THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
by Kenneth Grahame
by Kenneth Grahame
Lewis Carroll Shelf Award 1958
Annotated Edition, Seth Lerer, editor, 2009
The Wind in the Willows was first published in 1908. There have been over a hundred editions since, some with beloved illustrations. The lives of Ratty, Mole, Badger and the escapades of Toad enchanted young readers two decades before Pooh and his friends arrived and years before Brian Jacques Redwall series portrayed animals in a social environment.
The plot revolves around three friends who feel they must rescue the fourth friend from his tendency to pursue dangerous activities. Mole and Ratty are content to explore the river in Rat’s boat all summer long. Toad, on the other hand, must try every new transportation device that appears. His latest love for a horse-drawn caravan is quickly forgotten when a motor car roars by, and despite warnings from his friends, Toad must have a motor car. Practical and wise Badger leads the efforts to turn Toad into a sensible toad.
When Toad is sent to jail for stealing a car, he escapes in disguise, only to learn that his estate, Toad Hall, has been taken over by the stoats and weasels. Badger leads Ratty, Mole and Toad on a charge to regain Toad’s ancestral home.
The action is interspersed with long passages highlighting the natural life, as in this description of Ratty and Mole’s boat ride:
Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sight like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge, brown, snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a grey-gabled mill house, filled the air with the soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking up cheerfully out of its intervals. It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, ‘O my! O my! O my!
In this annotated edition, Seth Lerer defines words no longer used. Did you know that fusty connotated “moldy, old or passé qualities in people or things?” He locates The Wind in the Willows in Edwardian England and explains connections between society and the book. While Grahame gave the reader the setting, Lerer shows us the literature and the social framework that influenced Grahame.
For example, the Romantic vision of water, rivers and streams found in the poems of Shelley, Wordsworth and others is reflected in the riverbank setting where so much of the story takes place. Even Shakespearean influences are present. Pan’s music draws Rat and Mole as Ariel’s’ music calls to Ferdinand in The Tempest. Toad disguises himself as a washerwoman much like Falstaff dresses up as an old aunt in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Lerer points out that The Wind in the Willows’ readers were familiar with a work titled Three Men in a Boat. This novella told the adventures of three companions enjoying rowing on the Thames River, a pastime that was popular by the end of the 19th century. In addition, science and technology were changing the world at the dawn of the 20th century, so it is natural for aristocratic Toad to fall in love with motor cars. It’s fascinating to understand the many connections between Grahame’s work and the world he lived in.
This annotated edition has beautiful color plates with the artwork of Ernest Shepard, Arthur Rackham and Charles van Sandwyk, among others. The entire book adds so much to a reading or re-reading of The Wind in the Willows. To enjoy the artwork of the many Wind in the Willows illustrators, visit the Kenneth Grahame Society website.
Award-Winning Book Challenge Status: 3/11