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The Wind in the Willows: An Enduring Favorite

Updated on May 8, 2015

Under the Willows, Cookham-on-Thames

Houseboats, boathouses and willows at Cookham supposedly inspired the writing of The Wind in the Willows.
Houseboats, boathouses and willows at Cookham supposedly inspired the writing of The Wind in the Willows. | Source

Engaging Illustrations a Highlight of the 100th Anniversary Edition

A Skilled Author Introduces His Son to Seven Delightful Animals

Kenneth Graham Introduces the Animals of "Wind in the Willows"

Author Kenneth Grahame introduces seven animals with human characteristics into bedtime tales that would become the bases for "Wind in the Willows" to his son Alastair. These animals and their cohorts spent the majority of their time in the Thames river valley (England) "messing around in boats" and generating happenstance adventures.

The Seven that Comprise the Cohort

  1. Mole - a home-loving and pretty mild-mannered guy;
  2. Ratty - a water vole who fancies himself as a literary type and sees fit to take Mole under his guidance;
  3. Mr. Toad - the scion of wealth and possessor of Toad Hall who possesses many good qualities, but also suffers from the lack of characteristics which might keep him from trouble;
  4. Mr. Badger - a solitary and gruff fellow who tends to be a hermit, but whose skills as a ferocious fighter help the cohort bring peace to their neighborhood;
  5. Otter and Portly - a father and son duo who are friends of Ratty with the father being a tough, self-sufficient extrovert depicted as possessing a "Cockney costermonger" character; Portly tends to go missing and gets the adults in a dither;
  6. Chief Weasel - is the bad guy who with his band of weasels, stoats, and ferrets migrates from the Wild Wood in a hopeful attempt to take over Toad Hall;
  7. The Wayfarer - a seafaring, itinerant and nomadic rat who captivates Ratty into believing he would enjoy that sort of life. Ratty ultimately sees the light and the Vagabond moves on.
  8. Numerous other animals such as squirrels and rabbits inhabit the neighborhoods of the Wild Woods and the water meadow. They are all decent beings except for the rabbits that are a mixed bag of good and wicked.

The Gaoler's (jailer's) Daughter is the only human depicted in the story. A "good, kind, clever girl" is her description as she helps Toad with his prison escape. Pan, god of nature and the wild, makes a slightly atypical appearance in Chapter 7, where he appears as "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."

Beginnings of British Children's Literature

Published in 1908, "The Wind in the Willows" was the beginning of the heyday of children's literature in Britain. What is unique about this book is that it is really two books rolled into one. The stories of one book concern themselves with the adventures of clever but foolish Toad and his well-meaning cohort; the other with shorter chapters, complete stories within themselves, that feature the other animals and deal with human emotions. The chapters interweave in a satisfying, but capricious manner with each other.

Structure of the "Wind in the Willows"

In his autobiography,"Enchanted Places," Christopher Robin Milne - son of author A. A. Milne and the basis of the character Christopher Robin in his father's Winnie-the-Pooh stories and in two books of poems - says this of the dichotomy of "The Wind in the Willows," "My mother was drawn to the second group, of which "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" was her favourite (sic), read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose. My father, on his side, was so captivated by the first group that he turned these chapters into the children's play, Toad of Toad Hall. In this play one emotion only is allowed to creep in: nostalgia."

The stories of Toad and his cohort not only captured the imaginations of generations of British and then American children, but then went on to become spin-off products, offshoots like stuffed animals, adaptations into radio programs, recordings, stage productions and films and outgrowths of completely non literary products like theme park attractions.

Illustrations or No Illustrations

The story was originally published without illustrations, but there are, on the market, many editions illustrated by popular and famous illustrators of children's literature from the turn of the 20th century through to present time. My favorites include those of Ernest H. Shepard (1933), Arthur Rackham (1940), and Tasha Tudor (1966). The illustrations in the slideshow below are by Paul Bransom from the 1913 edition. (They are copied from Wikimedia and are in the public domain in the US because they were published - or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office - before January 1, 1923.)

A Concise Summary

Overall, "The Wind in the Willows" is an enjoyable, if slightly zany, book that will hold the interest of both children and adults with receptive imaginations. There are very few of us who would not enjoy a sunny afternoon of adventures with ferocious, literary-minded, home-loving, self-sufficient and madcap friends.

