According to the dust jacket on my copy of The Wind in the Willows, the book first began as a series of bedtime stories for Kenneth Graham’s son. I think the children’s bedtime story element is strongest during Toad’s antics, especially the whole escape scene. But then there’s the slower, more poetic side to the story. Graham takes the time to wax lyrical about the changing of the seasons, and such paragraphs may be too slow for a child, although they are quite beautiful. Graham wrote his descriptions well, and I can see he enjoyed writing them- my favourites were the descriptions of the characters, and of the food (good books should go into detail about good food)
“ ‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity. ‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater-‘ ‘O stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’ ‘Do you really think so? enquired the Rat seriously. ‘It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it very fine!’”
What really makes the book is the cast of quirky characters. They were an intriguing mix of English gentlemen and animal. Toad may have been somewhat irritating, but he is redeemed by the humour his ridiculousness brings. His character growth at the end was a little too sudden, but at least it ends the story with a good note. I enjoyed Mole and Badger, but Rat remained the favourite, as he has always been. His love of boats reminds me of my father, who will now and again quote Rat’s lines from this passage:
“’Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing-absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats, Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing- about- in boats; messing-‘ ‘Look ahead, Rat!’ cried the Mole suddenly. It was too late. The boat struck the bank at full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air. ‘- about in boats- or with boats,’ the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh.”
I did take issue with the world building, however. I had trouble pinning it down. Were Mole, Rat, and the others regular animal size, or human size? What were their associations with their human neighbours, exactly? Whom do they worship, since we apparently see them recognising both Christ and Pan. How could Toad be smoothing down his hair- is he wearing a wig?
“He shook himself and combed the dry leaves out of his hair with his fingers; and, his toilet complete, marched forth into the comfortable morning sun, cold but confident, hungry but hopeful, all nervous terrors of yesterday dispelled by rest and sleep and frank and heartening sunshine.”
But even with the anomalies and somewhat uneven plot, I enjoyed The Wind in the Willows. I drink tea not to quench thirst, but for enjoyment. So it is with the Wind in the Willows. It’s a recreation book, a tea book, small and sweet.
“Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured!”