Book review of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame



I have to start this review with a confession, I never read the full version of The Wind in the Willows when I was a child, I just read the abridged version, which is pictured above (and has glorious pictures in it).  So, when I decided to start this blog, I thought it would be a good opportunity to read the full book and see how I felt about it as an adult.  It's now out of copyright and so available for free (although I didn't realize this when I made my decision).  So, reading this book with an adult's eyes, here's what I think.

Characters

The main characters are Mole, Rat (a water rat rather than the land-living sort) and, of course, (Mr) Toad and the three of them are beautifully drawn and blended together. Mole, is gentle, timid and, at the start of the book, completely uneducated in the ways of the world at large. Rat, by contrast, is highly sociable, knows everyone and hence gets to hear of everything which is going on. Toad starts the novel as conceited and foolish, but at the same time genuinely kind-hearted and, somehow, very likeable. As the book goes on, Mole grows more educated and more confident, while Toad, ultimately, learns to be a sensible toad. Rat is the only one of the three who doesn't really develop much as a character, but we do get a chance to see how he can be influenced by circumstances. Badger and Otter both play supporting roles, the former being he headmasterly figure and the latter essentially a comedy turn, plus, as the plot develops, we get to meet a whole host of minor characters, ranging from a kind-hearted young girl, to a barge woman who doesn't appreciate quality when she sees it. While a few of the most minor characters are caricatures, overall Kenneth Grahame does a much better job of creating engaging, believable personalities than some authors writing about humans.


Setting

The key setting is the river and its banks, which are described in exquisite detail. Then there is the wild wood and Toad Hall, both of which are evokatively captured. Toad's adventures also take him out into the human world, which, to me, seems like the world of rural England (which would fit with the author's life) and while the author doesn't go into detail about locations, there's enough variety of location and scenery to add plenty of interest.

Plot

Chapter 1 sees Mole deciding to "hang spring cleaning" and go for a walk outside, where he meets up with Rat and is introduced to life on the river. In chapter 2, Mole persuades Rat to take him to meet Toad. Toad persuades Mole (and hence Rat) to join him on an expedition in a gypsy caravan which he has just bought. This ends prematurely in disaster when the cart is smashed by a passing car, In chapter 3, winter begins and Rat becomes sleepy so Mole decides to go into the wild wood by himself to pay a visit to Badger. He quickly discovers why it is called the wild wood, but fortunately he is rescued by Rat and the two animals do manage to find Badger. Chapter 4 is essentially an introduction to Badger and an update on the doings of Toad, who has become infatuated by motor cars and is busy driving them recklessly around the country - and smashing them up regularly. Chapter 5 sees the Mole called back to his own little home, this time bringing the Rat with him as his guest. Chapter 6 is arguably the start of the main story as it is the point when Badger, assisted by Rat and Mole, decide to take charge of Toad and essentially keep him a prisoner in his own home in an attempt to teach him some sense. Toad fools the Rat and escapes from his house, only to find himself stealing a car on impulse, smashing it and being sentenced to 20 years in prison for the crime. Chapter 7 is basically a short story about Mole and Rat looking for the Otter's lost child, they find the child and have an encounter with the god Pan. I enjoyed the story in its own right, but I suspect it's really just there to create a bit of breathing space before resuming the main action in chapter 8, when Toad has been in prison for some time. Chapter 8 sees Toad escape from prison with the help of the jailer's daughter, a washerwoman and an engine driver. Chapter 9 is another diverting short story focusing on how animals prepare for winter and seeing the Rat enraptured by a traveler's tales. Chapter 10 goes back to the adventures of Toad, who is still on his way home and has an encounter with a rude bargewoman and a commercially-minded gypsy before managing to get a lift in the motor car he stole. The humans in the car clearly do not recognize him in his disguise as a washerwoman and allow him a turn at the wheel, whereupon he promptly crashes the car and runs off. The humans give chase but just as they are about to catch him, Toad falls into the river and is hauled out to safety by the Rat. In chapter 11, he learns how Toad Hall has been taken over by the wild wooders and how his friends plan to help him get it back and in chapter 12 they put their plan into action and recapture Toad's old home. Once back in comfort and safety, Toad begins to resume his old ways, but this time Mole, Rat and Badger make it clear to him that enough is enough and that he needs to grow up and, finally, he accepts this with good grace - and one last song.


Overall impression


The story is simple and fun enough for children to enjoy and the sheer quality of the writing will please adults.  This book is a masterclass in how to describe wildlife by making pictures with words.

In short

This is my kind of book, the sort which can be shared by different generations and read over and over again for the characters and descriptive narrative.


Verdict - I'd happily pay for this and keep it, but it's free!



Favourite quote - "Hang spring cleaning!"


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