There is a homebound joy travelers know nothing of, and a glory in the road those who never leave their garden can't fathom. The Wind in the Willows celebrates both. Mole might be just a little too attached to his hole at first, and certainly Mr. Toad is overly addicted to speed and mechanized transportation, but their friendships do what friendships ought—lend balance and equilibrium where none is present.
Kenneth Grahame's chronicle of talking animals and rural England began the way all talking animal stories begin, as stories for his son. The brilliance of the novel is its capacity to grow with readers. Children love the Battle of Toad Hall, Ratty's gypsy caravan, Mole's timidity and Badger's gruffness and paternalism. Teens like Toad's songs and absurdity. Adults appreciate Toad's (often forgotten) ability to change.
Every reader can appreciate Grahame's rambling poetic style. We can smell the river, hear Mole clattering around in his hole, taste the food Ratty cooks up, 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, either, 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 exactly the way we can. For those who've experienced it (and who hasn't, to some degree at some time?), 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 in the course of all his zaniness so that even he manages to grow into a better, fuller person. 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.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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