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Forty Meditations Inspired by The Wind in the Willows

Author: Leslie J Francis
Published By: Darton, Longman and Todd (London)
Pages: 192
Price: £6.95
ISBN: 978 0 232 52772 8

Reviewed by Philip Joy.

These are Lent meditations with a difference. Forty episodes from The Wind in the Willows, each headed by an apt biblical quotation, are accompanied by a relevant passage from the Gospels followed by a meditation presenting a Christian challenge for the day and a summary prayer. The novel provides a kind of overall structure - with chapters starting with “Exploring Faith by the River Bank”, continuing with “Coming Face to Face with Mr Badger”, and ending with “Learning from Toad’s Adventures”. Memorable Gospel connections are drawn such as Mole’s awakening to Spring with Christ’s call to the fishermen, Toad’s acknowledgment of his foolishness with repentance, and of course the most religious moment of the novel - encountering God, illustrated by the passage where Rat, Mole and the young Otter meet the mysterious animal deity.

Stylistically the book is frankly repetitive. Take the point when Mole gets lost in the Wild Wood and Rat sets out to find him. Francis predictably enough deals with “Seeking the Lost”, and pulls up the parable of the Good Shepherd. His meditation begins: There was no two ways about it. The Rat was a foolish fellow...[explanation]... There were no two ways about it. The Rat was under no obligation to follow...[explanation]... There were no two ways about it. The Rat should have left the Mole to find his way home...[explanation]... Applications and explanations are then drawn in the same words: There are no two ways about it. The Good Shepherd was a foolish fellow...[explanation]... There were no two ways about it. The Good Shepherd was under no obligation to follow...[explanation]... There were no two ways about it. The Good Shepherd should have left the errant sheep to find his way home...etc etc.

This repetition appears in virtually every study in the book. True, it means the Christian parallels cannot be missed. On the other hand, some readers might tire before forty days are up, whilst for me there was a sense of being spoon-fed. A further problem comes when parallels to Christian truth begin to occur to you as you read the Kenneth Grahame, only to be contradicted by Francis’ own interpretations. Finally, the author admits he uses Lent only as an excuse for encouraging daily devotional practice, so do not expect any specifically Lenten ideas in this publication.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Well, those who feel that devotional materials must always start with Scripture will be disappointed by this book. On the other hand, it’s good gospel stuff. Some may find the Scripture cheapened by its connection to a fictional story. On the other hand, Jesus himself taught with stories. Readers must be acquainted with The Wind in the Willows to get the most out of this. On the other hand, these devotions could conceivably be an entrée for non-believers who know Kenneth Grahame, but do not know the Bible.

One thought might clinch this for readers of this journal. Preachers requiring gospel illustrations could do a lot worse than to search this inexpensive volume. The ideas within apparently started life as sermon illustrations. Spread out over a period of years, and put into your own words, it could be a rich source of homiletic material.

Philip Joy

Specialist in Old Testament narrative and typology

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You are reading Issue 48 of Ministry Today, published in March 2010.

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