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The Wind in the Willows (first edition; 1908)

Kenneth Grahame's classic 1908 children's book about a group of animals and their adventures.

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Nature, Adventure, and Friends of All Kinds: Kenneth Grahame's Masterpiece

  • Apr 10, 2010
In the 20th Century there have been two movements which have directly affected society and the world at large. There has been the steady progress of technology that brought with it urban expansion and industrial innovation, but also pollution and the destruction of nature. And then there has been a movement that at its heart is about returning to a past that we long ago forgot, to a pastoral lifestyle that holds nature in reverence and accepts our connection with all flora and fauna. These themes have been explored in many books by different authors over the course of more than two centuries, beginning with some notable works in the 19th Century that were written during the height of the Industrial Revolution.
For me, personally, the single most important book of this kind was written by Kenneth Grahame, former Secretary of the Bank of England and an occasional writer of children's books. His penultimate masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows, so perfectly captured the beauty and wonder of nature and contrasted it with the growing modernity that so often brings unforeseen troubles. Yet The Wind in the Willows is not a dark or dreary book by any means. On the contrary, it is a work of children's fiction that is so light-hearted, whimsical, and enchanting that it has given many adult readers the opportunity to revisit their childhood and relive their fantasies of adventure and camaraderie.
The Wind in the Willows first edition
Kenneth Grahame's novel holds a dear place in its readers' hearts. For those who admire the story, they see into a pastoral English world that no longer exists, where a diverse and fully realized group of characters experience numerous incidents of peril and excitement, yet they remain forever friends to the end. The book, which is rather unevenly paced and moves slowly and then quickly alternately, has been rather overlooked in recent years by the youth culture. Perhaps they cannot recognize or believe in a world where nature is all-encompassing and people hold it as something sacred. Or perhaps the children of the modern world simply can't relate to characters who stick together through turmoil, regardless of any threats to their lives or well-being, in order to honor their bonds of friendship. And that is what this story is about, make no mistake about it... it tells of an unbreakable bond of friendship between four very different animals.

Kenneth Grahame was born March 8, 1859 in Scotland. When he was very young his mother died and his father took to drinking heavily, so Kenneth was sent to live with his grandmother. She lived on the banks of the River Thames in a village in southern England. There he became deeply fascinated with the various animals that he'd watch forage in and near the river, as well as those that were bred on the local farms, and those that dwelt in the forests. He was transfixed with an enthusiasm and love of all the animals there, but especially with the wild animals who roamed freely in the picturesque countryside.
Though Kenneth was very shy and withdrawn throughout most of his life, he had many friends, and was seen by his peers as a quiet but very likeable person with a great imagination. Grahame was a particularly intelligent student whilst at school and he really had a number of choices when it came to his career. Many who knew him were surprised when he went to work for the Bank of England in 1879, as they had expected him to take on a more creative and engaging career within society. Grahame quickly ascended the ranks within the bank and reached the position of Secretary. In 1907 he retired, in part due to his poor health, but also so that he could focus more on his writing. One year after his retirement, The Wind in the Willows was published. It was only his fifth book.
Prior to the publication of his greatest work, Grahame had written Pagan Papers, The Golden Age, Dream Days, and The Headswoman. However, it was Grahame's children stories that received the most praise and commercial success. The Golden Age, which was published in 1895, was a collection of stories that combined memories from his childhood with characters and motifs from classical Greek Mythology. Dream Days, which was published in 1898, was a companion to The Golden Age and featured many of the same mythological elements as well as some of the same characters. Both books were highly acclaimed and sold well. Dream Days was also notable for one of its chapters which became a classic in its own right. The Reluctant Dragon drew on Grahame's love of myth and legend, as well as on his youth in the Berkshire Downs, and in it he recreated the famous story of St. George and the Dragon with a charming twist. His fascination with pagan mythologies, his fervent love of animals, and his somewhat mystical reverence for nature formed a thread of common motifs that would be shared by most of his writings.
In 1899, Grahame married Elspeth Thomson and together they shared a love for nature and for fantasy stories. Their first and only child, Alastair, was born in . Alastair suffered from frequent health problems, so Grahame would tell him stories to keep him entertained and happy.
An illustration by Ernest H. Shepard for the 1930 edition

