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The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows is a classic of children's literature by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Alternately slow moving and fast paced, it focuses on four anthropomorphised animal characters in a pastoral version of England. The novel is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality, and camaraderie.

The Wind in the Willows was saved from obscurity by the then-famous playwright, A. A. Milne, who loved it and adapted a part of it for stage as Toad of Toad Hall. Grahame retired from his position as secretary of the Bank of England. He moved to the country, where he spent his time by the River Thames doing much as the animal characters in his book do; namely, as one of the most famous phrases from the book says, "simply messing about in boats". The seventh chapter of the book, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," inspired the title of rock band Pink Floyd's debut album of the same name.

Plot summary

At the start of the book, it is spring, the weather is fine, and good-natured Mole loses patience with his spring cleaning and dares to leave his underground home, heading up to take the air. He ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Ratty (a water vole), who spends all his days in and around the river. Rat takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and the two of them spend many more days on the river, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the river.

Some time later, one summer day, Rat and Mole find themselves near Toad Hall and pay a visit to Toad. Toad is rich, jovial and friendly, but conceited, and tends to become obsessed about things, only to dismiss them later. Having given up boating, Toad's current craze is his horse-drawn caravan. In fact, he is about to go on a trip, and persuades Rat and Mole to join him. A few days later, a passing motor car scares their horse, causing the caravan to crash. This marks the end of Toad's craze for caravan travel, to be replaced with an obsession for motor cars.

Mole wants to meet Badger, who lives in the Wild Wood, but Rat knows that Badger does not appreciate visits. On a winter's day, Mole goes to the Wild Wood to explore, hoping to meet Badger. He gets lost in the woods, succumbs to fright and panic and hides among the roots of a sheltering tree. Rat goes looking for Mole, and finds him, but it starts to snow and even Rat no longer knows the way home. By chance they arrive at Badger's home.

Badger welcomes Rat and Mole to his large and very cosy home, and gives them food and dry clothes. Badger learns from Rat and Mole that Toad has crashed six cars and has been hospitalized three times, and has had to spend a fortune on fines. They decide they should do something to protect Toad from himself, since they are, after all, his friends.

Some months later, Badger visits Mole and Rat to do something about Toad's self-destructive obsession. The three of them go to visit Toad, and Badger tries talking him out of his behaviour, to no avail. They decide to put Toad under house arrest, with themselves as the guards, until Toad changes his mind. Feigning illness, Toad manages to escape and steals a car. He is caught and sent to prison on a twenty-year sentence.

Rat visits his old friend Otter and finds out that Otter's son is missing. Rat and Mole set out to find him. They receive help from the god Pan who leads them to the location of the missing child. Pan removes their memories of this meeting "lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure".

In prison, Toad gains the sympathy of the jailor's daughter, who helps him to escape. This involves disguising Toad as a washerwoman. Having escaped, Toad is without possessions and pursued by the police, but he shakes off his pursuers with the help of the driver of a steam train.

Still disguised as a washerwoman, Toad comes across a horse-drawn boat. After lying about being a capable washerwoman to the owner of the boat, who offers him a lift in exchange for his laundry services, he gets into a fight with her, steals her horse and sells it to a traveller. He stops a passing car, which happens to be one he stole earlier. However, the owners don't recognize him in disguise, and give him a lift. Toad asks if he can drive, which of course quickly leads to an accident. He flees and by chance arrives at Rat's house.

Toad hears from Rat that Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferrets from the Wild Wood, despite attempts to protect and recover it by Mole and Badger. Although upset at the loss of his house, Toad realizes what good friends he has, and how badly he has behaved. Badger, Rat, Mole and Toad enter Toad Hall via a secret entrance and drive away the intruders.

Toad makes up for his earlier wrongdoings by seeking out those he wronged and compensating them. The four friends live out their lives happily ever after.

Main characters

  • Mole – A mild mannered, home-loving animal, and the first character to be introduced. Originally overawed by the hustle and bustle of riverside life, he eventually adapts.
  • Ratty – A relaxed and friendly water vole, he loves the river and takes Mole under his wing.
  • Mr. Toad – The wealthiest character and owner of Toad Hall. Although good-natured, Toad is impulsive, self-satisfied and conceited, eventually imprisoned for theft, dangerous driving and impertinence to the rural police. He is prone to obsessions and crazes, such as punting, houseboating, and horse-drawn caravans, each of which in turn he becomes bored with and drops. Several chapters of the book chronicle his escape from prison, disguised as a washer-woman.
  • Mr. Badger – A gruff but kindly and solitary figure who 'simply hates society'. He can be seen as a wise hermit, a good leader and gentleman, embodying common sense. He is also brave and helps clear the Wild Wooders from Toad Hall.
  • Otter and Portly – A friend of Ratty and his son
  • The Gaoler's Daughter – The only major human character; helps Toad escape from prison
  • The Chief Weasel – He and a band of weasels, stoats, and ferrets plot to take over Toad Hall
  • Pan – A god who makes a single and anomalous appearance in Chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • The Wayfarer – A vagabond seafaring rat, who also makes a single appearance
  • Inhabitants of the Wild Wood – Weasels, stoats and foxes and so on, who are described by Ratty as "all right in a way ... but ... well, you can't really trust them"; and squirrels, and rabbits, who are generally good but described as occasionally dim-witted

