The Wind in the Willows is a classic of children's literature by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Alternately slow moving and fast paced, it focuses on four anthropomorphised animal characters in a pastoral version of England. The novel is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality, and camaraderie.
At the start of the book, it is spring, the weather is fine, and good-natured Mole loses patience with his spring cleaning and dares to leave his underground home, heading up to take the air. He ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Ratty (a water rat), who spends all his days in and around the river. Rat takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and the two of them spend many more days on the river, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the river.
Some time later, one summer day, Rat and Mole find themselves near Toad Hall and pay a visit to Toad. Toad is rich, jovial and friendly, but conceited, and tends to become obsessed about things, only to dismiss them later. Having given up boating, Toad's current craze is his horse-drawn caravan. In fact, he is about to go on a trip, and persuades Rat and Mole to join him. A few days later, a passing motor car scares their horse, causing the caravan to crash. This marks the end of Toad's craze for caravan travel, to be replaced with an obsession for motor cars.
Mole wants to meet Badger, who lives in the Wild Wood, but Rat knows that Badger does not appreciate visits. On a winter's day, Mole goes to the Wild Wood to explore, hoping to meet Badger. He gets lost in the woods, succumbs to fright and panic and hides among the roots of a sheltering tree. Rat goes looking for Mole, and finds him, but it starts to snow and even Rat no longer knows the way home. By chance they arrive at Badger's home.
Badger welcomes Rat and Mole to his large and very cosy home, and gives them food and dry clothes. Badger learns from Rat and Mole that Toad has crashed six cars and has been hospitalised three times, and has had to spend a fortune on fines. They decide they should do something to protect Toad from himself, since they are, after all, his friends.
Some months later, Badger visits Mole and Rat to do something about Toad's self-destructive obsession. The three of them go to visit Toad, and Badger tries talking him out of his behaviour, to no avail. They decide to put Toad under house arrest, with themselves as the guards, until Toad changes his mind. Feigning illness, Toad manages to escape and steals a car. He is caught and sent to prison on a twenty-year sentence.
Rat visits his old friend Otter and finds out that Otter's son is missing. Rat and Mole set out to find him. They receive help from the god Pan who leads them to the location of the missing child. Pan removes their memories of this meeting "lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure".
In prison, Toad gains the sympathy of the jailer's daughter, who helps him to escape. This involves disguising Toad as a washerwoman. Having escaped, Toad is without possessions and pursued by the police, but he shakes off his pursuers with the help of the driver of a steam train.Still disguised as a washerwoman, Toad comes across a horse-drawn boat. After lying about being a capable washerwoman to the owner of the boat, who offers him a lift in exchange for his laundry services, he gets into a fight with her, steals her horse and sells it to a gypsy. He stops a passing car, which happens to be one he stole earlier. However, the owners don't recognise him in disguise, and give him a lift. Toad asks if he can drive, which of course quickly leads to an accident. He flees and by chance arrives at Rat's house.
Toad hears from Rat that Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferrets from the Wild Wood, despite attempts to protect and recover it by Mole and Badger. Although upset at the loss of his house, Toad realises what good friends he has, and how badly he has behaved. Badger, Rat, Mole and Toad enter Toad Hall via a secret entrance and drive away the intruders.
Toad makes up for his earlier wrongdoings by seeking out those he wronged and compensating them. The four friends live out their lives happily ever after.
Kenneth Grahame (8 March 1859 – 6 July 1932) was a British writer, most famous for The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the classics of children's literature. He also wrote The Reluctant Dragon, which was much later adapted into a Disney film.
While still a young man, Grahame began to publish light stories in London periodicals such as the St. James Gazette. Some of these stories were collected and published as Pagan Papers in 1893, and, two years later, The Golden Age. These were followed by Dream Days in 1898, which contains The Reluctant Dragon.
There is a ten-year gap between Grahame's penultimate book and the publication of his triumph, The Wind in the Willows. During this decade Grahame became a father. The wayward headstrong nature he saw in his little son he transformed into the swaggering Mr. Toad, one of its four principal characters. Despite its success, he never attempted a sequel; in the 1990s William Horwood began writing a series of sequels. The book was a hit and is still enjoyed by adults and children today, whether in book form or in the films.
Toad remains one of the most celebrated and beloved characters of the book. His boisterous attitude ensures a fun read for children and adults alike.