I have read many books, but I just cannot forget to talk about the wind in the willows.
It is full of adventure, and though it is considered juvenile fiction, most adults would find themselves glued to the piece of writing.
The Wind in the Willows is a children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Alternately slow moving and fast paced, it focuses on four anthropomorphised animals in a pastoral version of Edwardian England. The novel is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality and camaraderie, and celebrated for its evocation of the nature of the Thames Valley.
In 1908, Grahame retired from his position as secretary of the Bank of England. He moved back to Berkshire, where he had lived as a child, and spent his time by the River Thames doing much as the animal characters in his book do – as the book says, “simply messing about in boats” – and expanding the bedtime stories he had earlier told his son Alastair into a manuscript for the book.
The novel was in its 31st printing when playwright A. A. Milne adapted part of it for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall in 1929. Almost a century later, it was adapted again for the stage as a musical by Julian Fellowes. In 2003, The Wind in the Willows was listed at number 16 in the BBC’s survey The Big Read.
Main article: Kenneth Grahame
Kenneth Grahame was born on 8 March 1859 in Edinburgh. When he was 5, his mother died from puerperal fever, and his father, who had a drinking problem, gave the care of his four children over to their grandmother, who lived in Cookham Dean in Berkshire. There they lived in a spacious but dilapidated home, “The Mount”, in extensive grounds by the River Thames, and were introduced to the riverside and boating by their uncle, David Ingles, curate at Cookham Dean church. At Christmas 1865 the chimney of the house collapsed and the children moved to Fern Hill Cottage in Cranbourne, Berkshire. In 1866, their father tried to overcome his drinking problem and took the children back to live with him in Argyll, Scotland, but after a year they returned to their grandmother’s house in Cranbourne, where Kenneth lived until he entered St Edward’s School, Oxford in 1868. During his early years at St. Edwards the boys had freedom to explore the old city with its quaint shops, historic buildings, and cobbled streets, St Giles’ Fair, the idyllic upper reaches of the River Thames, and the nearby countryside.
Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1899; they had only one child, a boy named Alastair (whose nickname was “Mouse”) born blind in one eye and plagued by health problems throughout his life. When Alastair was about four years old, Grahame would tell him bedtime stories, some of which were about a toad, and when Grahame holidayed alone he would write further tales of Toad, Mole, Ratty and Badger in letters to Alastair.
In 1908 Grahame took early retirement from his job at the Bank of England and moved with his wife and son to an old farmhouse in Blewbury, where he used the bedtime stories he had told Alastair as a basis for the manuscript of The Wind in the Willows.
Mole meets Rat
With the arrival of spring and fine weather outside, the good-natured Mole loses patience with spring cleaning. He flees his underground home, emerging to take in the air and ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Rat (a water vole), who at this time of year spends all his days in, on and close by the river. Rat takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and spend many more days boating, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the river.
One summer day, Rat and Mole disembark near the grand Toad Hall and pay a visit to Toad. Toad is rich, jovial, friendly and kind-hearted, but aimless and conceited; he regularly becomes obsessed with current fads, only to abandon them abruptly. Having recently given up boating, Toad’s current craze is his horse-drawn caravan. He persuades the reluctant Rat and willing Mole to join him on a trip. Toad soon tires of the realities of camp life, and sleeps in the following day to avoid chores. Later that day, a passing motorcar scares the horse, causing the caravan to overturn into a ditch. Rat threatens to have the law on the car driver, while Mole calms the horse, but Toad’s craze for caravan travel is immediately replaced by an obsession with motorcars.
Mole wants to meet the respected but elusive Badger, who lives deep in the Wild Wood, but Rat—knowing that Badger does not appreciate visits—tells Mole to be patient and wait for Badger to pay them a visit himself. Nevertheless, on a snowy winter’s day, while the seasonally somnolent Rat dozes, Mole impulsively goes to the Wild Wood to explore, hoping to meet Badger. He gets lost in the woods, sees many “evil faces” among the wood’s less-welcoming denizens, succumbs to fright and panic and hides, trying to stay warm, among the sheltering roots of a tree. Rat, finding Mole gone, guesses his mission from the direction of Mole’s tracks and, equipping himself with two pistols and a stout cudgel, goes in search, finding him as snow begins to fall in earnest. Attempting to find their way home, Rat and Mole quite literally stumble across Badger’s home—Mole barks his shin on the boot scraper on Badger’s doorstep. Badger—en route to bed in his dressing-gown and slippers—nonetheless warmly welcomes Rat and Mole to his large and cozy underground home, providing them with hot food and dry clothes.
Toad and motorcars
Badger learns from his visitors that Toad has crashed seven cars, has been in hospital three times, and has spent a fortune on fines. Though nothing can be done at the moment (it being winter), they resolve that when the time is right they will make a plan to protect Toad from himself; they are, after all, his friends, and are worried about his well-being.
With the arrival of summer, Badger visits Mole and Rat to take action over Toad’s self-destructive obsession. The three of them go to Toad Hall, and Badger tries talking Toad out of his behaviour, to no avail. They put Toad under house arrest, with themselves as the guards, until Toad changes his mind. Feigning illness, Toad bamboozles the Water Rat (who is on guard duty at the time) and escapes.