Illustrated and comic editions

The book was originally published without illustrations, but many illustrated versions have later been published.

  • The most popular are probably E. H. Shepard's, originally published in 1931, which are believed to be authorized, as Grahame was pleased with the initial sketches, though he did not live to see the completed work.
  • The Folio Society edition published in 2006 features 85 illustrations, 35 in colour, by Charles van Sandwyk.
  • The Folio Society Centenary limited edition published in 2008. Vellum quarter binding blocked in 22-carat gold. New etching hand-printed, signed and numbered by the artist, and tipped onto a special limitation page of thick laid paper. 100 illustrations by Charles van Sandwyk, with 16 tipped-in colour plates. Presented in a cloth-bound solander box.
  • Michel Plessix created a Wind in the Willows comic book series, which helped to introduce the stories to France. They have been translated into English by Cinebook Ltd.
  • Inga Moore's abridged edition is stunning. The text and illustrations are paced so that a line of text, such as "oh my oh my" becomes the caption for a beautiful illustration. Her drawing style is very true to the period. This edition goes in and out of print unpredictably.

Adaptations

Stage

  • Toad of Toad Hall by A. A. Milne, produced in 1929
  • Wind in the Willows, a 1985 Tony-nominated Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane
  • The Wind in the Willows by Alan Bennett (who also appeared as Mole) in 1991
  • Mr. Toad's Mad Adventures by Vera Morris
  • Wind in the Willows (UK National Tour) by Ian Billings
  • In 2000, American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco commissioned and workshopped an adaptation by David Gordon called Some Kind of Wind in the Willows, with music by Gina Leishman.
  • "Almost September", a play based on Grahame's work, premiered at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre in 1992.

Film and television

Radio

Kenneth Williams also did a version of the book for radio.

Sequels

William Horwood created several sequels to The Wind in the Willows: The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, The Willows and Beyond, and The Willows at Christmas.

Jan Needle's Wild Wood was published in 1981 with illustrations by William Rushton (ISBN 0-233-97346-X). It is a re-telling of the story of The Wind in the Willows from the point of view of the working-class inhabitants of the Wild Wood. For them, money is short and employment hard to find. They have a very different perspective on the wealthy, easy, careless lifestyle of Toad and his friends. Some of the smallest incidents in the original story are given a new significance in this one - the narrator of Wild Wood loses his much-needed job as Toad's chauffeur when Badger, Mole and Rat decide to stop Toad's driving. The climax of the book comes when Toad goes to prison: the stoats and weasels take over Toad Hall and turn it into a socialist collective called Brotherhood Hall. This re-writing could be seen as a commentary on the dramatic changes to British society with the coming to power of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

Miscellany

  • Mr. Toad was voted #38 among the 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 by Book magazine in their March/April 2002 issue.
  • Mapledurham House in Berkshire was an inspiration for Toad Hall
  • The village of Lerryn, Cornwall lays claim to being the setting for the book
  • Articles in The Scotsman and Oban Times have suggested The Wind in the Willows was inspired by the Crinan Canal because Graham spent some of his childhood in Ardrishaig.
  • There is a theory that the idea for the story arose when its author saw a water vole beside the River Pang in Berkshire, southern England. A 29 hectare extension to the nature reserve at Moor Copse, near Tidmarsh Berkshire, was acquired in January 2007 by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is the name of a ride at Disneyland, inspired by Toad's motorcar adventure. It is the only ride with an alternate Latin title, given as the inscription on Toad's Hall: 'Acceleratio Toadi' ('The Acceleration of Toad').
  • The first album by psychedelic rock group Pink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), was named after Chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows. However, the songs on the album are not directly related to the contents of the book. The same chapter was the basis for the name and lyrics of "Piper at the Gates of Dawn", a song by Irish singer-song writer Van Morrison from his 1997 album The Healing Game.
  • The third album by psychedelic rock band of Arrowe Hill, Dulce Domum (2007), was named after Chapter 5 of The Wind in the Willows.

Footnotes

External links

Sources

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