Cookham on the River Thames, England; inspiration for "The Wind in the Willows"

A
Holy Triity Church, Cookham:
Holy Trinity Church Cookham, A4094, Cookham, Maidenhead, Windsor and Maidenhead SL6 9, UK

get directions

"The Wind in the Willows" and My Development as a Reader

"Books are a uniquely portable magic," says Stephen King, American author of contemporary fantasy. Reading this quote brings to my inner camera a portrait of me as a pig-tailed, sun-dressed girl with a big grin dragging around a copy of "The Wind in the Willows."

I did not know what a water meadow or a manor house was, or even the location of England, but I puzzled over and delighted in the antics of the "Wind in the Willow" characters. And what characters they are! They still make me laugh.

Girl Child Reading

 CC0 Public Domain
CC0 Public Domain | Source

One Fairy Tale Book and Two Animal Book Series from the First Golden Age of British Children's Literature

"The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby" was part of a miscellaneous collection of books in our living room as I was growing up. I don't remember much of the story from those days, though I do remember the illustrations. The "Winnie the Pooh" books were part of my children's growing up years complete with accessory tie-ins. The Beatrix Potter were among my favorites as was the author who struggled as an artist, writer and woman at a time when there were not many options open to women. All of the books below are perfect for read aloud books. The Water Babies book is also good to read out unless the reader can not get by the offensive material, or doesn't want to explain it.

Winnie the Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh Book 1)
Winnie the Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh Book 1)

Meet Christopher Robin and his friends and share their adventures in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England. The characters are fashioned on author A. A. Milne's son Christopher Robin MIlne, his wide assortment of stuffed animal toys and the area of Sussex where the Milnes owned a country home. The simple, but charming original illustrations are by E. H. Shepard. Disney now owns the rights to all things Winnie-the-Pooh.

 
Beatrix Potter Complete Tales (Palmera Publishing Illustrated)
Beatrix Potter Complete Tales (Palmera Publishing Illustrated)

Beatrix Potter brings to life a fascinating group of animals she drew from real animals. They inhabit a cozy domestic existence with just enough danger to keep the characters and readers alert and watchful. Potter brings these characters to life for readers much as they must have been real to her. The British company of Frederick Warne owns the trademark rights of the Beatrix Potter characters.

 

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS - FULL AudioBook (by Kenneth Grahame) | Greatest Audio Books read by an American with an American accent.

Epithet written by Grahame's cousin and fellow writer Anthony Hope,"To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time". from Carpenter, Humphrey; Mari Prichard (1991). The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 216–219.

Grahame's headstone in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford

 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Wind in the Willows cover. 1913. Scribener and Sons. New York.Title piece of Wind in the Willows. 1913.[Public Domain]Rat, Mole and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 1913.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsBadger leading Rat, Mole, and Toad to the secret passage. 1913. page 327.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMr. Toad stands at his full height. 1913. page 292By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMr. Toad, a prisioner, in a remote dungeon. 1913. page 165By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe Gaoler's daughter and Mr. Toad. 1913. page 195By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsRatty speaking with the Sea Rat. 1913. page 240By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMole in The Wild Wood. 1913. page 65By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsRat, Mole and Mr. Toad On the Open Road.  1913. page 50.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsWater Rat emerging from his hole alongthe river bank. 1913. page 50.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe Otter through the Wild Wood in the Snow. 1913. Page 94.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wind in the Willows cover. 1913. Scribener and Sons. New York.
Wind in the Willows cover. 1913. Scribener and Sons. New York.
Title piece of Wind in the Willows. 1913.[Public Domain]
Title piece of Wind in the Willows. 1913. [Public Domain]
Rat, Mole and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 1913.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rat, Mole and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 1913. By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Badger leading Rat, Mole, and Toad to the secret passage. 1913. page 327.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Badger leading Rat, Mole, and Toad to the secret passage. 1913. page 327. By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mr. Toad stands at his full height. 1913. page 292By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mr. Toad stands at his full height. 1913. page 292 By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mr. Toad, a prisioner, in a remote dungeon. 1913. page 165By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mr. Toad, a prisioner, in a remote dungeon. 1913. page 165 By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Gaoler's daughter and Mr. Toad. 1913. page 195By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Gaoler's daughter and Mr. Toad. 1913. page 195 By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ratty speaking with the Sea Rat. 1913. page 240By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ratty speaking with the Sea Rat. 1913. page 240 By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mole in The Wild Wood. 1913. page 65By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mole in The Wild Wood. 1913. page 65 By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rat, Mole and Mr. Toad On the Open Road.  1913. page 50.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rat, Mole and Mr. Toad On the Open Road. 1913. page 50. By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Water Rat emerging from his hole alongthe river bank. 1913. page 50.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Water Rat emerging from his hole alongthe river bank. 1913. page 50. By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Otter through the Wild Wood in the Snow. 1913. Page 94.By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Otter through the Wild Wood in the Snow. 1913. Page 94. By Bransom, Paul, illustrator, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Guestbook

