Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: The Wind in the Willows

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.


If you would like your review listed here, please leave a link in a comment and I will add it.


  1. I adored Wind in the Willows when I read it last year. I'm giving serious consideration to picking up the new Annotated edition.


  2. I have never read this one. I think this will go good with the classics challenge. You had me at P.G.:)

  3. I don't think I've ever actually read The Wind in the Willows, but I'd like to. I also like to cozy up in front of a fireplace for meals with friends!

  4. My son loved this book when he read it.

  5. You are so right! It's definitely a "let art flow over you" read. Daffy and charming, indeed.

  6. This is on my list of my top 3 favorite all-time books. I grew up with this book. My mother's copy is an old one illustrated by Arthur Rackham. We read it aloud every spring the entire time I lived at home. It is a book that is so many things all at once - from the hilarity of Toad to the beauty of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - one of the most beautiful chapters of writing anywhere ever.

  7. Lezlie - This book has made me happy all last week when I read it and this week when I thought about it. I added the illustrated edition to my Christmas list -- I wonder if that is the same as the annotated?

    Psmith - I figured you would like the PG reference. I was going to leave it out, but knew it would grab your attention.

    Charley - The descriptions of the meals were my favorite part. they all loved to eat and were always making little picnics, breakfasts, and other meals out of all sorts of stuff. It was really funny how seriously the animals took their food. ANd their houses -- they all liked to give their friends tours of their houses and show them all their favorite things.

    Bermuda -- Have you read it yet? I am going to start a campaign to promote it. I don't know why I put it off for so long. No, wait, I do -- because I confused it with Watership Down and thought it would be sad.

    J.G. -- Yes! It is an "art flow" book! Nice new picture, by the way.

    Caitlin -- That illustrated version is the one I have my eye on. Have you written a review? Sounds like you have enough fond memories for a good one. Pass it on and I will post it.

  8. Someday I will actually read this! I was utterly charmed by a television series version that was probably BBC that I watched, probably on PBS, back in the 80s or 90s. My decades are beginning to blur together!

  9. This is a supreme favorite of one of my large smelly boys. When I spied the incredibly gorgeous annotated version just a few weeks ago I impulsively bought it and left it on the dining table for him to discover.

  10. I hate this book. I don't know why everyone loves it.

    I think I mostly hate it because Mr. Toad never pays for his crimes. He's a criminal breaking the law and he never feels seriously sorry for it. The ending is completely unbelievable (i.e., there is no way he was sincere in his remorse). Why is this considered a book for children?!

    It's animals but they are adult animals. I don't see them as childlike and what they do is certainly not. I'd never recommend this to a kid. I don't think it's a kid's story.

    If you want to know more about why I hate it, here's my review. But I have nothing nice to say.

  11. Rebecca -- Oh, I definitely see where you are coming from. You are right, of course, but that takes the fun out of this goofy book. I wondered too about Toad not getting his comeuppance and what kind of message that sent to the tots. But at 43, I can handle some moral ambivalence and the twist at the end with Toad's buddies being disappointed with his reformed ways brought a grin to my face.

  12. I rather think Mr. Toad not getting his comeuppance IS a good thing for kids to contemplate (and like all good children's books, this one's good for adults, too). Something very subtle's going on here: Of course, Toad is wealthy, and in most cultures rules for the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy are different in practice, if not in theory; that's a good thing for kids to begin to understand. Second, despite his vainness and venality and (childlike) impulsiveness, Toad is good at heart. His friends understand that, and, while understanding all of his shortcomings, they do all they can to keep him on an even keel, because that's what friends do. The idea that you can love someone in spite of their imperfections is a profound thing for children to encounter: There is compassion here, and wisdom beyond the meting out of justice.

    Yes, RCR, I love the food descriptions, too, and the sense that enjoying food and drink is an important part of being civilized. (And "daffy and charming" is perfect.)

    And, yes, Caitlin, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is almost heartbreakingly beautiful.

    I remember this book so vividly because I read it aloud last summer with one of my large smelly boys. What a treat.

  13. My kids adored this book and play-acted the parts for years. Toad was for when someone was feeling naughty. Rat and Mole were their heroes, Badger was Dad, and Otter was for when another part was needed. I'm sure they were working through some important emotional stuff there, but mostly it was just a blast.

    Rebecca Reid, Most of the "classic children's books" weren't really written as children's books. I'm sorry you hated it, though.

  14. I have a few copies of Wind in the Willows but my favourite is the Classic Edition illustrated by E.H. Shepard. I love the book but I can understand Rebecca Reid, she's in goos company too as Beatrix Potter hated the book because it wasn't realistic - she said toads don't have hair! Grahame was Scottish by birth and upbringing, the theory is that the weasels were meant to be the English!


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