There's a homebound joy wanderers can't know, and a glory in the road those who never leave their garden can't fathom. The Wind in the Willows celebrates both. Mole begins a little too attached to his hole, and Mr. Toad is overly addicted to fast machines, but their friendships do what friendships ought—offer balance where there is none.
Kenneth Grahame's talking animal story of rural England began the way all talking animal stories begin, as tales for his son. The novel, however, grows with readers. Children love the Battle of Toad Hall, Ratty's gypsy caravan, Mole's timidity, and Badger's gruffness. Teens like Toad's songs and absurdity. Adults appreciate Toad's (often forgotten) heartfelt change.
All readers can appreciate Grahame's rambling poetic style. We smell the river, hear Mole clattering around his hole, taste Rat's food, see Toad crashing cars, feel Badger's mighty club smacking weasels in the head. You don't have to be an Englishman to appreciate his caricatures of British country types, or to instantly recognize them.
When Ratty and Mole meet the Piper at the Gates of Dawn we realize this isn't simply a bucolic adventure story. Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad are real people, animals only in name, who can be afraid, comfortable, enraged, silly and curious just as we can. The wanderlust that overcomes Ratty isn't just a desire to cover more terrain, it's a mystical urge to expand the soul.
Toad's exploits, by contrast, are mere indulgence—except that even his seemingly swampy soul is cleared, drained and replanted amid all his zaniness. Grahame doesn't beat us with an Aesop-like moral, however;The Wind in the Willows is and shall remain a mature work of literary art fit to delight and instruct for generations to come.
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