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    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      2 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Thanks very much Larry for your gracious comment. Willows is also one of my favorites!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I love the Wind in the Willow's. Great hub.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Giovanna, Thanks for taking the time to not only read my Hub review of Wind in the Willows, but also to graciously comment upon it. I am looking forward to reading more of your Hubs...especially the travel ones.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna 

      3 years ago from UK

      Such an interesting hub. The Wind in the Willows is our family book! We have read it so many times that we can quote from it and refer to it describe people we meet. It's a fabulous book -all families should own a copy. Pinned and shared.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Adventuretravels: Hi and thank you very much for your comment upon the review. It is so difficult to figure out what is important enough to fit into a very few words. Your son is so lucky and so are you. I gave away my copy of W-i-t-W when I moved 7-years-ago - can't remember to whom - so I bought another copy this week in hopes of beginning to read it to my two youngest grandchildren.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna 

      4 years ago from UK

      This is our very special family book. We have read it to our son many times and then he read it to us several times!! I love your very interesting review.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @TolovajWordsmith: Timeless, indeed. A great book of tales to stimulate imaginations. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Virginia Allain: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on the book and my review. It is all appreciated.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      I loved all the British children's classics when I was little. I'm glad to see today's children getting a chance to experience these.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      4 years ago from Ljubljana

      It's a timeless classic and a must read for everybody. Thanks for reminding me!

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @GrammieOlivia: Hi and good morning! Thanks for stopping by my Wind in the Willows lens, reading it and commenting upon it. And many thanks for your vote of confidence.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @lesliesinclair: Thank you for stopping by this lens about one of my favorite books! And many thanks for your astute comment on the sometime parallels between fact and fiction!

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 

      4 years ago

      Seeing as how this was one of my daughter's favorites, it just has to get my vote! Nice lens!

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @StrongMay: Good Morning! This is, indeed, a great book to read and reread! I plan to introduce my youngest grandchildren to it at the end of February. Good book to stir imaginations!

    • profile image

      StrongMay 

      4 years ago

      I'm pretty sure I read the Wind in the Willows as some point many years ago, but it seems I need to read it again.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 

      4 years ago

      The corollaries between this story and our real lives really are rich.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Diana Wenzel: Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by, reading the lens and commenting upon it. All are very much appreciated. This is a wonderful book to encourage imagination.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Rangoon House: Ah, you'll need to reread The Wind in the Willows so it can be right up there on your family's most special list. Thanks for taking the time to stop by, read and comment. Very much appreciated.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 

      4 years ago from Australia

      We have been Winnie The Pooh and Beatrix Potter fans in our family for generations, but somehow Wind In The Willows escaped the literary focus, as beautiful as it is.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      4 years ago from Colorado

      This was an excellent book to review. Such a classic. I know it has been a special book in many, many homes.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @WeeCatCreations1: Hi WW! Thank you for stopping by, looking at my lens and commenting upon it. All mean very much to me.

    • WeeCatCreations1 profile image

      Susan Caplan McCarthy 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Wind in the Willows is a truly magical book. Nice review!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Well done review! It was such a sweet book.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @savateuse: Hi Julie, Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by, read my lens and comment upon it. All three are very much appreciated. So happy to hear that W-i-t-W is a favorite of another Squidoo writer.

    • savateuse profile image

      savateuse 

      4 years ago

      Ah, my favourite book! This is a very nice review of the classic Wind in the Willows. Thanks for sharing Cercis!

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @LisaAuch1: Lisa, thanks for visiting and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate both. Which illustrator was your favorite?

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      4 years ago from Scotland

      Wind in the Willows was a favourite of mine as a young girl, I loved the illustrations

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