THE CLASSICS CLUB: The Wind in the Willows

By Kenneth Grahame

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

WIND WILLOWS COVERIt seems odd that a person such as me, so fond of books from an early age, didn’t read The Wind in the Willows as a child – but that is indeed the case. In fact, although I’ve enjoyed a variety of screen, stage and radio adaptions of this 1908 novel, it was only earlier this week that I settled myself in a favourite armchair and opened Kenneth Grahame’s classic for the first time.

Any concerns I had about the likelihood of the magic being lost by reading this book as an adult were quite unfounded. Grahame’s pastoral of anthropomorphised animals in an idealised Edwardian England was every bit as charming and funny as I had hoped.

Set in an unnamed village in the Thames Valley, four animals are brought together to explore themes of friendship, kindness and the importance of belonging. Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger, along with many other creatures, share adventures, camaraderie and delicious meals in their quaint riverside and woodland homes.

The book commences with the arrival of spring when the normally patient Mole (“Moly” to his friends) tires of house cleaning and leaves his underground dwelling to take a stroll. He walks in the direction of the river where he meets the poetic Rat (“Ratty” – a water vole), who offers him a ride in his boat. A picnic is shared, the ways of the river discussed, and a firm friendship established. So begins the first of twelve chapters, each one a complete story. Many escapades follow (usually involving the vain but lovable Mr. Toad) as we accompany the animals through the changing seasons, from the emergence of early buds to the deep snow of winter.

Delightfully illustrated by the British artist Ernest H. Shepard, The Wind in the Willows is one of the most enduring classics of children’s literature. Its endearing cast of characters, gentle humour, beautiful prose and rich language make it a joy to read at any age. I was, therefore, unsurprised to learn it had been listed at number 16 in the BBC’s survey The Big Read in 2003 – over a century after it was first published.

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.”

This is my seventh choice for The Classics Club.


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53 replies

  1. I first read this at the grand old age of 24 so I totally agree that it is just as enjoyable in adulthood as childhood! (I was also a voracious reader as a child – how did we both miss this classic at the target age?)

  2. This was one of those books, along with Narnia, that my father read to us as kids. And I’m sure it’s just as good now as it was then. 😀

  3. You capture the spirit of the book so well, Paula. This was a favorite from childhood, and I’d love to reread it some day. Glad you finally had the chance to enjoy it!

  4. I know I read it as a child but I don’t remember it very well. Would love a reread too.

  5. How funny – I read this earlier in the year for the first time as a young 37yr old! 😀

  6. I did read it when young (I’ve a copy dated 10.3.61 inscribed to me from my father, in one of the early editions with eight additional colour illustrations) but only really appreciated the chapter ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ when an adult—I didn’t really get it as a 12 year old, sadly.

    Years later when teaching I was called on to write new music for a school production as we couldn’t afford the performing fees for Fraser Simson’s score of ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. I just adapted nursery rhymes and folk songs for voices and ensemble (including the Eton Boating Song, apt I thought!) and we wrote our own script for our 11-16 students. It was a pleasure to reread it for this production though unfortunately we omitted any reference to Pan…

    • This was the case with me too- I love the Piper Chapter, but really noticed it’s value only as an adult. The other chapter that I really love is Dulce Domum. Also Wayfarers all.

      • All of it, in fact?! 🙂 So many images coming back to me, I must reread it soon to recapture that pleasure and delight.

      • Yes all of it, but there’s something that extra bit special about the three chapters. I have a Bantam classics edition with illustrations by Les Morrill which I find really lovely- especially the ones when Ratty disguises as the washerwoman and mole too as something like that. Reading Paula’s post made me want to revisit as well.

    • Yes, I’m sure the Pan tale (and possibly his tail) would have gone over my head as a child. I bet you had enormous fun with that production, Chris. I would love to have seen it.

  7. I had a similarly deprived childhood (in the sense that this book never came to my attention). But its also one of my favourites…..

  8. So glad you enjoyed this – a lifelong favourite of mine, and one I revisit any time I’m in danger of becoming too grumpy to put up with! I’m glad to hear it worked just as well for an adult reading it for the first time – I’ve often told people I think it would work, but it’s sometimes hard to know how much one’s appreciation for a book is a throwback to the pleasure of first reading it as a child. You’ve made me want to read it again now… 😀

  9. Surprisingly I didn’t enjoy the tale as a youngster and went on to discovered Famous Five so that was it!

  10. I read an abridged version of it as a child, but really learnt to love it when I read it to my own children. We also live near Henley, where there is a Wind in the Willows exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum that my children used to love when they were small – we used to visit at least once a month! And then my older son performed in a stage version of it. So it is a very special book for us. I love all of it, but particularly enjoyed the chapter with the French Ratty cousin…

  11. You make me want to read it again! Lovely review, wonderful book.

  12. It’s a great book indeed, very nostalgic and very British 😉 Mr. Toad is definitely a character who stays a long time with the reader 🙂

  13. I did read it as a child and it made no impression at the time. But coming back to it very recently was a whole new experience. I loved it this time around and it will be read and read again. A true gem for all ages 🙂

  14. Oh, it is so lovely! There’s also a 1994 animated version with Alan Bennett, Michael Palin, Michael Gambon and Rik Mayall as voice talent, and much of the script is lifted direct from the book; it’s gorgeous.

  15. This is one I missed out on as a child too (although Narnia was read to me, so not all the classics were overlooked) but I so loved it as an adult that I bought a lovely illustrated edition to read with my step-daughters…who were bored to tears with it. (We did read many other books together but not the classics: comics and Magic Tree House and lots of delightful illustrated volumes. The language in Graham’s book didn’t work for them at all.)

  16. Probably not going to be popular with my chiming in, but Toad really, really annoyed me with his selfish antics. Couldn’t get past his recklessness. Perhaps as an adult I will have another go, being a bit more tolerant for flair.

  17. I haven’t read this yet and wonder if I should challenge myself with a list of classic children’s books I somehow haven’t read. I agree with you they’re definitely not wasted on a more mature reader!

  18. I, too, only read this a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think successful children’s books are the ones with many layers and levels that can be discovered all life long. This is one of them!

  19. Sigh. So, so glad to hear this. It’s not my
    favorite children’s book, it’s just one of my favorite books period.

  20. I did not read this until I was an adult as well, and I found it much more enjoyable than I think I would have as a child. In fact, I began it as a child, but I quickly lost interest. The truths in it spoke more to me now than they would have then. I loved your review.


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