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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 in its thirty-first printing when then-famous playwright, A. A. Milne, who loved it, adapted a part of it for stage as Toad of Toad Hall in 1929. In 1908 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".

Plot summary

At the start of the book, it is spring time, 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 in the air. He ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Ratty (a water rat), 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 the reluctant Rat and willing 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, and so refuses to take him, suggesting that if Mole will wait, Badger himself will pay a visit. Nevertheless, 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 hospitalised three times, and has had to spend a fortune on fines. Though nothing can be done at the moment (it being winter), they decide that once spring arrives they should do something to protect Toad from himself, since they are, after all, his friends.

With the arrival of spring, 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. No longer needing to guard the now-absent Toad, 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 jailer'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. Toad lies about being a capable washerwoman to the owner of the boat, who offers him a lift in exchange for his laundry services. Toad, however, proves to be incapable at washing clothes, and he gets into a fight with the boat owner, steals her horse, and sells it to a gypsy. Hoping for a ride home, he flags down a passing car, which happens to be one he stole earlier. However, the owners don't recognise him in his disguise, and give him a lift. Toad asks if he can drive, and is allowed to. He hijacks the car and kidnaps the passengers, 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 realises 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. Fed up with spring cleaning in his secluded home, he ventures into the outside world and develops a more productive life. Originally overawed by the hustle and bustle of the riverbank, he eventually adapts.
  • Ratty – A relaxed and friendly water vole, he loves the river and takes Mole under his wing. He is implied to be occasionally mischievous, and can be stubborn when it comes to doing things outside of his riverside lifestyle.
  • Mr. Toad – The wealthiest character and owner of Toad Hall. Although good-natured, Toad is impulsive 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, solitary figure who "simply hates society", yet is a good friend to Mole and Ratty. A friend of Toad's now-deceased father, he is often firm and serious with Toad, but at the same time generally patient and well-meaning towards him. He can be seen as a wise hermit, a good leader and gentleman, embodying common sense. He is also brave and a skilled fighter, 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 from the Wild Wood plot to take over Toad Hall.
  • Inhabitants of the Wild Wood – Weasels, stoats, ferrets, foxes and others, who are described by Ratty thus: "all right in a way... but... well, you can't really trust them".
  • Pan – A god who makes a single, anomalous appearance in Chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
  • The Wayfarer – A vagabond seafaring rat, who also makes a single appearance. Ratty briefly considers following his example, before Mole manages to persuade him otherwise.
  • Squirrels and rabbits, who are generally good (although rabbits are described as "a mixed lot").

Editions

File:Frontispiece to The Wind in the Willows.png

The book was originally published as plain text, but many illustrated, comic and annotated versions have been published over the years. Notable illustrators include Paul Bransom (1913), Arthur Rackham (1940), Tasha Tudor (1966), Michael Hague (1980), Scott McKowen (2005), and Robert Ingpen (2007).

  • The most popular illustrations are probably by E. H. Shepard, originally published in 1931, and believed to be authorised as Grahame was pleased with the initial sketches, though he did not live to see the completed work.[1]
  • 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.
  • Patrick Benson reillustrated the story in 1994 and it was published together with the William Horwood sequels The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant and The Willows and Beyond. It was published in 1994 by HarperCollins and published in the US in 1995 by St Martin's Press.
  • Inga Moore's abridged edition features text and illustrations paced so that a line of text, such as "oh my oh my," also serves as a caption.
  • Seth Lerer's The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition was published in 2009 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674034471

Literary analysis

In The Enchanted Places, Milne's son Christopher (Christopher Robin Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame) says of The Wind in the Willows:

A book that we all greatly loved and admired and read aloud or alone, over and over and over: The Wind in the Willows. This book is, in a way, two separate books spliced into one. There are, on the one hand, those chapters concerned with the adventures of Toad; and on the other hand there are those chapters that explore human emotions – the emotions of fear, nostalgia, awe, wanderlust. My mother was drawn to the second group, of which “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was her favourite, read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose. My father, on his side, was so captivated by the first group that he turned these chapters into the children's play, Toad of Toad Hall. In this play one emotion only is allowed to creep in: nostalgia.

Adaptations

Stage

Film and television

Radio

The BBC has broadcast a number of radio productions of the story.

Dramatisations include:

Abridged readings include:

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

2002 Paul Oakenfold produced a Trance Soundtrack for the story, aired on the Galaxy FM show Urban Soundtracks. These mixes blended classic stories with a mixture of dance and contemporary music.

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.

Other Information

  • Mr. Toad was voted Number 38 among the 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 by Book magazine in their March/April 2002 issue.[5]
  • Mapledurham House in Berkshire was an inspiration for Toad Hall.[6]
  • The village of Lerryn, Cornwall lays claim to being the setting for the book.[7]
  • Simon Winchester has suggested that the character of Ratty was based on Frederick Furnivall, a keen oarsman and acquaintance of Kenneth Grahame.[8]
  • Articles in The Scotsman [9] and Oban Times [10] have suggested The Wind in the Willows was inspired by the Crinan Canal because Grahame 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.[11]
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is the name of a ride at Disneyland (and former Magic Kingdom attraction), inspired by Toad's motorcar adventure. It is the only ride with an alternate Latin title, given as the inscription on Toad's Hall: 'Toadi Acceleratio Semper Absurda' ('Toad's Ever-Absurd Acceleration').
  • 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 song "The Wicker Man" by British heavy metal band Iron Maiden also includes the phrase. British extreme metal band Cradle of Filth released a special edition of their album Thornography, called Harder, Darker, Faster: Thornography Deluxe; on the song "Snake-Eyed and the Venomous," a pun is made in the lyrics "..all vipers at the gates of dawn" referring to Chapter 7 of the book.
  • Dutch composer Johan de Meij wrote a music piece for wind band in four movements named after and based upon The Wind in the Willows.
  • Bosworth Badger XVII, a character in Susan Wittig Albert's Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, is said to be a cousin of Kenneth Grahame's Badger. (This is proven by the mention in The Tale of Briar Bank of an opinion attributed to Bosworth's cousin quoted directly from The Wind in the Willows.)

Footnotes

  1. This information was obtained from the E.H. Shepard illustrated edition, published by Charles Scribner's Sons in the USA. Please see the introduction of that edition for full details on how the illustrations were created.
  2. "The Wind in the Willows (1987) (TV)". IMDB. Retrieved 16 February 2009. 
  3. "Rotten Tomatoes: del Toro on Why Wind in the Willows Went Away". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  4. McNary, Dave (10 June 2010). "New wind in the 'Willows' RG teams with Weta for live action version of classic tale". Variety. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  5. NPR report
  6. Fodor's
  7. BBC Inside Out — The animals of Wind in the Willows
  8. Winchester, Simon. "The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  9. Wind whispered in the Scottish willows first, The Scotsman 16 April 2005
  10. "Was Crinan the seed for Wind in the Willows?", Oban Times 11 January 2008
  11. ( Natural World, Spring 2007): "Ratty's Paradise joins eight new reserves" p10.

Further reading

  • Grahame, K, The Annotated Wind in the Willows, edited with preface and notes by Annie Gauger and Brian Jacques, Norton, ISBN 978-0393057744.

External links

Sources

Other

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