The Wind in the Willows

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The Wind in the Willows
Wind in the willows.jpg
Written by: Kenneth Grahame
Central Theme:
Synopsis: The adventures and misadventures of four variably anthropomorphic animals living around the banks of "The River".
First published: 1908
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"The world has held great Heroes,
As history books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!"

Mr. Toad, oddly enough

The Wind in the Willows is a beloved 1908 children's novel by British author Kenneth Grahame, set in an idealized England of the late Victorian to early Edwardian Era. It details the adventures and misadventures of four variably anthropomorphic animals living around the banks of "The River".

  • Mole: A quiet, ordinary fellow who gets caught up in huge adventures who arguably shares the role of spotlight character with Mr. Toad. Softspoken and a dedicated homebody, he nonetheless sometimes gets wild urges to go out into the wild and "Hang spring cleaning!" Eventually, he adapts to a busier life. He's good with children.
  • Ratty: The water-rat. Somewhat of an odd friend for Mole, but fiercely loyal to his friends. Says that "There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats," and owns a Cool Boat to punt down The River. Acts as the voice of reason when Badger isn't present, and is somewhat annoyed by the fast pace of modern living.
  • Mr. Toad: Probably the most famous character, and to an extent the Plucky Comic Relief. He's a great example of an Upper Class Twit, living in Toad Hall and throwing himself enthusiastically at every passing fad. First it's boats, then wagons, then "Motorcars! Poop-poop!" A Kleptomaniac Hero, he can't seem to resist hijacking every car he comes across, driving it like crazy and eventually crashing it. All the while he fancies himself a Gentleman Adventurer and sings hilariously conceited songs.
  • Mr. Badger: Something of a British Hermit Guru, he lives alone in the middle of the Wild Woods. One would expect him to be huge and terrifying, which he is. But he subverts it by actually being rather nice, sheltering guests and being fond of children. Despite his status as a Gentle Giant, he can -- if necessary -- be deadly in defense of his friends.

The story is often seen as an allegory of different things, though it seems that it's both Christianity and World War I;[1] Your Mileage May Vary. The former is supported by the fact that Chapter 7, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" (yes, that was where the name of Pink Floyd's debut album came from) features a scene where they encounter the great god Pan, who is explicitly identified as the animals' Christ. It is often cut from modern editions, as it somewhat jars with the lighthearted other chapters (another chapter, about Ratty's fantasy of a life on the sea, is generally cut with it, for similar reasons).

Parts of it have been adapted, badly, into the Disney Animated Canon. Ever wonder what the inspiration was for the most terrifying ride at DisneyLand/World? This. There was another animated version by Bass & Rankin, that is sometimes mistaken for a Disney movie. There have also been many, many movies, musicals and stage plays based on the book. The Cosgrove Hall version is quite well regarded. They even did The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but as a separate episode in the spinoff series rather than a chapter in the original film. There are contested sequels by other authors.

By the way, the whole text of the book is available for free at Wikisource.

This novel and its various adaptations contain examples of:
  • Adaptation Expansion: Pretty much every adaptation, even the most faithful ones, add a scene at the end where Toad shows signs of slipping back into his old ways by buying an aeroplane.
  • Anthropomorphic Shift: The animals seem to alter their status several times over the novel.
  • Arcadian Interlude: "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Toad is convicted for stealing a motor-car, dangerous driving and cheeking the police. Ironically, the Clerk is more lenient with the first two crimes. Although never revealed, Toad's cheek is clearly indicated as "imaginative" and "gross impertinence". Given his flamboyant, conceited attitude, it's not hard to believe.
  • Ascended Extra: Otter is promoted from "most major of the minor characters" to a full fledged major character in the sequels.
  • Break the Haughty: Toad's humiliating arrest and imprisonment, during which he attempts to starve himself to death, but decides to live after all thanks to a kind jailer's daughter and a bit of bubble-and-squeak. Not to mention being chased by the police after escaping, and all the indignity he receives for his washerwoman disguise.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The narrative says it's against animal etiquette to actually discuss it, but the subject is touched upon by Rat, when he describes the inhabitants in the Wild Wood:

"Weasels — and stoats — and foxes — and so on. They're all right in a way — I'm very good friends with them —pass the time of day when we meet, and all that — but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then —well, you can't really trust them, and that's the fact."

