The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
The Wind in the Willows relates the adventures of four characters in a series of chapters, each of which forms a complete story focusing on one or more of the four. Together, the chapters, whose plot lines sometimes intermix, follow the adventures of Toad.
Mole, a main character, abandons spring cleaning to stroll along the riverbank, where he meets the friendly Water Rat, who shows him the joys of “messing about in boats.” After some time, the two friends become involved with the third character, Toad, the rich owner of the palatial Toad Hall.
The eccentric Toad persuades Mole and Rat to accompany him on a journey in his well-appointed gypsy caravan. This, however, is overturned when the horse pulling it bolts at the sight and sound of a motorcar. Mole and Rat are happy to return home safely; Toad, though, has acquired a fixation with motorcars.
Across the river is the Wild Wood, inhabited by creatures that are vicious, except for the gruff, reclusive Badger, who lives underground in this area. Mole, exploring the Wood, gets lost, but he and his rescuer, Rat, find shelter with Badger.
Toad’s adventures begin to appear in alternating chapters, forming a complete story of their own. Enamored of expensive motorcars, he wrecks one after another until his friends lock him in his bedroom to cure him of his mania. Through trickery, he escapes; he then steals a car and drives it off.
(The entire section is 502 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
River. Fictional river in England that flows to the sea past meadows, woods, and towns and which serves as the focus of the novel. The river, never named in the story, is modeled after the rivers of southern England well known to Kenneth Grahame throughout his life. It gurgles along its course between banks covered with rushes, flowers, reeds, and trees—silver birch, alder, and willow trees. As the novel progresses, it is the setting for Rat’s patient tutelage of Mole, Mole’s growing skill as a boatman, Otter’s despair over the disappearance of his son, Toad’s near-drowning following his escape from prison, and Rat and Mole’s mystical encounter with Pan.
Riverbank. Rat’s home, a multichambered hole in the muddy riverbank just above the water line. It is a marvel of cozy domesticity with its parlor where armchairs are pulled close to the fireside, its kitchen which supplies the food for the table and picnic baskets, and its bedrooms offering rest in their soft sheets and blankets.
Toad Hall. Toad’s home, a large English country house with lawns sloping down to the river. In keeping with his bombastic character, Toad’s home is a grandiose establishment. In addition to an imposing brick manor house it includes a banqueting hall, a coach house and stable-yard, and a boathouse. Toad, careless in so many ways, is equally careless in appreciating all...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Carpenter, Humphrey. “The Wind in the Willows.” In Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. Carpenter, coauthor of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, concludes that, of all the subjects in his study, only Grahame managed to create a utopian world. For Carpenter, it is the level at which The Wind in the Willows explores the artistic imagination that gives it coherence.
Chalmers, Patrick R. Kenneth Grahame: Life, Letters, and Unpublished Work. London: Methuen, 1933. This biography, appearing a year after Grahame’s death, sentimentalizes...
(The entire section is 258 words.)