Sunday, 4 January 2015
Badgers in Literature: Kenneth Grahame's Other Badger
Although best known for The Wind in the Willows (1908), the writer Kenneth Grahame was also the creator of the short story, "The Reluctant Dragon" (1898). As a somewhat vexed romantic, and as a keen observer of both animal behaviour and human attitudes toward animals, Grahame offers another badger, this one unnamed but significant. In this contemplative fantasy, the brave knight St. George comes to a small village in the Berkshire Downs to dispatch a fearsome dragon. To his confusion and disappointment, however, he finds that the (notably unnamed) dragon in question is not the least bit disposed toward fighting; rather, the dragon is a cultivated and gentle soul, and it is the humans of the area who are bloodthirsty, as the dragon’s young human friend points out:
"Oh, you’ve been taking in all the yarns those fellows have been telling you," said the Boy impatiently. "Why, our villagers are the biggest storytellers in all the country round. It’s a known fact. You’re a stranger in these parts, or else you’d have heard it already. All they want is a fight. They’re the most awful beggars for getting up fights--it’s meat and drink to them. Dogs, bulls, dragons--anything so long as it’s a fight. Why, they’ve got a poor innocent badger in the stable behind here, at this moment. They were going to have some fun with him to-day, but they’re saving him up now till your little affair is over.["][i]
St. George and the dragon become friends, but to fulfil the letter (if not the spirit) of tradition--and to entertain the bored villagers--they decide to participate in a mock battle that will offer excitement without bloodshed. In the celebratory feast that follows, St. George "made a speech, in which he informed his audience" that, among other issues, "they shouldn’t be so fond of fights, because next time they might have to do the fighting themselves, which would not be the same thing at all. And there was a certain badger in the inn stables which had got to be released at once, and he’d come and see it done himself."[ii] In this unassuming and pacifist-oriented story, both badgers and dragons are spared death for human entertainment, and the people of the community learn to appreciate their other-than-human neighbours; though unnamed and unseen, this badger is kindly remembered by a brave hero whose masculinity is not dependent upon tormenting small animals for sport.