What makes The Wind in the Willows the brilliant work of children's literature that it is, are the characters; Mole, Ratty, Badger, and of course Mr. Toad. The characters were inspired by a number of different real-life incidents involving animals as well as by Grahame's son Alastair, whom the character of Toad is said to be based upon. Alastair, whom everyone called "mouse", was like his father in that he too had an affinity for animals. In fact, it is because of Alastair that the book even exists at all. One day, Kenneth Grahame had caught a small mole for his son to see, but the mole died before he could show it to him. He asked the child's nurse what should be done about it and she told him that if he could create a story about that mole for Alastair, then the mole would live forever in the boy's imagination. This is exactly what Kenneth Grahame did. The bedtime story that Kenneth told his son would become a nightly routine and each night the story would grow to include new characters and more adventures. By 1907, it had become rich enough in both character and events that Kenneth realized that it might make a suitable children's novel. He could have no idea that the adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad would become a favorite work of British fiction or one of the most beloved children's fantasy stories ever written.
The badger's winter stores, which indeed were visible everywhere, took up half the room.

Since its publication, The Wind in the Willows has become a classic and has been praised for both its literary quality and its entertainment value. It is often cited as being one of the greatest works of English fiction in the 20th Century and has been adapted for numerous films, a stage play, and a television series. The book has been illustrated by some of the greatest artists in the medium of story illustration. Some of these artists include: Ernest H. Shepard, who illustrated the 1931 edition; Arthur Rackham, who illustrated the story in an edition of the book that was published in 1940, a year after his death; Tasha Tudor, who illustrated the 1966 edition; and Michael Hague, who illustrated the the 1980 edition.
Coincidentally, Toad of Toad Hall, the stage play adapted from the events in the book was written by A.A. Milne, who's most famous as the creator of the Winnie the Pooh books, which were also illustrated by  E.H. Shepard. The stage play focuses primarily on the many comical misadventures of Mr. Toad and the repeated valiant attempts by his friends to rescue him from his often troublesome "enthusiasms".

An illustration by Robert Ingpen.
The book has also come to represent a period in time when England lived a more innocent, peaceable, and rural lifestyle. Their have been discussions about the the characters in the story from a sociological perspective that have viewed each character as a representation of a specific English characteristic: Toad representing England's youthful exuberance and fascination with adventure; Mole representing English tendencies to by shy or sheltered from the world; Ratty representing the desire to travel and the love of the land; and Badger, who represents the more gruff, cantankerous aspects of the British people. While these characteristics are fairly obvious, I don't know that trying to assign the story a political or social moral message about England is necessarily appropriate. After all, Grahame did create the book essentially for his young son.
But there is some credence to the idea that Grahame was promoting a more Agrarian English lifestyle in the face of urbanization and technological advancement.
In the foreword to the book he even went so far to state his dislike of the attitude that many innovators took in the field of science.
"The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost eneavours of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder.... Science analyses everything to its component parts, and neglects to put them together again .... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Launcelot in shining armour on a moonlit road."
His concerns were quite common with many other creative people during the 19th Century, particularly among the art movement of the Romanticists, and the conflict between logic and faith, science and religion, and technology and spirituality were recurring themes in the literature of the time.
Grahame wasn't just making a statement about these issues. He had something to say about the way in which children were being raised as well. He went on to explain his feelings in the foreword:
"Children are not merely people: they are the only really living people that have been left to us in an overweary world....
In my tales about children, I have tried to show that their simple acceptance of the mood of wonderment, their readiness to welcome a perfect miracle at any hour of the day or night, is a thing more precious than any of the laboured acquisitions of adult mankind...
In my mind, it is this belief in the power of fantasy and imagintation and hopes, that stem from early childhood, which sets his work apart from today's literature for children. We live in a cynical age where children question the natural magic of the world with the eyes of a condescending adult. The belief that we live in a reality where anything is possible has been replaced with the "knowledge" that we live in a world where only what science deems realistic is possible. Perhaps Grahame understood that which we have forgotten or have failed to embrace, the fact that there is more to this world than meets the eye and we shall always find more beauty in the woods, fields, mountains, and waters of our planet than we shall ever witness in the fruits of human invention. He knew the timeless beauty of nature would always hold an appeal to future generations, but he also knew that if those generations were too distracted by technology, these marvels of the world might go unseen and unappreciated.
"The Wind in the Willows" illustrated by Michael Hague
This is one of the reasons why I will make sure that any children I have in the future read Grahame's books. Children need to believe in the impossible in order to achieve the impossible. And if they do not comprehend the importance of fairy tales and legends, or if they fail to recognize the necessity in guarding over nature and her many creatures, then there is no point in having future generations. Children deserve to be sent into a world where their dreams may become a reality, where they can give back to the Earth as mush as they take from it, and where morals aren't tied up with dogmatic ideologies, and if we cannot provide that for them then our failures will outweigh any progress we have made. Children are the world and the world cannot be without its children. Those who understand this will be forever grateful to Kenneth Grahame and the authors like him who left behind a trasure trove of enchanting stories that emphasize the inherent social and spiritual value of children and remind us of their true place in society.
Toad sat straight down in the middle of the... He could see the imprints of them in the mud... Fixing on him glances of malice. ...Forthwith their shrill little voices uprose... He scrambled out. So there he sat, and sniffed and sniffed. Toad found himself flying through the air. There he had a thorough wash and brush-up... Crash! The hour is come... ...The friends would take a stroll together...