Badger and Mole are cross with Rat for his gullibility, but draw comfort because they need no longer waste their summer guarding Toad. However, Badger and Mole continue to live in Toad Hall in the hope that Toad may return. Meanwhile, Toad orders lunch at The Red Lion Inn, and then sees a motorcar pull into the courtyard. He steals the car, drives it recklessly and is caught by the police. He is sent to prison for 20 years.
Toad escapes from prison
In prison, Toad gains the sympathy of the gaoler’s daughter, who helps him to escape disguised as a washerwoman. Though free again, Toad is without money or possessions other than the clothes upon his back. He manages to board a railway engine manned by a sympathetic driver, which is then pursued by a special train loaded with policemen, detectives and prison warders. Toad jumps from the train and, still disguised as a washerwoman, comes across a horse-drawn barge. The barge’s female owner offers him a lift in exchange for Toad’s services as a washerwoman. After botching the wash, Toad gets into a fight with the barge-woman, who tosses him into the canal. In revenge, Toad makes off with the barge horse, which he then sells to a gypsy. Toad subsequently flags down a passing car, which happens to be the very one he stole earlier. The car owners, not recognising Toad in his disguise, permit him to drive their car. Once behind the wheel, he is repossessed by his former passion and drives furiously, declaring his true identity to the passengers who try to seize him. This leads to the car landing in a horse-pond, after which Toad flees once more. Pursued by police, he runs accidentally into a river, which carries him by sheer chance to the house of Rat.
Recapture of Toad Hall
Toad now hears from Rat that Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels and stoats from the Wild Wood, who have driven out Mole and Badger. Although upset at the loss of his house, Toad realises what good friends he has and how badly he has behaved. Badger then arrives and announces that he knows of a secret tunnel into Toad Hall through which the enemies may be attacked. Armed to the teeth, Badger, Rat, Mole and Toad enter via the tunnel and pounce upon the unsuspecting Wild Wooders who are holding a celebratory party. Having driven away the intruders, Toad holds a banquet to mark his return, during which (for a change) he behaves both quietly and humbly. He makes up for his earlier excesses by seeking out and compensating those he has wronged, and the four friends live out their lives happily ever after.
In addition to the main narrative, the book contains several independent short stories featuring Rat and Mole. These appear for the most part between the chapters chronicling Toad’s adventures, and are often omitted from abridgements and dramatizations. The chapter “Dulce Domum” describes Mole’s return to his home, accompanied by Rat, in which, despite finding it in a terrible mess after his abortive spring clean, he rediscovers, with Rat’s help, a familiar comfort. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” tells how Mole and Rat search for Otter’s missing son Portly, whom they find in the care of the god Pan. (Pan removes their memories of this meeting “lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure”.) Finally, in “Wayfarers All”, Ratty shows a restless side to his character when he is sorely tempted to join a Sea Rat on his travelling adventures.
Mole: A mild-mannered, home-loving animal, and the first character introduced in the story. Fed up with spring cleaning in his secluded home, he ventures into the outside world. Initially overawed by the hustle and bustle of the riverbank, he eventually adapts.
Rat: Known as “Ratty” to his friends (though actually a water vole), he is cultured, relaxed and friendly who enjoys a life of leisure; when not spending time on the river, he composes doggerel. Ratty loves the river and takes charge of Mole. He can be stubborn when it comes to doing things outside his riverside lifestyle.
Mr. Toad: The wealthy scion of Toad Hall who inherited his wealth from his late father. Although good-natured, kind-hearted and not without intelligence, he is also spoiled, conceited, and impulsive. He is prone to obsessions and crazes (such as punting, houseboats, and horse-drawn caravans). He gets bored with each of these in turn, and drops them. His motoring craze eventually sees him imprisoned for theft, dangerous driving and gross impertinence to the police. Several chapters of the book chronicle his daring escape from prison.
Mr Badger: Gruff and solitary, who “simply hates society”, Badger embodies the “wise hermit” figure. A friend of Toad’s late father, he is uncompromising with the disappointing Toad, yet remains optimistic that his good qualities will prevail. He lives in a vast underground sett, part of which incorporates the remains of a buried Roman settlement. A brave and a skilled fighter, Badger helps clear the Wild Wooders from Toad Hall with his large cudgel.
Otter and Portly: A friend of Ratty with a stereotypical “Cockney costermonger” character, the extrovert Otter is tough and self-sufficient. Portly is his young son.
The Weasels: The story’s main antagonists. They plot to take over Toad Hall.
Pan: A god who makes a single, anomalous appearance in Chapter 7, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.
The Gaoler’s Daughter: The only major human character; a “good, kind, clever girl”, she helps Toad escape from prison.
The Wayfarer: A vagabond seafaring rat, who also makes a single appearance. Ratty briefly considers following his example, before Mole persuades him otherwise.
Squirrels and rabbits, who are generally good (although rabbits are described as “a mixed lot”).