Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride Finally Makes Sense


I grew up in Southern California where a trip to Disneyland was pretty much expected to be an annual thing. For us it was more like every 5 years, but that still meant that I went often enough to have favorite rides and lots of different memories. One of the favorites was called "Mr. Toads Wild Ride" and it was a very low tech ride (in fact it is one of the original rides from 1955) in a two man car that went along a track through various scenes and doors that would magically open before you just short of crashing into them. 

In case you never get the pleasure of taking this ride, here is a video version I found. Enjoy:


Thanks to Auntie Leila, I finally get---forty years later--this favorite Disneyland ride from childhood. Why did I love it so much when I didn't really get it? I vaguely remember attempting to read The Wind in the Willows when I was a kid and I just didn't get very far. 

We have been listening to the wonderful book since Auntie Leila wrote about it a few weeks ago. I am glad we chose an audio version because the language is so beautiful and I have enjoyed listening to it as much, or more, than the kids. 

We tend to avoid animal books in this house because we really feel they tend to blur the lines between the dignity of the human person and the place of animals in creation. 

But I have noticed a distinction between the animals-are-like-humans stories (in video or book form) of today and the human-like creatures who happen to be animals in books like the Narnia series and The Wind in the Willows. 

If you take for example, the Lion King movie, you find animals in their natural habitat doing everything that animals do naturally, except we have added speech, feelings, virtues, and even vice that don't apply to animals. This often ends up elevating animals to creatures at least as important in creation as humans. While animals are entrusted to the care…and USE…of humans, they do not share their dignity. Humans are the only creatures made for their own sake---so that they might attain eternal life. All the rest of creation is made to serve the ends of mankind.

Now take a story like The Wind in the Willows. Here you find animals who dress like people, live in houses like people, drive cars, have money, and relate to each other like people. They just happen to have some animal characteristics---the mole prefers to live underground, though he is learning to enjoy the life of the river rat. The toad has very little of toad-ness about him, except his looks. These talking animals interact with  people as if they were all the same. Toad is arrested and helped to escape all by people. In this particular book they also happen to have names that identify them as animals. 

In the Narnia books there is a distinction between "talking animals" and the more ordinary animals that are considered "dumb brutes". Thus it is horribly immoral to tie a bunch of talking horses to a heavy load and force them to pull it. That is akin to slavery. If they had been "dumb brutes", well then, all is okay. The talking animals, for their part, live much like their human counter parts.

This way of using animals in stories gives the story a feel of a parable or fable and helps to bring about a message about behavior--good or bad---without the added confusion and complexity of persons. You can make generalizations about animals without offending or confusing people. 

The Lion King version* of the animal world is the one that leads to what we have today---a world in which dog's sit in strollers and babies are aborted.  

*I am NOT saying that The Lion King leads to being in favor of abortion. I AM saying that the train of thought that attributes too much dignity to animals also tends to devalue persons. 

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