I opened ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame with the expectation of reading an idyllic children’s book. Perhaps I was being a bit too literal in my headspace. ‘The Wind in the Willows’ indeed has more appeal for an adult mind than a child’s, the one that has seen the realities of life. As a grown-up, one has understood the drudgeries of life, somewhere had an escapist attitude, probably had a pompous friend and some suppressed desire of acquiring wealth and comforts. Exactly what ‘The Wind in the Willows’ offers you.
Aesthetically, ‘The Wind in the Willows’ comes across as a riverbank story with the camaraderie of four friends – the anthropomorphized versions of the Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger.
Metaphorically, the book lets you see the world in a philosophical light through these four characters – distinct and clear about one’s expectations and feelings.
The story begins with the Mole, busy with ritualistic spring-cleaning. However, being impatient, Mole comes out of his underground home and is mesmerized by the riverside sight. Here, he meets the Water Rat. Ratty, as Mole calls the Water Rat, takes Mole under his wings and takes him for a boat ride. Mole is in awe of the view and the food.
On their way, they meet Toad who leads a pompous and rich way of life. Toad ropes in Ratty and Mole on his horse-caravan driven camping trip. This adventure ends up badly as they have an accident but Toad discovers his latest fad, which is the desire to own a ‘poop-poop’ motor car.
Meanwhile, Ratty and Mole find Badger’s house and are rescued from being cold and deserted. The story moves ahead as Badger enters the scenario, who after hearing about Toad’s latest fad, wants to intervene and get some sense into Toad.
The plot then shifts to Toad and his new set of misadventures with stealing a motor car and later escaping the prison.
With this narrative, you journey from the little underground hole, where Mole lived, to the ‘Wild World’ and then to the ‘Wide World’.
Reading a children’s book as an adult
I didn’t read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as a child. Later on, when I looked at the title and the cover, I expected the story to be either in line with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Peter Rabbit’. Which, it wasn’t!
This book is more of a social commentary on the Edwardian way of life, with philosophical ramblings on life’s necessities and dreams. This book is not a fairytale-ish rendition rather plods on the themes of friendship, home, greed, and consumerism.
Mole comes across as a simple character who dreams of seeing the outside world, impatient to taste a bit of extravagant living, and is overjoyed to meet new people (or anthropomorphized animals). His adventures are never completely thought through, his decisions are made in haste that land him in trouble many-a-time. He is a poor outsider in the circle of rich friends. On the other hand, Ratty is the contented being and a supportive friend who has Mole’s back. Their friendship is sweet and real, and I craved to read more of it.
Badger has the superior tone, the bossy one in the gang. Though with his wisdom and bravery of surviving amid ‘Wild Wood’, he has earned this place.
The character that walks away with a major slice of the cake is ‘Toad’. Toad has no care for the world; he lives his dream, ‘fads’ as they call in the book. His fads put him in trouble but he is let bothered. He is too pompous and self-centered, even during hard times. The kindness offered to him is reciprocated with a condescending tone. Badger, Ratty, and Mole are friends who want to give Toad a reality check.
“Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!”
‘Home’ is a theme that runs through this book. Through each character, one understands the true meaning of a home.
The story begins with Mole’s spring-cleaning of his shabby old home that he hurriedly forsakes for the adventures above ground. Badger takes pride in his underground home while Mole had felt embarrassed about his house. But when he returns with Ratty, the same place holds a whole new meaning for him. For Ratty, who has lived in a comfortable riverside house and seen Badger and Toad’s lavish house, finds Mole’s house amazing – compact and well-planned.
Somewhere along the narrative, I was confused as anthropomorphized animals co-existed with humans. While these animals are afraid of weasels and otters, the humans are less of a threat. In a Lilliputian way, the humans anthropomorphized animals match up to the same height or perhaps, the animals are over-sized to a normal human height. Either ways, there isn’t much clarity on it.
The lyrical writing of Kenneth Grahame enriches the story, a sheer joy to read plus the couple of poems at the offering! The wind as messenger takes Mole from his underground abode to the forbidden ‘Wild World’ and gives us a glimpse of the ‘Wide World’. Toad’s quixotic expedition instills the fun element and reminds you of your own gang of friends who went around making travel plans, and buying things crazily!