Saturday, 20 November 2010

A book review -The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Grahame in 1908, so it reflects a very different era with different social attitudes to the present day, having been written before both world wars took place. It is wondefully illustrated by E. H. Shepard.
In this book we meet a number of interesting characters who have some exciting adventures and like many other really good books it has a map showing the main character’s homes and most of the locations where different events chronicled in the book take place.
The first character we meet is the Mole, who is living alone, when one day whilst redecorating his bachelor pad he flips and abandoning everything just leaves his home and wanders off into the wider world.
He soon meets the Water Rat, whom now we should, in this modern world, refer to as a water Vole, since he is not actually of the genus Rattus. However, in the days when two bachelors could move in together and not be suspected of being gay, Ratty is a Rat.
Rat introduces Mole to the delights of boating and cholesterol rich picnics and famously remarks on the fact that ducks stick their posteriors in the air whilst feeding.
Soon Rat takes his new friend to meet the amoral Toad. Rich and idle this character is constantly seeking something to relieve the boredom of his futile life by being a thrill seeker in an age before extreme sports.
When our friends Mole and Rat go to visit him, he has just discovered caravanning and persuades Mole and Ratty to accompany him on a caravanning trip, thus setting a precedent for British holidaymakers to clog up the roads every summer with their mobile holiday homes. Toad rightly comes to his senses when they are buzzed by a justifiably outraged motorist and decides on the spot that fast cars are actually much more fun than slow caravans.
He then embarks on a campaign of terror when he becomes a toad racer, (something like a boy racer but of a different species.)
Meanwhile we leave Toad to return to Ratty and Mole, now in a comfortable all male relationship when one afternoon whilst Rat is dozing, Mole decides to go for a walk alone. Having been warned against it by Rat, he nonetheless heads for the Wild Wood a rundown inner woodland area that the police would have advised against entering without protection. Soon his middle class appearance is drawing attention of the animals living in this run down district and they are watching him from within their tenement burrows and flop bushes.
Hearing an ominous sound, he realises he is being followed and in a panic flees. His luck holds and narrowly evading the hedge gangs following him, he finds an unoccupied hollow tree squat and hides.
Rat eventually wakes and notices Mole is missing. By a clever series of deductions, notably seeing a set of footprints leading away from the house, he realises Mole must have gone to the Wild Wood. Stopping only to slip a pair of pistols into his belt and picking up a handy blackjack he hurries after the Mole, looking dangerous enough to intimidate the wood wise inhabitants of the Wild Wood district.
By means of the subtle method of calling out ‘Mole – Mole, where are you?’ He eventually locates the mole, but by this time the mole is suffering near collapse from sustained terror, so he decides Mole should rest a while. When Rat thinks Mole has rested enough and it is safe to leave they discover it has been snowing hard and Rat becomes disoriented because all the landmarks are changed, so they get lost. By a fluke, they end up by Badger’s back door and Mole gets to meet the legendary Badger.
Badger is one of the more powerful dons of the area and is feared by all the small time weasels and stoats. He knows Rat and welcomes the Mole as a friend of the Rat and over breakfast they discuss the antics of Toad and his latest expensive fad with cars. Badger expresses the opinion that Toad needs to be dissuaded from his current activities before he uses up the hedge fund his father had left in trust for him. Although it is never actually overstated, it is obvious that Badger had a close financial connection with Toad’s late father and probably has a personal interest in this fund and may even be a director for the trust. After the meal he allows them to use one of his many safe routes to get out of the Wild Wood district and they get home unhindered.

Meanwhile Toad is still creating a problem with his new love of cars. Because the cars are built for humans, not Toads, Toad is unable to operate the controls properly and so is in less than perfect control of the various cars he tries out. Because of this and his reckless attitude to driving, he regularly ends up having an accident whenever he goes out driving. Of course being in the middle of rural England the roads are unsuitable for toad racers or any other kind of racer and they soon will become known as ‘dangerous roads’. A status unfairly given to roads that by their nature are merely a flat surface that lies unmoving on the ground doing nothing, but when cars are driven too fast on them by the incompetent, the danger posed by the speeding car somehow becomes the road’s fault.
However I digress. As a result of the unusual nature of a toad driven car and the laws of physics, Toad is working his way through his fortune by needing a new car every few weeks or so, and his friends become certain he will end up bankrupt and so be unable to give the lavish parties they are used to, or as explained before, Badger will become impoverished too. So they decide to ‘unlawfully imprison’ Toad for his own good and try to persuade him he must stop wrecking cars.

A prisoner in his own home, after some weeks, he seems to be reformed but he lulls Mole into a false sense of security and on Mole’s watch he escapes and sets off on a life of crime, by stealing cars and becoming an even more serious danger to the public.
Eventually he is arrested, tried and ends up in jail.

With the connivance of a misguided local girl who works in the jail, he manages to escape dressed as a washerwoman and a chase ensues when he hijacks a train.

By a fluke he escapes and then hoodwinks a bargee into giving him a lift but they fall out and she sends him overboard into the canal. In revenge he steals her horse, leaving her without any means to make a living.
Feeling no remorse for this callous act, he then sells her horse to a gypsy in exchange for a meal and few shillings. Still struggling to get home, he cannot resist stealing yet one more car when the opportunity presents itself and of course he crashes it. His true identity revealed he is pursued once more, but makes it to Ratty’s house having shaken off his pursuers by accidentally falling in the river.
Once there he is told that his stately home, Toad Hall, has been invaded by armed squatters. Only with the help of Badger, Mole and Rat is he able to evict them by sheer force. This is only possible because Rat seems to be a closet Survivalist and has a very comprehensive unlicensed armoury equipped with enough ordinance to provide everyone with several weapons each.

Once peace is returned and Toad is reinstated in his home, a lavish party is thrown and the story ends with them all receiving due ‘respect’ from the cowed wild wooders.

Quite exciting in parts but all the characters have very little regard for the law and between them, add up an impressive list of criminal offences throughout the book which go entirely unpunished. No one sues anybody and Toad is persuaded to compensate those who helped him, even the Bargee woman gets the price of her horse, so there is some moral behaviour but the forces of law and order do not seem to make the connection between the notorious Mr Toad the car thief, and Toad of Toad Hall.

Another 9 out of 10 for readability but it teaches children that ruthlessness and a lot of weapons, wealth and influential friends will get you out of trouble so long as the law turns a blind eye.


  1. Was their picnic really high cholesterol? I must go back and read the menu again. I remember coldhamcoldtonguepickledgherkins......
    It's probably quite high salt content! :)

  2. Well maybe not so high in cholesterol, artistic licence and all that. Probably full of saturated fats as well as high salt.

  3. Your book reviews, snafu, are hilarious! I never did read Wind in the Willows, but I think now I had better add the title to my "list of classics to be read." Can't wait for the next one!

  4. I loved 'Wind in the Willows' and so, in turn have all of my children. I adore those illustrations, too. x

  5. Elizabeth, thanks for the comments. The same illustrator, E H Sheppard did both Winnie the Pooh and the Wind in the Willows in the original versions.

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  7. What are you talking about? The Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Grahame, not Graham Greene!

    1. Oops! You are right, and you are the first to notice my slight error on a post that has been there for a couple of years now.

    2. Catwumpus, I have now corrected it, thanks, well spotted.