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

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The charm of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS lies in the timeless physical world Grahame has created—“The River Bank,” “The Open Road,” “The Wild Wood,” to quote the first three chapter titles—and in its principal characters: the powerful and phlegmatic Badger; the steady and loyal Water Rat; the impulsive and volatile Mole; and, above all, the vain, feckless, yet lovable Toad. This is one of the those rare classics which appeals equally to adults and children.

The chapters cut back and forth between several main story lines. At the outset Mole, weary of his humdrum underground life, ventures to the river and makes friends with Rat. Later, one winter day, Mole incautiously sets out alone to explore the Wild Wood, full of sinister weasels and stoats and ferrets, and has to be rescued by Rat; both take shelter in the spacious burrow of Badger.

Meanwhile Toad, a wealthy animal who lives in the “finest house on the whole river,” as he modestly puts it, involves Mole and Rat in his most recent enthusiasm, rambling about the countryside in a horse-drawn “gipsy caravan.” The caravan is wrecked by an automobile, and now Toad is wild about motoring. After a number of misadventures he is imprisoned for auto theft; by the time he escapes, Toad Hall has been usurped by the stoats and weasels, whom Toad and his friends must evict by force of arms.

The characters, especially Rat and Mole, are held by the delights of home, drawn by adventure and the open road, just as children desire simultaneously to remain dependent and to grow up. To this THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS owes much of its universality.

Bibliography:

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Chalmers, Patrick R. Kenneth Grahame: Life, Letters, and Unpublished Work.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 genesis of The Wind in the Willows. Valuable in its extracts from Grahame’s letters to his son documenting the development of the story, and from correspondence between Grahame and his readers and publishers.

Green, Peter. Kenneth Grahame 1859-1932: A Study of His Life, Work, and Times. London: John Murray, 1959. Considered a groundbreaking study. Presents as in-depth analysis of the psychological undercurrents, social context, literary sources, and creative method that produced The Wind in the Willows.

Kuznets, Lois R. Kenneth Grahame. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Cogently discusses the work’s thematic and formal complexity, from its mock-epic structure and density of style to its archetypal associations. Surveys modern evaluations and adaptations.

Sale, Roger. “Kenneth Grahame.” In Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978. Examines The Wind in the Willows as a classic of children’s literature. Sale argues that the book, reflecting Grahame’s own anxieties, offers reassurance in the face of the demands of adult life.

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