The Wind in the Willows is a set of anthropomorphic stories that English author Kenneth Grahame wrote for his young son and published in 1908. The story begins when Mole, who lives in a hole in the English countryside, decides one fine day to come out of his underground lair to see a bit of the world. He’s amazed by all that he sees and soon he encounters and befriends a water rat who invites him to a picnic, takes him for a ride on the river, and teaches him to row a boat. Mole spends time living with Ratty and exploring the river and the two become great friends. Ratty introduces Mole to some of his other animal friends including the amiable introverted Badger and the rich eccentric Mr. Toad. The animals have various little outings and adventures, many that are sweet, some that are amusing, and a few that are a little violent (though no more violent than the average children’s fairytale).
The main plot of The Wind in the Willows involves Mr. Toad’s bad behavior and his friends’ attempts to curb it. Toad, who inherited his mansion and money, is lazy, thoughtless, and arrogant. He does no work and is incompetent at performing simple household tasks. He spends his time impulsively pursuing and abandoning a series of expensive faddish hobbies and frequently getting into trouble because he lacks self-control. His latest passion is for motor cars. Rat, Mole, and Badger are concerned about Toad’s obsession because he has crashed several cars, has injured himself, and has been charged some fines. But when they try to reason with him, he won’t listen. There are some bad consequences for Toad and, though he doesn’t deserve it, his faithful friends band together and decide to help him get his life back in order.
The Wind in the Willows is a great read for both children and adults. On the surface, it’s a series of heartwarming stories about four animal friends who enjoy picnics and boat rides on warm summer days. Older and more perceptive children may notice the themes of friendship and loyalty and may appreciate the subtle lessons in ethics and morality. Kenneth Grahame especially succeeds in evoking a sense of nostalgic affection for a small cozy home full of good food and drink, comfy chairs, poetry and literature, and beloved friends and family. Teens and adults will pick up on the underlying thread of social commentary which pokes fun at late 19th century English societal customs. There’s something for everyone in The Wind in the Willows.
I listened to Tantor Audio’s unabridged version of The Wind in the Willows with my 10-year-old daughter. Shelly Frasier gave an absolutely beautiful performance and I feel like the story was enhanced by her narration. My daughter enjoyed the story at the surface level — she loves fantasies with animals. I loved the slightly stuffy English dialogue, the occasional little jabs at genteel society, and the beauty of the English countryside.