The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

This one was really weird to me, and for a few different reasons. Firstly, The Wind in the Willows is another case of any synopsis I read failing to get to the heart of the story, partly because there are multiple storylines following different characters throughout, but also because the only one with any logical progression happened to be Mr. Toad’s. Right from the point we’re introduced to Toad, we’re met with great characterization as to his obsessive nature and move into the specific obsession with automobiles that believably grips him and turns him into the vehicular menace that I came to love. This, of course, lands him in jail, the meat of the story being his spectacular escape and the trials and tribulations that keep him flip-flopping between boastful narcissism and a self-loathing cowardice. The big reason the book’s focus and overall plot struck me as weird, specifically, is that Toad’s part only takes up about half of the content. The other half more or less comprises the general happy, pottering existence of the other animals, which, perhaps, did a lot to world-build, but fails to move forward to any end goal, except where it intersects with the adventures of Mr. Toad.

Another point of weirdness presents itself in the pottering-life-of-Mole-and-Rat side of The Wind in the Willows: the mundane crossed with the mystical. This likely only comes across as weird, honestly, because the majority is mundane, and then we’re hit with something jarringly otherworldly––our visit with Pan clearly being the major “offender” here––the discord accounting for the strangeness. I was similarly taken aback when humans started appearing, and I should probably relate my experience here to better explain myself. I went in to the story assuming animals were basically replacing humans in Grahame’s world, effectively identical to human equivalents in a low-key country life. But then Badger tells Mole that his halls were built by humans who since abandoned the place, and that was enough to set off my wild imagination, which settled on the hopes that we were in some post-apocalyptic scenario, where humans were wiped out and animals literally took their places… And then humans started showing up all over the place. It took me a long while to come to terms with how everybody interacted, with not all animals being created equal, and humans alternating between treating them seemingly as equals or as pets.

Of course, I got adjusted to things well enough to get through the story, and I wouldn’t suggest that The Wind in the Willows being laced with oddities is necessarily a negative, but it just left me struggling to come to a useful opinion. This one is a likely candidate for a re-reading.