By Kenneth Graham
ISBN 978 1 85326 017 9. Buy it on Amazon.
The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame made such a refreshing change to the books I’ve been reading lately on my list of forty-two. Although I’ve been enjoying the challenge and have liked almost all of them (who can forget my controversial hatred dislike of Hemingway) they have all been very ‘adult’; with lots of sex and drugs, but unfortunately no rock ‘n’ roll – haha!
I’m glad that I finally had the chance to read the children’s book as it’s been on my list for, almost, ever and I just kept putting off for some odd reason. I’m sure we’ve all had books we’ve wanted to read and for some reason deep down inside just didn’t, but once we’ve read them it was a head slap moment and we’ve thought ‘why on earth did I feel that way?!’… I definitely had that moment, almost slapping myself on the train home (which I didn’t), and here is why.
I loved meeting Mole, the Water Vole (affectionately known as Ratty), Toad and Badger and the close ties they had. What I loved most, however, was that these animals were very clearly upper middle-class men who combed their hair into a middle parting, carried around swords and pistols when needs be and ate bacon and caviar for lunch. I know that there’s a specific term to give animals human characteristics (anthropomorphism – I correctly guessed that, go me!) and it just worked in this novel. I also liked how the humans were clearly aware of this and took it in their stride, as equals to animals, not their superiors.
Initially, I was most taken with how each of the four characters could quite easily be any one of us, you or me, but without the limitless money; and actually very early on in my reading of the book gave the characters their human counterparts that I know.
I am clearly Mole, eager to please and seeking adventure, quite restless and curious about the world. My fiancé is Badger – very picky over who he keeps company with, firm and fair, and intelligent, also likes to flout what society expects of him. His best friend (apologies if you’re reading this) is Toad; flakey, has quick, fleeting passions and very charismatic and way too charming. One of my closest friends is Ratty – she’s welcoming, caring, and will do anything for you.
They’re just everyday personalities with their faults and it’s extremely easy to relate with them.
I also loved the language and, although this is a book written for children, it was published in the first decade of the twentieth century and the words used are true to their time. In fact, I was extremely aware of this as I was reading because it had informed my choice when buying the book. I found this beautiful, inexpensive hardcover edition with lovely illustrations online but the language/writing had been altered slightly to make the story more digestible to a modern child who wouldn’t necessarily understand much of what is going on. Instead, I settled on a Wordsworth edition that had all the original content plus one of their characteristically awful and cheap front covers.
The story itself begins with Mole who suddenly grows tired of his little life underground and seeks adventure along the river, where he meets Water Rat who happily obliges and takes him under his metaphorical ‘wing’. Mole begins his new life by learning how to steer a boat and so his education begins. He is introduced to Toad and Badger further into the story.
What struck me most was the sense of adventure and pure childlike enjoyment I got out of reading. Time flew by every time I opened the book.
I am not a child, obviously, and there were instances when my grown self and adult logic was exacerbated – you can’t just break out of prison, and there’s no way anybody could confuse a fat male Toad for a fat washerwoman but I had to fight the urge to answer the questions these caused and read as if I was ten years old again.
The idea that Grahame used to tell stories about a toad and many adventures to his son Alistair is also very heartwarming – it was these tales that later developed into The Wind in the Willows.
I too, hope that one day I will be able to read to my future child(ren) about Mole and Ratty, and I am quite sure that one day, they will probably read it to their children too.
Recommended for: Your inner child seeking adventure and a challenge as well as, you know, children.