Mr Toad on temptation

For some reason I was reading wind in the willows recently. While doing so I found a hugely insightful piece of writing on the way temptation works. Toad loves Motor cars, but they are bad for him, and he has been told to give them up. We join him as he is eating in a pub somewhere along the open road:

He was about half-way through his meal when an only too familiar sound, approaching down the street, made him start and fall a-trembling all over. The poop-poop! drew nearer and nearer, the car could be heard to turn into the inn-yard and come to a stop, and Toad had to hold on to the leg of the table to conceal his over-mastering emotion. Presently the party entered the coffee-room, hungry, talkative, and gay, voluble on their experiences of the morning and the merits of the chariot that had brought them along so well. Toad listened eagerly, all ears, for a time; at last he could stand it no longer. He slipped out of the room quietly, paid his bill at the bar, and as soon as he got outside sauntered round quietly to the inn-yard. `There cannot be any harm,’ he said to himself, `in my only just looking at it!’

   The car stood in the middle of the yard, quite unattended, the stable-helps and other hangers-on being all at their dinner. Toad walked slowly round it, inspecting, criticising, musing deeply.

   `I wonder,’ he said to himself presently, `I wonder if this sort of car starts easily?’

   Next moment, hardly knowing how it came about, he found he had hold of the handle and was turning it. As the familiar sound broke forth, the old passion seized on Toad and completely mastered him, body and soul. As if in a dream he found himself, somehow, seated in the driver’s seat; as if in a dream, he pulled the lever and swung the car round the yard and out through the archway; and, as if in a dream, all sense of right and wrong, all fear of obvious consequences, seemed temporarily suspended. He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night. He chanted as he flew, and the car responded with sonorous drone; the miles were eaten up under him as he sped he knew not whither, fulfilling his instincts, living his hour, reckless of what might come to him.

Full text here. Youtube stop motion version here but not sure this bits in it:

Anyway, it’s amazing how this passage describes the workings of temptation and sin in our life:

1 “overmastering emotion”. Sin first works in our emotions.

2 “No harm in just looking…”.  Sin makes excuses, gives some self-justification even before the line is crossed. It’s as if an inner voice that can see the soul is already worried and needs answering.

3 “Musing deeply” Temptation grows and ferments deep in the mind.

4 “I wonder if…”. The innocent question and quest for knowledge. The pursuit for truth seems such a noble one. Surely there can be nothing wrong with finding something out. In the Garden of Eden the quest for experiential “knowledge” lead to death. Curiosity killed the cat. It also brought death to all mankind.

5 “hardly knowing how it came about…”,found himself somehow” Downplaying your choice. Slipping the clutch down on your responsibility. It’s not really my fault. Something must have influenced me to do it. I don’t really understand it myself.

6 “the old passion seized on Toad and completely mastered him, body and soul.” Sin masters us completely. The lion that was crouching now springs. Now that we have waded deeper in, the current that tickled our toes sweeps us off our feet and carries us out to sea.

7 “as if in a dream”, The dreaminess of the experience disengaging you from the reality of what you are really doing and the certain consequences. You can’t enjoy sin unless you disengage from reality. “all sense of right and wrong, all fear of obvious consequences, seemed temporarily suspended”.

8 “he pulled the lever” A sinful thought becomes a sinful action. It’s something we do.

9 “Toad at his best and highest” Sin promises to make us somebody. Make us like a god! It gives a fleeting illusion of power and control and identity. It but in the end it overpoweres us, enslaves us and brings shame.

10 “reckless of what might come to him”. Inevitably there will be consequences. A crash. A judge. A sentence.

Not bad for a children’s book.



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