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November 16, 2010
Marvelous write up! Extremely informative, entertaining, and thought provoking piece on a much beloved work and fascinating artist. Great job! :o) wishing you laughter
November 16, 2010
Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. This is one of my favorite books to revisit again and again.
April 12, 2010
I don't remember just when I started reading these books, but I was still in elementary school at the time.  It's been a very long time, but I do recall enjoying them a great deal.  It might be worth going to library just to check one out again.
April 12, 2010
Actually, it's not really a series since Grahame never wrote a sequel. There have been other authors in the past few years who have adapted some of the characters and events into kiddie versions (mainly picture books) and even done sequels, but they're all essentially unofficial. So, if you did read it, you wouldn't have to worry about getting started on some lengthy series. ; )
April 12, 2010
Dude it has been so long since I have read this, man this takes me back.
April 12, 2010
When did you read it? And man, you've got to add some sort of a photo, even if it's not actually of you. I feel like I'm taking to a faint shadow. LOL!
April 14, 2010
Dude it has been years since I read it, and as far as the pic. I will eventually but I kinda like the faint shadow idea, nah I will we I have time.
April 11, 2010
Great review! I loved all the details and the in-depth author information you provided. Your images and samples of the illustrations bring the book and your review to life. Can you believe this is a classic I've never read? I did watch an animated movie of "The Wind and the Willows" when I was younger, but that's it. I'll have to check this book out someday!
April 12, 2010
Which animated film did you see? There are quite a few, but my favorite is the 1983 stop-motion animated film done by Cosgrove-Hall. And nope, I can't believe that you never read this. ; )
April 15, 2010
The one I watched was a Disney version: http://www.dbtechno.com/images/willos.jpg
April 11, 2010
I read this when I was very young--so young that I can't really recall how old I was. I loved your review. It's amazing how reading a book like this will bring out the "whilsts" and the "dwelts" in reviewer. ;-)
April 11, 2010
Oh, I usually include those in my songs and poetry too. ; )
April 11, 2010
April 11, 2010
I like archaic languages, so it sort of rises to the surface when I write about history or literature.
April 12, 2010
I know. It sort of draws it out of you.
April 12, 2010
You know how you have method acting, well I'm sort of a method writer. I don't mean to be, but I tend to inhabit the headspace of the the writer or the characters. When I was reading "Schindler's Ark" as research for my review of "Schindler's List", I began talking in a Polish accent without meaning to. It's a little scary sometimes. Apparently, I'm more open to suggestion than I'd like to admit.
April 13, 2010
That's exactly what I was hinting at.
April 14, 2010
See, and I was open to it. Don't tell me to do anything stupid, I just might! =D
April 14, 2010
Good boy.
April 15, 2010
Woof! Can I have a vegan dog biscuit now?
April 15, 2010
Yes. Catch!
April 15, 2010
(sound of large dehydrated soy and vegetable product colliding with canine cranium)
April 15, 2010
Poor uncoordinated puppy!
April 15, 2010
Indeed. Wagging my tail, standing up, letting my tongue hang out, perking up my ears, and catching is just too much for me to handle. In fact, you try doing all that!
April 15, 2010
That's why I'm a cat. If you want to give me a treat you'll have to come over here and put it in front of my face, thank you very much.
April 15, 2010
Then you're not going to get a treat, are you? Tricks for treats only! ; )
April 15, 2010
You will bring me a treat or you will face the wrath of my needle sharp claws and my easily shed fur.
April 15, 2010
Claws may make me bleed, fur may make me sneeze, but I'm not intimidated that easily. I enjoy pain and discomfort. Just a different side of the spectrum of sensation, so why should it bother people?
April 15, 2010
Will you like it when I throw up a fur ball in your shoe?
April 15, 2010
I'll just make sure I put my shoe on while you're head is still in it. =D
April 15, 2010
Did I mention my sharp fangs? They leave very small puncture wounds that heal over quickly causing abcesses--assuming you don't have more serious problems like blood poisoning.
April 15, 2010
Hey, we're all fragile, insignificant mortals. What's so bad about a little infected cat bite? Personally, I'd be more worried about fleas that carry the bubonic plague or drinking the water in Mexico.
April 15, 2010
Hey, my mother almost died from a cat bite. Don't under estimate the power of even a friendly fang.
April 15, 2010
It's the bacteria in the saliva that concerns me more than the teeth. Cats' stomachs don't produce enough acid to burn out most of the harmful bacteria they ingest when they eat bits of their prey, plus the constant grooming prevents proper digestion too.
April 15, 2010
Naw. Take it from me. What makes them a problem is the fact that the teeth are so finely pointed that the wounds heal up very quickly THUS causing all that bacteria you're worried about to do the deed. I was 1 semester short of graduating vet tech when the money ran out. My mother was bitten by our cat Twiggy when she tried to pick the cat up frombehind which was a stupid thing to do because twig was in hunt mode--she had a black snake cornered in the kitchen and she didn't even know anyone was behind her much less that they were gonna pick her up. So she bit--natural reaction. By 10:00 that night my mother had to be rushed to the emergency room with blood poisoning. She missed 2 weeks of work. She almost died. She'd never missed a day of work in 45 years.
April 15, 2010
I like snakes. Now, they can bite me whenever they like.
April 15, 2010
Even the dreaded bitis gabonica?
April 15, 2010
Okay, so that's a really memorable way to die. Pretty snake too.
April 15, 2010
I like corn snakes, very colorful.
April 10, 2010
Ok, I am not done reading the review yet, but I am impressed so far. I'll be right back. Adrianna's going to love this review....
April 11, 2010
I hope so. As for you having not finished the review, it's fine because I haven't finished it. It still needs the plot summary, which I'll be re-writing because it went on for too long.
April 11, 2010
LOL! You know me so well, William! I just read it....LOVED IT!!! I think I owe Sean a Twilight review after this one!! ;)
April 11, 2010
Ok, I am back and I have to say that this review once again is stellar. I printed it out and will distribute it to your Orlokians...problem is, they don't want to pay a cent. You have a cheapo fanbase, Sean LOL!

