illustrated portraits of Toad, Mole, Rat, and Badger set against a woodland scene

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

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The Wind in the Willows Summary

The Wind in the Willows follows the adventures of Mole after he ventures out of his neighborhood and meets his neighbors. 

  • One spring, Mole decides to leave home and walk through a meadow. He meets Rat, who invites him to live with him.
  • The two friends visit Toad at Toad Hall, despite Toad's reputation for recklessness. Toad convinces Rat and Mole to join him on an adventure that is cut short by a speeding car.
  • Badger confronts Toad about his recklessness and locks him in his room, but Toad escapes, steals a car, and goes to jail.
  • Toad escapes from jail and is nearly captured, but Rat and Mole help him reclaim Toad Hall.

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Mole has spring fever, for he has been busy with his cleaning and his repairing for too long. Because the new spring smells and the sight of budding green are everywhere about him, he cannot resist them. Throwing aside his tools and his mops, together with his ambition for cleaning, he leaves his little home under the ground and travels up to a lovely meadow. There he wanders through the grass and along the river. He never saw a river before, and he is bewitched by its chuckling and its glimmering in the sunlight.

As he watches, Mole sees a dark hole in the bank. From it protrudes the bewhiskered face of Water Rat, who promptly invites Mole to visit him. Mole, of course, cannot swim, and so Rat takes his little boat and rows across to get him. Such enchantment is almost too much for quiet Mole. As they glide across the gurgling water, he thinks this is the best day of his entire life. After a little accident, they reach Rat’s house. There they pack a picnic basket and set out on a real excursion. They stay carefully away from the Wild Wood, for fierce animals live there. Badger keeps his home there, but nobody will dare bother Badger.

As they float down the river, Rat tells Mole about other animals and about the Wide World. Rat never saw the Wide World and never wanted to see it, and he warns Mole against it. It is no place for respectable animals. When they stop for their picnic lunch, they are joined by Otter. Badger looks in on them but will not join them. Badger hates society. He likes people all right, but he hates society. Rat promises that they will meet Badger later, for Mole can learn much valuable knowledge from Badger.

After another accident, which is Mole’s fault, the two new friends go to Rat’s home and eat supper. Following the meal, Rat entertains Mole with many wonderful tales. It is a sleepy but happy Mole who is helped into bed by the kind Rat that night. From then on, the two remain friends. Rat teaches Mole to swim and to row, to listen to the music of the running water, and to catch a little of the meaning of the song the wind sings as it whispers in the willows.

One day, the two go to visit Toad at Toad Hall. It is the most beautiful residence in animal land, for Toad is wealthy. He is also a playboy. Every new fad that comes along attracts him. When Rat and Mole arrive, Toad is busy getting together a gypsy caravan. He persuades the others to join him on the open road. Although the venture is against Rat’s better judgment, poor Mole is so desirous of joining Toad that Rat finally submits.

Their adventure is short-lived. When the wagon is upset by a racing motorcar, Rat is so furious that he wants to prosecute the owners of the car to the limit. Toad has other ideas; he must have the biggest, fastest, gaudiest car that money can buy.

Spring, summer, and fall pass—days filled with pleasure for Mole and Rat. Then, one cold winter day, Mole goes out alone and gets lost. He finds himself in the Wild Wood and is terrified by the strange noises and evil faces he sees around him. Rat finally finds him, but before they can reach Rat’s home, snow begins to fall. By luck, they stumble upon Badger’s home, where the old philosopher welcomes them, although he hates being disturbed from...

(This entire section contains 1205 words.)

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his winter’s sleep. Badger asks for news of the other animals, particularly of Toad. He is not surprised to learn that Toad is in trouble constantly because of his motorcars. There were seven crashes and seven new cars. He was hospitalized three times, and he paid innumerable fines. Badger promises that when the proper time comes, he will attend to Toad.

When their visit is over, Badger leads Rat and Mole through a labyrinth of tunnels and underground passages until they reach the far edge of the Wild Wood. There he says good-bye, and the two animals scamper for home. Not long afterward, in December, Mole feels a great desire to return to his own house that he left on that spring day so long ago. Rat understands the feeling and gladly goes with Mole to find his old home. It is a shabby place, not at all as fine as Toad Hall or Rat’s house, but Rat is polite about it and praises it to Mole. On their first night there, they give a party for the field mice; Mole then rolls into bed and sleeps the sleep of weary travelers.

Early the next summer, Badger turns up and says that now he is ready to deal with Toad. Taking Mole and Rat with him, he goes to Toad Hall and tries to persuade Toad to give up his cars and his reckless ways. Since only force can accomplish that end, they lock Toad in his room until he should come to his senses. Toad, however, slips out of the window and steals a car. He is arrested, tried, and sentenced to prison for twenty years. There Toad has ample time to think about his foolish ways, but he could not be restrained for long. Bribing the jailer’s daughter, he escapes in the disguise of a washerwoman.

Finally, Mole learns the true meaning of the wind’s song in the trees. One evening, when birds and insects are still, Mole suddenly feels the awe that brings peace and contentment. He feels himself in the presence of he who brings life and death. There is not terror, only peace. Then Mole and Rat really see him, his horns gleaming and his eyes smiling. The mood is over soon, and with its passing comes complete forgetfulness. While the wind sings gently on through the willows, Mole and Rat feel only as if they had an unremembered dream.

That fall Rat, while out walking, meets Sea Rat, a seafarer who tells wonderful tales of adventure throughout the Wide World. Rat gets a dreamy look in his eyes as Sea Rat paints his word pictures. It is all Mole can do to remind Rat of the fearsome things he said about the Wide World. The spell, however, is broken at last, and Rat settles down again, content with his narrow world.

Meanwhile, Toad’s escape is almost ruined by his conceit and his carelessness. As he is about to be caught again, Rat rescues him and takes him home. There Rat tells Toad that the weasels and stoats took over Toad Hall while Toad was in prison. Badger has a plan to recover Toad Hall. Through a tunnel known only to Badger, the four friends sneak up on the intruders and capture Toad Hall again for its rightful owner. Toad, of course, takes all the credit.

The four continue to live in joy and contentment. Unafraid, they walk in the Wild Wood, for the weasels have learned their lesson, and they hear the wind whispering its gentle song.