Monday, October 13, 2008

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

I've known about Kenneth Graham's The Wind the Willows for some time, but oddly enough never took the time to read it until this summer. On a whim I picked up an inexpensive paperback copy at the local B&N bookstore and settled in to read the book at the end of August... about a half a dozen books and over a month later I finally finished it.

For those unfamiliar with the book, The Wind in the Willows is the story of four animals who become friends as they together share their adventures by the banks of the Themes River in rural England around the turn of the last century. The four animals include a shy and mild-mannered mole named "Mole", a clever and loyal water rat named "Rat" or "Ratty", a wise and thoughtful badger named (you guessed it) "Badger", and a self-centered and impetuous toad named "Toad". Other animals figure into the story, but it is these four animals that are the stars of the book. All the animals carry on a rather human-like existence, that is to say they talk, they wear clothing, have furniture in their homes and even drive cars and operate boats.

This is a wonderful story to read aloud to children, but it can also be a delightful story for the adult imagination and will take you down memory lane, if you let it. I found myself reminiscing about many of my childhood haunts in the woods and by streams. It also reminded me of some other great books that I enjoyed years ago, including Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson.

Generally an adult reader should find The Wind in the Willows to be a quick read, but I allowed myself to be sidetracked by other books, so as I mentioned before, it took some time to finish. The copy I bought is a Puffin Classics and runs to 245 pages, but also includes further information about the characters, the River Themes, the author and even a glossary of terms, which is ideal for the young reader. One should note, however that there is some "language" most notably and probably the most objectionable is the use of "ass" -- however that aside there is much good that can be learned from the characters.
Originally published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows is one of four books written by Kenneth Graham. It originated from bed-time stories Graham told his son. After the premature death of his son, Graham never wrote another story. It was not initially a popular book, but became so over twenty years later when it was dramatized by A. A. Milne (yes, that would be the author of Winnie-the-Pooh).

As an interesting side note, The Wind in the Willows is the third book I've read this summer/fall that was written exactly 100 years ago. The first was The Wizard of Oz and the second, Anne of Green Gables. Apparently 1908 was a big year for classics.


Rebecca Reid said...

I hated reading Wind in the Willows recently. I thought it was beautifully written, but I couldn't stand Toad and didn't think he was either a good role model for children or truly repentant at the end. Isn't he just teaching kids to steal if they want to? After all, he never pays for it in prison--he escapes. I didn't think he ever really was convincingly sorry for what he did, even in the very last scene. Does saying "sorry" really make breaking the law all better?

I think the magic was missing because the animals were all adults. I loved Winnie-the-Pooh because the animals were more child-like and innocent in their adventures and errors.

But then again, I am apparently the minority in hating this as a children's classic.

Sarah M. said...

Rebecca, thanks for your comment. Yeah, I couldn't stand Toad either, he was so self-centered and didn't seem to really care about anything he'd done wrong. However, I didn't think that he spoiled the story. As a read-aloud it can sprout some interesting conversations/discussions. True, this is not the same as Winnie-the-Pooh, but I believe it's a great classic just the same.

Carrie said...

Cool "interesting side note." I'm glad you liked this book.

And for the record, I dislike Toad too. He's "the character to dislike" in this particular series. But the way the other animals react to and care for him, I think, makes them all the more admirable and worthy of learning about.

Well. I just think it's a fun book. But as I'm frequently the one in the minority of disliking books, I totally understand RR's opinion!

Laura said...

I received The Wind in the Willows as a child, but didn't read it until I was an adult. I loved it, and had all my children read it. They enjoyed it immensely, too, but I don't know that I'd have liked it when I was a child.

Great review!