evocation of the experience of reading a children’s picture book with a fully alive child’s imagination.

There was plenty to do in this pleasant land. The annoying thing about it was, one could never penetrate beyond a certain point. I might wander up that road as often as I liked, I was bound to be brought up at the gateway, the funny galleried, top-heavy gateway, of the little walled town. Inside, doubtless, there were high jinks going on; but the password was denied to me. I could get on board a boat and row up as far as the curly ship, but around the headland I might not go. On the other side, of a surety, the shipping lay thick. The merchants walked on the quay, and the sailors sang as they swung out the corded bales. But as for me, I must stay down in the meadow, and imagine it all as best I could.

Of course, a child is sometimes not scrupulous about exactly which book to read, and not always sensible of the antiquity or fragility of a particular volume, which defects land our narrator in a spot of trouble.

Other stories are about a visit to the circus (“The Magic Ring”), about the death of a family friend (“Dies Irae”), and — another favourite — about an elaborate game of make-believe on the high seas replete with pirates, battles, international diplomacy, and, naturally, a princess (“A Saga of the Seas”). In each story we are immersed in the imaginative world of children, into which adult concerns intrude only fitfully and weakly.

There had never been any one like Billy in his own particular sphere; and now he was drowned, they said, and Martha was miserable, and—and I couldn’t get a new bootlace. They told me that Billy would never come back any more, and I stared out of the window at the sun which came back, right enough, every day, and their news conveyed nothing whatever to me. Martha’s sorrow hit home a little, but only because the actual sight and sound of it gave me a dull, bad sort of pain low down inside—a pain not to be actually located. Moreover, I was still wanting my bootlace.

The longest, and, I should think, best-known of these stories is “The Reluctant Dragon”, which, shorn of the narrative frame it has here, has been reproduced on its own and re-illustrated by numerous hands. A boy discovers a dragon in a cave near his home, but an immensely civilized and gentle dragon he is, and when St George arrives in town intent on fighting him to the death, our boy must intervene to preserve the peace. It’s a likeable enough story, but I confess that something about it rubbed me the wrong way — perhaps it was the rather effeminate St George — and it was, for me, among the least successful of these stories.

Being a book by Kenneth Grahame, it goes without saying that Dream Days is gorgeously written; the sheer beauty of its prose is a consolation. Grahame’s next book, published a full decade later, was to be The Wind in the Willows, which thoroughly and rightly overshadowed what came before it, but The Golden Age is nonetheless still a rewarding read.

2 Responses to “Grahame: Dream Days”

  1. Adam Hincks Says:

    Reading your notes here brings happy memories of my own enjoyment of these stories!

  2. cburrell Says:

    I had forgotten that you read them, Adam.

    The fallibility of publishers…

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