“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.”
Like many readers, I read The Wind in the Willows as a child and was completely charmed by the adventures of Ratty and Mole and Badger and Mr. Toad and the other creatures who populated Grahame’s captivating tale. Yet like any children’s book read as an adult, you wonder if it will have the same effect now as then. Would I relate to its characters, be able to vividly imagine its setting, to become part of the story instead of simply experiencing it? Fortunately, I found time had diminished none of its magic. From the moment that Mole discovered the river and began “messing around in boats,” I was there. I could hear the fresh wind rushing through the reeds and the splash of the water as Mole fell out of the boat. I could feel the warmth of Ratty’s snug house and the fear of Mole as he trekked through the Wild Woods. And what became appreciated once again became familiar and what became familiar became loved.
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing —— absolutely nothing —- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ….”
Grahame embues The Wind in the Willows with the lazy, slow pace of nature on one hand, an idyllic existence, yet on the other also portrays inherent dangers which affect the lives of the inhabitants that are curiously brought about by their own choices and actions. We follow Rat, Mole, Badger, Toad and Otter through a season in their lives and discover some curious parallels to ours. There are certainly life lessons to be drawn from his enchanting narrative.
“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World,” said the Rat. “And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or to me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all.”
And while I thoroughly enjoyed this read, I must admit I was somewhat disturbed by the behaviour of Toad of Toad Hall who exhibited some extremely self-centered, if not addictive, tendencies that jeopardized the well-being of others in ways that were often quite dangerous. From the blatant theft of automobiles and other things, to his time in prison, Toad exhibits a gleeful, remorseless egoism and pride in his unethical, conscienceless acts, no matter whom he upsets or injures.
“Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.”
Yet in the end, he magically changes his ways and becomes a reformed Toad, which perhaps indicates that the book is much like a children’s fairy tale and should be enjoyed as such without much introspection into deeper themes.
Yet in spite of its magical, imaginative nature, one theme resonates deeply from its pages: Friendship. From my read-along of C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, we learned that true friendship is often a matter of circumstances rather than choice, and that friendship strengths as we share common journeys, and we experiences these maxims through the animal friendship in this story. True friendship requires sacrifice, patience, and the willingness to accept our friends as they are, in effect, how God made them. As such, I admired the consideration and humility that Rat and Mole showed towards each other, at once displaying natural tendencies towards selfishness but tempered by the willingness to suppress them for the good of the other. Even their treatment of Toad was far more charitable and tolerant than he deserved, yet that charity and steadfastness won him over in the end. And this review would not be complete without mentioning Badger, a stalwart figure of fortitude, bravery and strong leadership who, in spite of his dislike of Society, was a firm anchor in their animal community. Oh, to have friends like these!, one might say to oneself!
I would definitely recommend The Wind in the Willows to anyone who hasn’t read it and as a re-read for those who have. Beware! You will be drawn away into a magical world of Grahame’s creation and you won’t want to leave!
“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”