  • Character Development: Over the novel, Mole comes out of his shell, and Toad settles down to become serious and respectable by the end. Badger also becomes a little bit less reclusive, shown in the epilogue. Grahame pointed out in a later interview that Toad would eventually turn back to his old ways. Mole is the only character whose development would stick.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mr. Toad, at times. "A motorcar! Poop-poop! Poop-poop!" (or, in some editions, "Beep-beep!")
  • Cool Boat: It's just a punt, but Ratty's boat is described as beautifully painted and gaily decorated, and there's always a picnic basket on board. Unfortunately, it gets sunk near the end of the novel thanks to the stoats.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Pan, who is in fact the Savior, but for animals instead of humans. Interestingly enough, the chapter "Dulce Domum" has young field mice singing a Christmas carol that invokes and pays homage to Mary, Joseph and the Christ child. [2]
  • A Dog Named "Dog": All the principal characters are either this or Species Surname (since they only appear to have one name apiece, it's hard to tell which).
  • Drives Like Crazy: Mr. Toad's second defining characteristic; he wrecks five cars a week, on average, and has to be locked into his room to try and dissuade him.
  • Food Porn: The stew Toad dines on, which contains no less than seven animals, is lovingly described. Toad's expression of rapture in the accompanying illustration doesn't help.
  • Funny Animal: The whole cast, except for the humans that Toad interacts with.
  • Furry Confusion:
    • Not particularly strong, but in a lot of the artwork, the main cast are much, much bigger than the stoats and weasels. Also, while the main cast wears clothing, Otter wears none.
    • Also: Toad has a horse called Alfred. While he is an actual quadrupedal horse who carries the caravan, he does seem to be sentient. Strangely, this is one of the few animal characters not named after his species.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Mole and Water Rat.
  • Large Ham: In basically every adaptation of the story, Toad spends nearly every second of his screentime making a 97-course banquet of the scenery.
  • Leitmotif: In the TV series, each character, e.g. Mole, Toad, has a certain musical theme.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans, Oh My!: Zig-zagged. Most of the animals live in burrows (albeit in very human-like comfort) and have little or no interaction with humans. Mr. Toad, on the other hand, lives in an actual house, drives cars, is put on trial in a human court, held in a human prison, and escapes by disguising himself as a human washerwoman. During his escape no one suspects that he's Mr. Toad until he actually announces it when he rides off with a barge woman's horse. And he also interacts on a more-or-less equal basis with all the other animals.
  • Loveable Rogue: Toad is considered an epitome of this. Although conceited, reckless and even kleptomaniacal at one point, he genuinely cares for his friends and shows great humility and distress upon learning of the hardships they suffer on his account.
  • MacGuffin Melee: The climax of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, in which the characters fight over possession of the deed to Toad Hall.
  • Mr. Exposition: St John (one of the weasels) in the Terry Jones version.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Mr. Toad is fairly unconvincing when he stands trial for auto-theft, destruction of property and cheeking the police.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Toad's washerwoman outfit.
  • Pride: Mr. Toad's defining characteristic.

The Queen and her ladies-in-waiting
Sat at the window and sewed.
She cried, "Look! Who's that handsome man?
They answered, "Mr. Toad."

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed,
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

  • Science Is Bad: Not science, exactly, but the rush of new fads for the rich, such as automobiles and aeroplanes.
  • Snap Back: Averted, in that Ratty mentions that if Toad keeps buying all these new cars, he's eventually going to use up his whole fortune.
  • Storming the Castle: "When the Toad came home..."
  • Villain Song: The Weasels get an awesome one in the Terry Jones version.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: The weasels, and the related ferrets and stoats, are all nasty little buggers, sneaking into Toad Hall to take it over while Toad is out. They're eventually let go with a warning, though, as they promise to be good after being thrashed by Badger.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: In a humorous incident, Toad escapes prison disguised as a washerwoman with clothes from the jailer's daughter, and manages to wind up disguised on a train outrunning the police.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Several adaptations aren't named "The Wind in the Willows" but rather "Toad of Toad Hall", "The Adventures of Mr. Toad", etc. etc.
  1. Which is a good trick, considering The Wind in the Willows was published a decade before World War I.
  2. Animal religious practices of this world must be quite fascinating.