Posted by: Nathan | January 23, 2008

The Wind in the Willows is Charming

One of the debates in literary criticism through the centuries is the purpose of literature: must literature delight and instruct or is enjoyment its only aim? I lean toward the former, but Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows lets the reader have it either way. It’s a lovely book with implicit, never obtrusive lessons to impart if one is willing to listen.willows.jpg

Willows is a sensuous experience because Grahame so deliberately takes the reader through the small, pleasant things that fill our days. Every meal is described in detail, such that one tastes the picnic along with Mole and Rat. One smells the summer breeze in the trees and hears the river flowing by. The winter wind makes one chilly, and the reader is just as happy to find a fire as the characters in the novel are. All this is made possible by Grahame’s devotion to the natural world; the pages burst with the things in life that one needn’t do anything to enjoy—one simply must not ruin them. I imagine this devotion has something to do with Grahame’s experiencing the negative impact of the Industrial Revolution (Willows was published in 1908).

It would be neglectful of me not to mention the characters in this story. Mole and Rat are wonderful characters—the sort of chaps you want to have as friends. Badger has the natural authority of one who knows what is right and good and has had a lot of experience. Toad is infuriating at times, but his adventures are frequently hilarious; the book wouldn’t be the same without him. The animals remind me that not everything that is easy and quick is good, and many pleasing things in life require one only to slow down.

You can read this book for fun and/or for depth. Grahame has a lot to say about the joy of friendship, the value of home, and the longing for ephemeral, faraway places, but he doesn’t hit you over the with his lessons. This book begs to be read aloud, and one cannot do so without stumbling into a British accent; that’s always fun. A splendid read (and short, too); 8.5/10, A-. I will be happy to return to the pages in this book again, and I plan on reading it my children (eventually).

One very small complaint: J was slightly disconcerted that she could never figure out what size the animals in this novel are via-à-vis humans. I have no idea myself, but it never bothered me.


  1. You won’t want to hear this, but I’ve never read The Wind in the Willows and yet am familiar with and quite fond of its stories.

    I owe my thanks to the 1983 stop-motion- animation film and subsequent 52-episode TV series (of which I only saw a few episodes). I wouldn’t normally recommend that people go out and watch movie and TV adaptations of books, but I have to here. Plus, J will finally get her visual representations of animal vs. human sizes (although I have no idea if Grahame would have agreed).

  2. Like Jason, I’ve never read the book. Unlike Jason, though, I’m not that familiar with the story. You make it sound like a delightful book. And may I say, your reviews, themselves, keep improving (though, of course, they were never bad to begin with).

    Now that M is out of the country for a spell, I plan to finish ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and perhaps even read Hamlet. Stranger things have happened.

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