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