The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, was first published in 1908.
Meet little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. Over one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures—in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood—continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie.
There’s something about illustrated books that just sing to me, especially if they are color illustrations. I’ve been eyeing the illustrated A Treasury of Children’s Literature for a while now; not because of the stories it contains, but because of those magnificent full-page illustrations. And don’t get me started on the fully illustrated editions of Harry Potter being published. And the edition of The Wind in the Willows I read (the Centennial Anniversary Edition published by Atheneum, illustrated by Ernest Shepard) had both black-and-white and color illustrations, which made the book that much more special for me to read.
The Wind in the Willows is a book about the desire to leave home and discover new things—but it’s also about returning home. Mole and Rat and Toad all experience longing for something else, something new, something beyond what they already know—and all in different ways, Toad especially. Toad’s longing is more unhealthy than Mole’s and Rat’s, especially since he lets his pride carry him along. But in the end, even Toad learns the pleasure of having a home to return to after one goes adventuring. And while Mole’s longing comes along more naturally, Rat’s is almost forced upon him, as somebody else incites—enchants—longing within him. It’s amazing that a book about talking animals that often makes no sense in terms of world can be so evocative in terms of image and meaning.
And yes, the world does make no sense, at least to me. Animals that aren’t normally carnivores eat meat, coexist with humans, and are almost exactly like humans themselves except in appearance? Huh? I kept wondering, “But wait—how did the world get this way?” because that’s what I like to know about the world of my books. So not having that answer disgruntled me, even if this is a children’s book and the questions I want answered are not necessarily the ones that children want answered. And I can see children getting a lot of joy out of this book, especially with Mr. Toad’s adventures with the cars (heck, I got a lot of joy out of it!).
Something that crossed my mind while reading: I wonder if this book is where Brian Jacques got some of his inspiration for Redwall. The Wind in the Willows is like Redwall set in the early 20th century, sort of.
Also, the scene when Toad first encounters the motor-car (one of my favorite scenes in the book) is the only thing I remember about the Disney movie that was loosely adapted from this book. And it’s almost as silly in the book as it is in the movie.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Warnings: The word “ass” is used a couple of times (as in, “Don’t be an ass!”)
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Realistic
Far behind them they heard a faint warning hum, like the drone of a distant bee. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out the dust a faint “Poop-poop” wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. Hardly regarding it, they turned to resume their conversation, when in an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was change, and with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, it was on them! The “poop-poop” rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass ad rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.…
Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid, satisfied expression, and at intervals he faintly murmured “Poop-poop!”
The Wind in the Willows is an utterly charming book, even with the incomprehensible (to me) world and a somewhat slap-dash plot (but still a plot!). Some of my favorite scenes are the encounter with the motor-car and the taking back of Toad Hall from the stoats and weasels. It’s a book that both shows the wonders that come from leaving home and the comfort that coming back brings.
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