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.
Toad is apprehended and sent in chains to a dungeon, where, despondent, he mopes until the gaoler’s kind daughter suggests how he might escape (disguised as the prison washerwoman). Next, he attempts to buy a train ticket to Toad Hall. Having no money, he persuades the engine driver to take him on. They are pursued by his gaolers, but the driver shows him mercy, and Toad is once again free after jumping from the train.
Toad’s next encounter is with a real washerwoman on a barge. After discovering his identity, she throws him into the canal. To get even, he steals the horse that pulls her barge and rides it until he sells it to a gypsy for pocket money and breakfast.
Still disguised as a washerwoman, Toad tries to hitch a ride in a passing motorcar. It is the same car he had been jailed for stealing. The occupants do not recognize the thief and even allow “her” to sit in the front seat and learn to drive. Recklessly, Toad admits to his true identity. After the car has overturned, he once more runs for his life. Fortunately, he ends up in the river and is rescued by Rat.
All the main characters band together to regain Toad Hall for its rightful owner. In Toad’s absence, it had been taken over by weasels, stoats, and ferrets from the Wild Wood. The friends’ campaign, under the direction of Badger, is successful. The book ends with a gala celebration of the return of normality and the hoped-for reformation of Toad.
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...
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