The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows book cover
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At a Glance

  • The Wind in the Willows is Kenneth Grahame's beloved children's book about the adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad, four animals living in the English countryside. Mole is the main character, but Toad often steals the show with his wild, reckless behavior. Over time, the four animals become close friends and learn how to live in peace with nature.
  • The Wind in the Willows is structured around Mole's spiritual journey as he comes to understand the true meaning of the wind in the willows. On this journey, Mole has a series of smaller adventures with his friends, in the course of which he learns how to swim and sees the world for the first time.
  • Friendship is an important theme in the novel. Mole first meets Rat while standing on a riverbank, gazing out at the rushing waters. Mole and Rat become fast friends and do everything together, including going on adventures that bring them into contact with Badger and Toad. Soon, all four animals become friends and find peace and happiness together.

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Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

Scottish novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism of Grahame’s novel The Wind in the Willows (1908). See also Kenneth Grahame Criticism.

Published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows is regarded as a classic children's novel. Originating from a series of bedtime stories Grahame told his son, Alastair, the book chronicles the adventures of a group of plucky animals, led by the impulsive and childish Mr. Toad. The Wind in the Willows remains one of the most popular books for children in England and the United States and has been translated into several different languages. In addition, it has been adapted for film, television, and the stage many times and inspired several sequels written by different authors.

Plot and Major Characters

The Wind in the Willows focuses on the adventures of a group of four animal friends that exhibit human behavior: Mole, Badger, Rat, and Toad. Commentators note that the book consists of three narratives placed together: the adventures of Toad, the tale of the friendship of Rat and Mole, and the two lyrical chapters on nature entitled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and “Wayfarers All.” The story begins when Mole abandons the spring cleaning of his underground home to take a walk along the riverbank. He meets Rat, and the two become friends. Mole also becomes friends with Toad, the rich owner of Toad Hall. Toad convinces Rat and Mole to take a trip on his gypsy caravan, but during the ride they are forced off the road by a speeding automobile. Entranced, Toad abandons the caravan to follow the car. Rat and Mole return home. Later, Mole gets lost exploring the area across the river known as the Wild Wood. Rat rescues him, and the two find refuge in the safe and warm home of the Badger. Meanwhile, Toad has become obsessed with automobiles and has crashed several cars. Concerned about his young friend, Badger asks Rat and Mole to help him convince Toad to be more responsible. Their appeal to him fails, and Toad is caught stealing a car and is sentenced to twenty years in jail. Toad escapes jail and has many adventures on his trip home. When he finally arrives back at Toad Hall, he finds it overrun with weasels, stoats, and ferrets from the Wild Wood. With the help of his friends, they are able to run the squatters out of the house and enjoy a celebratory banquet. The story ends with Toad resolving to reform.

Major Themes

Commentators have identified one of the major thematic concerns of The Wind of Willows as the journey; in the story, various characters feel the pull of wanderlust and the need to explore space outside of their home region. Yet most of these journeys result in danger and homesickness. Several critics perceive The Wind in the Willows as nostalgic for a long-ago England, before industrialization began to alter the British landscape and customs. Grahame's antagonism toward industrialism has also been detected in Toad's...

(The entire section is 48,675 words.)