As for Twilight, Sean is bribing you to review it, Adrianna? oh my... ;-P
April 12, 2010
Yes, I'm that evil! LOL!
April 10, 2010
What a lovely, thoughtful review! I love this book, too; just looking at the beautiful illustrations makes me wistful and even a bit teary.
April 10, 2010
Yeah, it's remarkable how it has that affect on some people. The first time I read it unabridged was when I was about 17 and it I was overwhelmed with this bittersweet nostalgia. It's since become one of my favorite children's books, which is odd because when I was a child I didn't read many children's books and now that I'm an adult i'm quite fond of how charming and imaginative they can be.
More The Wind in the Willows reviews
review by . February 15, 2011
... As history-books have showed;   But never a name to go down to fame   Compared with that of Toad!"      THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, a turn-of-the century children's story written by Kenneth Grahame in 1908, has deservedly withstood the onslaught of time. On the surface, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is an allegory that tells the story of the adventures and misadventures of Toad, Rat, Badger and Mole in the rural English countryside. The pastoral narratives …
review by . June 18, 2010
Whether you have already seen the Walt Disney movie or not Wind in the Willows is a must read for both children and adults. I first read this book in 4th grade as a required reading for my literature class. I have since read it a few more times and it is without a doubt one of my favorites. This classic book brings to live with amazing detail and reality a toad, a frog and several other animals that you would not normally get to know or think of as even pets. Mr. Toad is the main character and …
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
kind of spooked me when I was a kid
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Always a classic
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
"Believe me my young friend there is nothing half as much woth doing as simply messing about in boats". Always a classic.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
It's wellwritten, true, but I found it a little dull myself. Still quite good.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
This is a wonderful story.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
I love these animals.
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Loved this!
Quick Tip by . December 07, 2009
Kenneth Grahame's brilliant children's tale captures the essence of friendship & adventure and has beautiful visions of a pastoral England.
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About this book


Author: Kenneth Grahame
Genre: Fantasy, Children's Books, Classic Literature
Publisher: Signet Classics
Date Published: 1908
Format: Novel
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