Title: The Wind in the Willows
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Published: 1971 (originally 1908)
The reading slump I’m in right now is only surpassed in length by the one I had in my late teens. I still have to read both fiction and non-fiction for university however. Fingers crossed I am done in a month or two, but writing your thesis (on a book!) while you’re in a reading slump is no fun. At least I still like my subject and the primary source, that is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame! Today I’ll tell you more about a Rat, a Mole, a Badger and a Toad …
I remember picking up this book for the first time sometime over two years ago. I was intrigued by its illustrations (hello, E.H. Shepard fan!) and recognised the cover’s lay-out. It was the same as Winnie-the-Pooh’s, so I knew it had to be a children’s classic. I looked up the title and ordered a used copy. After reading it for the first time, I decided to write my thesis on Grahame’s most famous work. For those who are interested: I am writing my thesis on the use of nostalgia in English children’s books from the ‘Golden Age’ (ca. 1850-1920).
The Wind in the Willows is rather a peculiar sort of book. Kenneth Grahame had already published quite a few stories and short story collections when he published TWITW and in many respects it was both very like his earlier works and also very unlike them. His earlier works focused on childhood reminiscences. So not so much stories for children as stories about children and on childhood. They are characterised by a feeling of nostalgia: a longing for a time that has long since gone. TWITW seems to be Grahame’s attempt to revisit this childhood time.
The story opens with Mole, who is spring cleaning his little home. When he gets the sudden urge to explore the outside world, he meets Rat and the River. From then on we learn more about the world of the two animals, from the peaceful River Bank to the dangerous Wild Wood. Badger and Toad are also introduced and then Grahame’s animal gang is complete. Every chapter is a short story on its own, but together the chapters tell us la grande histoire. The Wind in the Willows is a story about going on an adventure, coming back home, friendship and a mysterious longing.
At first glance, TWITW is ‘just’ a little children’s book about the adventures of four anthropomorphised animals. But it is so much more than that. There is some debate on whether or not TWITW was especially written for children (also because Grahame’s other work was definitely aimed at adults), but for me it is one of THE best children’s books I’ve ever read. Grahame’s language is exquisite – when writing for children, an adult writer can easily underestimate the child’s perception, but Grahame manages to have the best of both. He combines excellent language with a child’s imagination and mystique. My favourite chapter is ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. Magnificent. Read it – you’ll agree.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m very enthusiastic about The Wind in the Willows. I would recommend it to anyone who is the slightest bit interested in children’s literature or (English) classics. Now, go buy this book!