First published in 1908 and written by Kenneth Grahame. The manuscript is based upon bedtime stories that he would tell his son Alastair. Following his retirement he spent time living by the River Thames where he spent much of his time “messing around in boats”. The story focuses on four Anthropomorphism animals (which means animals with human like characteristics such as emotions or traits) Mole, Rat, Toad and Mr Badger set during a version of Edwardian England.
I must have tried to read this book repeatedly over the years I have been on this planet because the opening few pages were very familiar to me when I started reading the version I downloaded for my Kindle Fire (my previous Kindle died so Abbie bought me this one as a present which was nice of her). Anyway for reasons that I cannot remember I decided not to continue reading, but this time I was determined to get through it all no matter what. I said the same for Moby Dick and I still haven’t finished that yet, but hopefully The Wind in the Willows won’t be another Moby Dick.
Right without further ado let’s take a look…
So Mole is spring cleaning his little house, but he gets sick of whitewashing and tidying up so he throws down his broom, before fleeing his underground home. He heads down to the river where he encounters a Water Rat (sometimes called “Ratty”) and the two strike up a friendship with the Mole moving in with the Rat. The two spend their days in Rat’s rowboat and Mole learns the ways of the river from his new friend.
The pair eventually go to visit Mr Toad, the rich, jovial, and kind-hearted lord of the nearby Toad Hall. Whilst he possess many good traits he is also aimless and conceited, often becoming obsessed with current fads only to quickly abandon them in favour of something else. His current craze is a horse-drawn caravan, and not taking any notice Rat or Mole’s reluctance insists they roam the open road with him. During the journey they are passed by a motor car and the Toad immediately abandons his obsession with the caravan and turns his attention to becoming the owner of a motor car.
Leaving the Toad to his new obsession Mole eventually meets another friend of the Rat’s, namely Mr Badger. The three spend time together and as Mr Toad’s obsession with motorcars is getting him into more and more trouble, decide to stage an intervention. But despite their best efforts Toad doesn’t see he has a problem which results in him finally being arrested for his reckless behaviour.
With Toad in prison he must try to work out a means of escape whilst his friends act as caretakers for Toad Hall, unfortunately a group of stoats and weasels have their eyes on taking the Hall for themselves…
Let me say first that this was definitely not another Moby Dick, the book was pretty easy to read and kept me interested enough to keep reading.
However, I am not sure I really got the book.
So let me explain, Rat, Mole, Mr badger and Toad all exhibit human characteristics, which is not uncommon in stories with animals often having the intelligence on par with a human or living in a human-type house. That I am fine with. What I find strange with The Wind in the Willows is that the animals exist in the same world as humans. When Toad is arrested and sent to prison he is in a human prison, the guards are human, and when he is able to escape he encounters numerous other people as he returns home. Toad also lives in a grand house called Toad Hall. But the Mole, Badger and the Water Rat live in burrows in the ground like their real life counterparts would, so on the one hand we have humans and animals living side by side, but on the other some of the animals live in holes in the ground.
Also are the animals human-sized or are the humans animal-sized??
Various forms of transportation exist (such as the motorcar and steam trains) but why is a horse just an animal and yet the Toad is seen as equal (or in his mind) superior to a human being?
The book is definitely not fast paced, nor is especially slow. Some patches are pretty slow with not much happening and others are a bit more fast paced so you aren’t just stuck trawling through waves of text that ultimately goes nowhere (like another book I could mention…[cough]…Moby Dick…[second unconvincing cough]…)
As far as the characters go the main three: Rat, Mole and Mr Badger were not terribly interesting. Mole basically abandons his home and meets the Rat, then basically just never goes home again. He wants to know about the world outside his burrow, and is very eager to learn the ways of the river and meet Mr Badger. Mr Badger is described as being a rather gruff sort who doesn’t like people just dropping by for a visit, and yet after Mole and Rat stumble across his home in the woods he is welcoming. He provides them with food and shelter from the winter cold outside. He doesn’t really say or do anything which suggests he is not happy to have the Mole and Rat in his home.
The most interesting and also most annoying character is without a doubt Mr Toad. He is completely and utterly convinced of his superiority over those around him, as far as he is concerned he has money and so he can do what he wants. After he wreaks yet another motorcar and his friends attempt to break his obsession he escapes them, steals a car and is arrested. He is sent to prison for twenty years (partially because he was rude to a police officer…just think about that…he is rude to a police officer and is sentenced to twenty years in prison for it. From what I have seen of your human authorities if someone got twenty years for being rude to a police officer there wouldn’t be a single chav or young person wandering the streets). Now, after he is sent to prison the warden’s daughter does help him to escape and as he travels home he comments about how clever he was to have escaped. His arrogance is pretty annoying at times, but bizarrely after he escapes and returns to Toad Hall the police never go there looking for him. Ultimately he learns his lesson and lives the rest of his days in peace. It is stuff like this that means I don’t really get the world of Wind in the Willows because why would the human authorities allow an escaped convict to return to his home and then never bother him again??
Personally that is my biggest issue with Wind in the Willows I just couldn’t get to grips with its world, and kept trying to figure it out. If it was like Alice in Wonderland and wasn’t supposed to make sense then fair enough but the inconsistencies bothered me. I didn’t find the story especially charming and generally the Toad was the only interesting character, but he could be very annoying at times. It isn’t a bad book and obviously has some creativity behind it although perhaps it was meant to be a story for children and so I was over thinking it too much??
I don’t honestly know, so on that rather weak note let me finish by saying that whilst I didn’t actively like the book, I did not dislike it either which means my Thumb can only be Horizontal.
5/10 – I was not especially engaged with Wind in the Willows, it wasn’t a bad story but as far as I am concerned Mr Toad is the only standout character. I wouldn’t really say I really understand why it is considered a classic but perhaps it takes a simpler mind than mine to enjoy it. If you have such a mind (and let’s face it you are human so you do) then check it out and see what you think.