Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Wind in the Willows is as daffy and charming as it must have seemed when it was first published in 1908. Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel follows the anthropomorphic adventures of several woodland creatures, primarily Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad. They enjoy many pastimes, including “messing about in boats,” Christmas caroling, and driving motor cars. This last becomes Mr. Toad’s passion, landing him in all sorts of trouble and, eventually, a dungeon. The animals have many adventures along the river and in the Wild Wood, but they all love home best, where they like to cozy up in front of a fireplace and enjoy simple meals with friends.
What makes the book so funny is how the animals live alongside people, doing people things, but without exciting comment. And they do it all regardless of the comparative size of things. Mole and Rat harness a horse to a gypsy caravan, field mice slice a ham and fry it for breakfast, Toad drives people cars and wears a washerwoman’s clothes to escape from prison.
It is easy to see why this book remains popular. Among other claims to fame, Teddy Roosevelt said he read it several times, P.G. Wodehouse was clearly influenced by the lighthearted humor (one of his novels, Joy in the Morning, shares the same title as the carol sung by the field mice), and it shows up as one of Radcliffe's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.
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