The Wind in the Willows was published near the turn of the century—1908 in England and 1909 in America. It was based on stories that Kenneth Grahame, the author, told to his son Alastair, starting on Alastair’s fourth birthday. The principle characters of these stories are talking animals who live in and around a river, though to the animals, it is “the River” (author’s emphasis). At the time of the work’s publication, Grahame had already published four books of fiction. He was most well known for his collections of stories The Golden Age and its sequel Dream Days. Though the works were written about children, they were not written for children. The Wind in the Willows was not initially well received because it deviated from his previous works; however, it eventually became the work that he is most famous for, enjoyed by children and adults alike.
The principle characters in the novel, though they all have their faults, are idealized in many ways. Several virtues are epitomized in Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad, so much so that they become themes. There are numerous examples of hospitality, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and humility. Even the arrogant Toad is able to humble himself and put aside his conceited ways in the end, having matured though a succession of trying circumstances with the guidance and help of loyal friends.